Pontefract

The Premier Inn Castleford welcome is about as good as it gets. Everyone smiles as you enter, and the check in is efficient. They explain an enormous amount of things I didn’t know about the Premier Inn, and if I don’t sleep well they will refund my accommodation costs. I’m surprised it’s not permanently booked out by the Insomniac Association.

They order me a taxi and a chap turns up who started yesterday. When I clarify this, the mature gentleman assures me he didn’t pass his test yesterday, but was working in Wakefield before then. He asks me where we are going and I say “the races please”. He mumbles uncertainly. “Horses, the horse racing, Pontefract horse racing!” I clarify.

I must be speaking a different language as the confused cabbie then asks for a postcode. Luckily the car park of the Premier Inn has 4G and eventually we set off. His satnav seems to have reversed everything, like it’s set up for the continent. It takes us off the obvious main road and then asks us to turn right onto a left only carriageway. The driver ignores my sane suggestion to turn left and do a u-turn, and instead obediently follows the box into oncoming traffic.

After narrowly avoiding death, we discover that Pontefract races is not very far from the hotel, but the driver wants to drop me at the starting stalls next to the A639. By “starting yesterday” I wonder whether he means his time on planet Earth? Perhaps he thinks that I am racing, although in horse racing terminology I would be ‘carrying a bit of condition’. No ticket is issued on the gate, which I am slightly miffed about. I’m not a trainspotter or anything, but I am keen to collect all my entry tickets on this tour, which I’ve managed to do so far except for Warwick where I got in with my Festival badge. So I approach the Raceday Office and a lovely lady gives me a badge saying Guest.

Pontefract is a course of two halves. On entry you step into a lovely oasis of sunny reflection. Studious people ruminate in the sloping parade ring. There is a lovely view of the historic buildings and the food stands are spread out and nicely discrete. Benches are dotted around and there is a lovely relaxed vibe. Out the front there is a decent view, but it’s mostly of football pitches and the M62. I can see the hotel I’m staying in, and resolve to walk back there after racing. It’s windy and cold trackside, and a number of comments from Yorkshire locals assure me I’m not being a Southern softie in the matter.

So after not quite reaching a positive position in the P&L account yesterday, I resolve that this shall be the day I finally become a winner on my journey. I start with a tiny dabble on Bracken Brae at 80/1 who runs much better than his odds suggest, perhaps around 73/1. This prompts me to have a similar bet on Swilken for the same trainer-owner combo in the next at 25/1, who runs like a 100/1 shot.

But the next two races are where it’s at, and will decide my fate for today and possibly the entire journey. They are both 4 runner affairs with favourites around Evens, and it comes down to whether I think they would win more than 50% of these races if run in perpetuity. I do, and I know that if Scottish Robert were reading this now he’d be shaking his head and saying “No, no, no!” firmly. Pleasant Valley wins very easily under an intelligent ride from Adam Kirby, and then Sparring in the next, who I’d seen win impressively at Windsor nine days ago, completes the double after looking in a spot of bother some way out. He stays on up the rising ground of the home straight, under a very different but equally skilled ride from Kirby.

A weight is lifted from my shoulders and replaced with notes in my wallet. It has taken 48 days but I am finally winning! Suddenly I’m talking to anyone and everyone like I’ve developed some form of racing Tourettes. When Bill and Arthur sit next to me on a bench to sup their coffee they are subjected to a lengthy speech on how cold it is out of the sun and how the taxi driver had nearly killed me and how Sparring needs more than a mile and a half now.

I celebrate with a silly Trifecta in the next, a more competitive six-furlong handicap, but my spirits can’t be dampened and I decide I shall walk the brisk ten minutes back to the hotel, which is actually about three-quarters of an hour away. The Premier Inn guarantee shall not be needed tonight; I sleep like a baby.