I’ve never been to a horse race meeting, so when a Twitter buddy commented that they were going to Fakenham Races on New Year’s Day, I thought that this would be a new thing to do in the New Year!
When I woke and saw the grey skies and drizzle, I wasn’t so sure, but I got out my trusty walking boots and packed dry trainers in case I got too muddy, wrapped up warm and set out. Fakenham is about 25 miles from King’s Lynn, and a straight trip across country. As I’d been seeing the New Year in and so got up late, I didn't stop for breakfast at home, but thought I’d stop at one of the cafes along the way in one of the villages. What I hadn’t thought about was that it WAS New Year’s day and nothing was open – well, I’d just have to wait till later and eat at the races.
At one point on the drive the drizzle turned to actual rain, and I wondered about my decision, but that cleared up and I kept on. I found the racecourse without any problems, and was soon driving along to the “member’s car park”, an odd title actually, as it’s open to anyone, you just have to pay parking, which you don't in the outer car parks. But is does mean it’s less far to walk! We were sat in a queue for a few minutes, until one of the stewards started directing us to another compound to park, and then I was there!
As I got out of the car and put my hat on, I noticed a lot of people changing into wellington boots, and hoped it wouldn’t be THAT muddy. The first race was already on, and as I approached the rail the horses were galloping by – and suddenly this was real and I was actually there on the mud of the racecourse!
I was in the “enclosure”, which had its own bookies and cafe, but I went on and paid the extra to get into the Grandstand and Paddock. By the time I got through, the first race was over, so I headed to the “Norfolk Picnic” area to get a very late breakfast. There I wished Happy New Year to Sarah from Brays Cottage, and got a chilli flavoured pork pie to keep me warm.
Back to the grandstand and the second race has about 5 minutes to the start. I look at the list of runners – one was called “Knight Legend”, and so I took that as a sign and decided to put a bet on it.
When I’d watched racing on the television, I’d seen the rows of bookmakers each with their own pitch, and sure enough, here they were, all showing their own odds for the horses. Whilst I know little about gambling, I knew enough to be able to put the minimum bet on Knight Legend each way, and then holding my betting slip tight I went and joined the crowd at the rail.
Fakenham race course is gently undulating, and from where I was I couldn’t see the start of this race, but the commentator gave us the off, and soon I could see the horses in the distance as they rounded the first bend to the far side of the course. Soon they were took the near corner, and galloping by us, with Knight Legend in 4th place. They passed us a second time with my horse still in contention, and then finally they came past us for the last time, and Knight Legend finished 2nd!!! Woo-Hoo!!!!!
I excitedly went to the bookies and collected my winnings – which because of the odds were exactly the same as my stake money – well, at least I wasn’t down yet!!
The cold was starting to get to me, so I walked around a bit and watched the horses from the race being lead, steaming, back to the paddock, and the next horses being made ready for the race. In the third race there was a horse called “Erin Dancer”, and since one of my favourite singers is called Erin, I put a bet on this one too. This time I stood in the grandstand to watch the race, but my horse came in 4th, so no winnings this time.
There were 4 more races, and without any names jumping out at me, I went and looked at the horses in the rink, and made a decision to bet on that basis, and actually I did fairly well with all the rest of my choices being 2nd or 3rd – not bad for someone not following form or really having any idea what they were supposed to be doing!
In between races I walked round and queued for coffee to keep me warm. It wasn’t actually that cold to be honest, well above freezing, but it just got to me after a while, and my feet in particular were getting cold. I also had a hot dog with mustard for “lunch”, which was not the best thing I've ever eaten, but at least it was hot.
With the last race coming along I was £0.50 down on the betting for the day, and I went and looked at the horses in the parade ring. One called “Along Came Rose” caught my eye, and the odds were 8/1, so I did another each-way bet, and went up to the grandstand for the last time. For the longest time it looked like my horse was not going to be anywhere, but in a racing finish she managed to finish 3rd!
I went and collected my winnings and ended up the day £0.70 to the good! Fantastic – although I don't think I’ll try and make a living from betting! Then I joined the crowd leaving the course, and was soon really pleased to be back in my car with the heater on.
It was a good experience, and a nice new thing to do on New Years day! I have no idea if Fakenham is representative of other courses, but I found the crowd a happy one and the whole event to be enjoyable. I also learnt that I need to put thicker socks on in future!