My satnav and I had another disagreement on the way up to Wetherby. When I deliberately entered 5EH at the end of the postcode instead of the correct 5HE, just to see if it was concentrating, the stupid machine took me to a very handsome stud farm. There were certainly horses, but no racing, and no lodgings either. I castigated it for not spotting the obvious error and we got to the hotel shortly afterwards in an icy silence.
In my rush to do the bins yesterday morning I had forgotten that it was ‘Wear A Hat Day’ at Wetherby to raise awareness for Brain Tumour Research. This was a serious oversight, as I have a burgeoning collection of silly hats that I have collected over the years, and was thinking of either my Tyrolean Goat-Herder number, or the 3-tailed and therefore plattable blue one from Australia. Either of these would, I reckoned, have helped me meld into the crazy hat party atmosphere that must be cranking up at the track.
When I got to the racecourse, a little later than planned due to the postcode mishap, I discovered that the hardy locals had not exactly embraced the theme. Most were hatless, many coatless, and indeed a large proportion of the ladies were dressed as though they were going to a wedding. A summer wedding, by all accounts. I’m all for making an effort, but only when it comes to studying the form, and the concept of wearing the bare minimum on one of the coldest Marches in history was baffling.
I’m happy to accept that I’m a soft southerner, and I’m probably showing my age, but some of these youngsters could be catching their death out here by the windswept A1 if there weren’t so much alcohol to warm them. I usually buy premier tickets on this journey, so that I can sample all that a racecourse has to offer, but my first foray into the premier enclosure was not pleasant. Suited, drunken, shouting idiots made this an instantly walk-throughable venue, and I sought refuge in the much more down-to-earth Paddock enclosure. There is a strange inversion at some tracks where a pricier ticket gets you a dicier atmosphere.
My first bet in the third race fails by a short head. I’d backed it partly because of the young claimer Joe Colliver who is showing a very healthy profit to level stakes this season, but Vasco D’ycy gets going just fractionally too late. An unusual scene then plays out as I watch an elderly lady tilting and rolling one of the bins for a good five minutes. She looks too well dressed to be scavenging for food. I wonder if she’s finding the next winner in a bizarre Yorkshire ritual akin to reading the tea leaves. Eventually her husband turns up, immediately finds the winning betting ticket she’s managed to throw away, and they head off to collect money.
Mr Burbidge in the fourth race secures me a positive position on the day, but for some reason it’s the fifth race that interests me, a National hunt Flat race with little prior information available. What form there is suggests Shantou Village (surely a relative of Shantou Magic from Bangor?) has a cracking chance, but I don’t want to back at Evens with 12 other runners that are so unexposed. I look for an outsider, and find one.
There was simply no reason to back the unraced Gray Wolf River, a horse that is so small that she bears an uncanny resemblance to a rocking horse in the paddock. She is certainly more grey wolf than racehorse. When the jockey mounted she threw an awful tantrum, as though she’d been squashed by an elephant, and her race number of 13 and extreme odds added little encouragement. This was a lunatic bet. Accordingly, I went in at 125/1 to small stakes.
As I waited for the off, with more drunken zoo-noises emanating from the premier stand behind me, I pondered whether a handicap system should be introduced to allow for the size of a horse. Certainly an EU court would argue that the other horses twice her size held an unfair competitive advantage.
It was hard to see Gray Wolf River for most of the race. It was like trying to spot a needle in melee of moving haystacks. Or perhaps a small grey wolf in a bunch of horses. As they thinned out a bit on the home straight she reappeared in about 10th place, and stayed there. Shantou won nicely. Again I leave before the last, but this time it’s entirely justifiable. The final race is literally a two horse race, and one of them is 1/12.
So betting-wise I’m back, but my winning meetings are small and my losing meetings are big, and today has been a desolate place not just because of the weather. I try out more ‘new’ technology when I get back to the hotel. I FaceTime my family and feel better but somehow worse, especially when my wife asks me to hold the phone further away because my face is too enormous. I do so, but feel she has gone too far when she asks me to put a paper bag over my head because it’s upsetting the children.
Perhaps being with friends at Newbury yesterday has rammed home the lonely nature of being on the road. Perhaps it is the loutish undertones of the premier enclosure. Perhaps it is that my longest conversation of the day was with a small box that sits on my windscreen. I feel as though I need a good day at Doncaster to right the ship.