Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Off to the races


It poured through the night, was grey in the morning, and at eleven o’clock I’d given up on a day at the races. But by twelve the sun was out, and I headed for the bus station. There I met Brian and Linda from Yorkshire (via California) and together we found ourselves the right bus to take us to Les Landes, in the furtherest top left-hand corner of the island. A fifteen minute walk from the bus stop, and there we were, at one of the most picturesque race tracks I’ve ever visited.
It’s a decidedly old-fashioned track. Like, eighteenth century? A large paddock with a one-mile oval of extremely uneven lush green track laid out with bright white and mostly plastic railings and with the inevitable cows in the middle. There is no such thing as a grandstand, nor indeed anywhere to sit and watch the racing at all. Just a manufactured green mound reserved for members only, or 3 pounds extra on top of the mammoth ten you have already had to pay to get in if you want to stand there. But there is the splendid ground-level view out over the cliffs to Guernsey and Sark which is not for members only and which I guess is the ten pounds worth.
The other facilities are equally minimal. One large food and drink marquee (members only, the club is not hospitable to visitors), one small beer tent, an ice-cream van and a hot potato and burger vendor who sold me the best burger I’ve eaten in a decade with Fanta at a pound a can. Plus a brand new office and toilet block under the green mound. Maybe that was the ten pounds worth.
The racing itself was fun. It reminded me of the picnic race-meetings of half a century ago. More enthusiasm than class. Some of the horses, I fear, wouldn’t get near a race-course in New Zealand. And the obviously well-established local hierarchy was mostly respected. Three strong favourites duly obliged, but a 34-1 outsider added a little spice to events, and gave hope to all those kiddies who were wagering fivers and tenners on hopeless outsiders with one of the half-dozen busy bookies on the course.

The five races gave us a bit of everything. We had a hurdle race with a tearaway leader which folded utterly with a mile to go, leaving the favourite to stroll home by a good margin

We had a seven furlong sprint, an eight and a half furlong flat race, and a mile-and-a-quarter one which produced the best finish of the day.

The programme ended with a mile and three quarters race in which the hottest favourite of the day led throughout and left them to it on the hill up to the winning post.

And most of the time the sun shone. So a good day was had by all, even if, after four hours of standing (the grass being too wet from the nightly rain to sit down upon), we older folk were feeling mightily weary.
But Geoff and Carolyn from Bayview being, happily, on the course, I was brought home in automobile comfort to a very long shower, as much cold beer as a man can take and an earlyish bed.

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