This is my longest round trip of the journey, but it goes smoothly enough. The taxi driver from Edinburgh to Perth is an interesting guy who gently stitches me up for the fare off the meter – this laissez faire approach may be spontaneous, but it’s also expensive. I could have got an earlier flight, but I’m buying time at the moment, and this seems like time well bought.
Steve tells me about some of the professional gamblers he’s had in his cab. When he was on a course to get his golf teaching badge he met a guy who had an incredibly simple system – back the first three in the betting in eight horse races as long as the favourite is more no less than 2/1. At the other end of the spectrum was a Swedish punter who knew everything, even down to the hardness of the water the horses prefer. This seems like overkill, but apparently he had just won £50,000 on the trotting so you can’t argue.
We guess our way to the poorly signed racecourse. As I trudge in past a workshop that the course map describes as ‘The Workshop’ I realise that this is real proper jump racing. I am drawn to a sign that says ‘Hog Roast & Booze!’ I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, and examine the offerings from the Strathbraan Brewery. It’s a toss up between the prophetically-named “Head East” and “Look West”, but I go for the former and a very nice drop it is too. Certainly better than the warm pork and fat roll that was purporting to be hog roast and crackling.
There is a beautifully relaxed mix of people here. Entirely diverse in their clothing, I think back to Paul’s comments of yesterday. Colours divide people. I remember a free ticket to the Charity Shield a few years ago, when red and blue mixed in jovial spirits on the tube up to Wembley, but when they came out on to Wembley Way and were separated by the stewards the abuse was hurled with abandon. Today, everyone is looking for a winner but they don’t care about its colours, and neither do I. The only enemies here are the bookmakers, and that is mostly a well-mannered conflict.
I look for Robert, the “sort of” professional gambler I met in Ayr. This is his home course, but he is nowhere to be seen. Neither is a Racing Post. A man on the gate says they don’t sell them and points me towards the racecard shed. The ladies there are packing up, having just sold out, when a guy taps me on the arm and offers his. “Don’t you need it?” I call as he marches off. He makes a shrug that seems to say that he has given up punting for life after the first race.
Suddenly I spot the gorgeous Tanerko Emery on the card for the third race and rush to the parade ring to assess. He looks good, but has a white smudge on his hind pokey-outey bit (I know that’s not the right term, horsey people) where he could have scraped himself in the horsebox. He looks well, but so do the others, and its two and a half miles today rather than the three that he sauntered home over at Ffos Las, and this all translates into a medium wager rather than the large one I was considering. It’s harder work today than at Ffos Las last time, with better opponents, but Paddy Brennan gives him a great ride, keeping him handier over the shorter trip so that his abundant stamina plays, and he wins a tad cosily. He is quickly becoming a favourite of mine.
People find space to fall asleep on the lush and welcoming carpet of grass that stretches over a furlong down the viewing enclosure. I find a spot and resist the temptation to nod off in fear of missing my flight home. I can’t imagine many other courses where the atmosphere would allow people to indulge in a quick, or long, nap like this. I listen to the fourth race with a barely cogent mind, and Island Heights that I’ve backed falls at the second last when disputing the lead. Whether he would have won I have no idea – I was drifting into the somnambulant beauty that is a day at Perth Races. I abruptly come-to as I realise that this was an eight horse race with the favourite more than 2/1. Gunna Be A Devil wins at 5/1, the third favourite. Surely it can’t be as easy as Steve’s professional had said? I don’t even know the hardness of the water in Perth and whether it’s to his liking!
The fifth race has a prize fund of £25000, the biggest of the day anywhere in Britain as the commentator reminds us frequently. I saw Creevytennant at Ascot where he won without my support, but I’m not sure about the ground and the odds of 5/4. There are some decent sorts with excuses for their recent runs at large odds, and I back two of them accordingly. Witness In Court obliges at a generous 11/1.
I haven’t had a proper good day with the betting yet, but I’m getting close, and I’m making inroads into the earlier deficit. The betting really is the least of my worries on this project, but the punters pride within me would love to turn around at the end and say “I am a winner!” I’m not far off, but a little way is a long way in the punting world.
On the train back to Edinburgh we pass through Kirkcaldy. My Dad used to drive up to here and back in a day for his job. It’s easier on the train and plane, and I am reminded of what a hero he remains to me despite his advancing years. I have struggled desperately with the concept of leaving my boys in their formative and needy times, but the thought that I still revere my father despite his occasional absences, perhaps even more so for the extraordinary feats he achieved behind the wheel, gives me a crumb of comfort for this stupid thing I have chosen to do.
I cannot tell you of the true turmoil I have gone through on this journey. It is too raw and deeply personal for a blog such as this. I have desperately tried to avoid moaning because you would rightly ask me what I had to moan about, going racing every day. But the family drama that plays out behind the words of this blog makes me ache to stop my preposterous fairytale and rejoin the real world where I am needed. I am not sure why I haven’t, but I know it doesn’t make me a better man for blindly ploughing on, and silently crying over a laptop on a train won’t make it better.