Sunday, 29 June 2014

Newmarket Race Course

Going to the races is a very British thing to do, if you take your lead from the Royal family. But, also, a fun way to while away a day (golden rule: never bet more than you can afford to lose). Newmarket is about an hour and a bit's drive north of London, just past Cambridge in Suffolk. You park in a field, then walk past the entrance for the well-dressed (the Premier stand), the reasonably dressed (the grandstand) and then come to the little low building furthest from the car park field where they have the family enclosure, the price is right and you can pretty much dress anyway you want to, though a sign says "no swimwear".

Two things about racing in the UK that are different, at any rate, from going to the (admittedly small number of) races I've been to in the States. 1. You can get surprisingly close to the track and 2. You can place your bet directly with what they call bookies, who line up their stands under their umbrellas, often mom and pop (or, rather, mum and dad, pictured) operations, and everyone seems happy enough to take your £1 bet – to win or 'each way', which means your horse wins or ends up in the first three places and you get a quarter of what you would have if the horse won outright. Or something. I started out doing this, but as it costs £2 (£1 'each way'), I gave up after a while and just bet £1 to win on two horses in every race. Well, it gave me more to cheer for!

For the record, you can also go to the big company bookmaker to place your bet, if you prefer something official looking.

When I first came to the UK and noticed all the 'bookmaker' shops, I naively thought it was a very clever, bookish country, that had loads of little shops that made books. Aw, sweet, yes? I did eventually find out that this is what they call betting shops. If you want to know why they're called bookmakers, you can google it. Personally, I never forgave them for not being actual book makers.

The best bet of the whole day – which is admittedly probably more fun than it should be, seeing as we're using animals for entertainment – is when they thunder past and, just for a moment, you lose yourself in the noise of hooves hitting soil, huge horses going at great speed and riders intent on getting there first. However, if you can't be bothered to go up to the railing, there's also a great big screen where you can catch all the action, but then you might as well be sitting at home.

We got thoroughly soaked at one point when it rained for England, with the next race delayed for "3 minutes", then "2 minutes" because of the lightning. So precise! But eventually we mostly dried out again, though we never really warmed up and left before the final race of the day.

Winnings? Put it this way: I bet £14, won £5 and spent £6 on coffee, tea and hot chocolate, so you could say I was down £15 after four hours, but that wouldn't account for what a great day out it is.

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