This story is really all about how I came to be standing sockless on the streets of Newcastle in a bizarre 2am pyjama party, shivering from a raw mix of cold air and adrenaline. But I’m getting ahead of myself again, and need to rewind 16 hours.
I awake in the fine surroundings of The Old Deanery to the soundtrack of our reworking of the Toto hit ‘Rosanna’ on a constant loop in my head, vying for attention alongside a hangover. We can’t work out what the line “meet you all the way” actually means, or most of the song for that matter. Simon has spent the night on the floor after another bed collapse, but seems in chirpy enough spirits – it would appear that obtaining some earplugs in York has kept our friendship intact for three days.
We are told downstairs that we are nearly 2 hours late for breakfast, but they are still accommodating and seat us overlooking the garden. We can’t have the Eggs Benedict, though, because Chef would have to boil some water. Remarkably, Simon’s three hour stint yesterday on the phone to his various pals at the train operators has resulted in a ticket back to Kings Cross, so we man-hug a goodbye back at Thirsk station, and my faithful Passepar-two heads south towards home, whilst I head north, further away from home.
It is sheeting it down when I get to the course, and a security man frowns at my luggage. Admittedly, it is unusual to see a man wheeling a small suitcase at a racecourse, but he is unimpressed by my tale of heroically touring all the British racecourses and would like to check inside if he may. I open my rucksack and he seems satisfied without wanting to see my dirty washing from four days on the trains.
I sip gingerly at a diet coke whilst examining the Racing Post and myself. The last few days have been hilarious, but I must admit to feeling a little jaded. However, after today I shall only have 9 courses left to visit and counting down to single digits really does feel like I am in the home stretch. Redcar seems like a nice local track, although the horses possibly outnumber the punters.
Jockey Daniel Tudhope has a great record at the course so I fancy the debutant he is riding in the first at 17/2. Mon Beau Visage has never raced in public, but cost 41,000 guineas as a yearling and is well connected. I also like the favourite, Risk Adjusted, who has more experience and form than the rest of them and could be value at 11/4. Feeling flush from Rozene yesterday, I back them both and they are only split by a photo, the former just getting there. It’s weird waiting for the outcome of the photo finish knowing that you’ve won either way.
Finally the Gods Of Probability seem to be on my side, and things that were fractionally against me earlier on the journey now seem to be swinging my way. I could cruise to an overall profit (for the betting that is, rather than the venture as a whole!) if I am disciplined enough.
It’s another eight race card at Redcar, and I ponder the pros and cons of these extended meetings. If, as the BHA say, we have too few horses and owners in the sport, turning 6 or 7 race meetings into 8 seems an odd way of doing things. But I suppose for racecourses struggling with attendances it does keep the tills ticking over for another hour. But it’s the punters perspective I’m most interested in, and whether two extra opportunities to bet make it an improved experience.
I’m intrigued by Paul 2’s observations on the optimum gap between races, but if we stick at around half an hour it makes the occasion as large an investment of your time as say a round of golf, which to me was always one of golf’s failings. If you don’t have an eighty-day pass-out, 4 or 5 hours following a hobby seems like quite a luxury for the family man. Even with this pass, on a personal level I can’t hack it and leave before the end, continuing my journey up to Newcastle.
Racecourse Fatigue has really set in now, and I head to bed early in the new Hilton near the station, recognising that I am running on almost as empty as my car was on the way back from Market Rasen. I really need a good night’s sleep.
I know this is going to sound daft, but I was expecting the fire alarm. It came at 2.12am, loud and shrill and immediate, like a child screaming in the night. Even so, I made a right bollocks of it. Where’s the light switch? Why don’t they automatically turn all the lights on? Where are my shoes? Lights, good. Coat. Still, where are my shoes? Leave everything Neil, forget your sodding shoes. Ah! Shoes! Key? Key. Open the door. Fumble with the catch…..christ come on Neil! Get the fucking door open!
Corridor. No heat or smoke. Or fire. Dishevelled middle aged men. One is going the wrong way, towards the lifts. This way mate. I’ve studied the evacuation plan the night before. Was expecting it, see. Please let the stairwell be fine. It is, phew. Nobody is panicking, but everyone is taking it seriously. 4th floor, decent pace, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, out. We are the first out of that exit, about four of us in a bunch, soon followed by dribs and drabs of others. But there is the smell of smoke, then someone spots it, billowing from the centre somewhere, over the low slung eastern end of the building.
Fire engines wail. We go round to the front. A single hose trails in through an archway to where a skip is smouldering. People congregate on the corner in various states of undress. Everyone is quiet except for a pissed guy who is shouting to his mate who has just emerged. He’s making a joke of it, but even so you can hear the fear in his voice, even in his inebriated state. Pubgoers have sluiced onto the street to witness the fractured blue light of the fire engine as it spills onto the buildings around.
It is done quite soon and we go back inside. Not many choose the lift. People are generally quiet on the way back up. Adrenaline still courses through my body and I know that sleep shall be elusive. I want to call my wife who I haven’t see for almost four days because of this stupid charade and tell her that I love her, but it’s the middle of the night. It shall have to wait, along with the return to sleep. As the minutes and hours tick by the adrenaline is replaced with the empty ache of homesickness. I know I shall never do anything like this again.