“To spend our days betting on three-legged horses with beautiful names” — Bohumil Hrabal
I was born within a stones throw of the Knavesmire*, home of York racecourse – one of the country’s finest flat courses. As a nipper, my dad, and sometimes my grandad would often take me for walks around the vast expanse of green grass and along the miles of seemingly never ending straight white rails.
Once or twice, our walks would coincide with a race day and we would stand near to the old Tyburn – the site of the gallows where Dick Turpin and hundreds of others met their demise at the end of the hangman’s rope – and watch the exhilarating scene of horses and their jockey’s breaking from the stalls, at what I now know to be the 1m6f start.
Despite this early introduction to the world of horse racing, all though my school and college life I never really had more than a passing interest in the sport, and would generally only really pay anything resembling attention on Grand National day, and perhaps when the Epsom Derby got a few column inches or a segment on the news.
In fact, I left it until the last year of my teens until I struck my very first bet on the horses. I can remember it vividly. It was in a Ladbrokes shop on Percy Street in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where I was at University. One October afternoon, a friend and I had a bit of time to kill before meeting some friends for some beers to celebrate my 19th birthday, so on our way to the pub, we went into the bookies.
I can’t remember the actual reasons why we went into the shop that day, it wasn’t raining, and my friend wasn’t really a gambler. I also can’t remember why we decided to both have £5 on Red Guard in the 3.50 at Fontwell, but we did, and Red Guard, trained by Josh Gifford and ridden by Philip Hide …. won by a length at 7/2.
The die was cast.
Red Guard had piqued my interest and as the months and years passed, I started to, slowly but surely, get more and more interested in horse racing, finding myself buying the Racing Post, attending race meetings, reading around the subject and trying to select horses based on more than just nice silks and good names (a tactic though, which nevertheless, seems to work exceptionally well for my wife whenever she comes racing with me).
Which sort of leads me, in a roundabout way, to the here and now, an avid horse racing fan, writing this nonsense on the internet. It’s now over two decades ago since Red Guard did the business at Fontwell and I’m still trying to select horses based on more than just nice silks and good names, but as the saying goes;
“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
*This almost sounds like the opening of Disco 2000 by Pulp. Unintentionally, I should add.