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Author of Shouting The Odds

‘Tales Of The Turf’ : A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Races …

In 2004, I was commissioned three days photography on behalf of Chester Racecourse at their excellent May meeting. For this purpose, I booked myself into a bed and breakfast situated in the picturesque Queens Park district along the banks of the River Dee.

On the morning of the first day of the meeting – Chester Cup Day – I woke bright and early to a wet and drizzly Cheshire morning. Unperturbed, I dressed quickly and ventured out to buy a copy of the Racing Post, which I planned to browse through over a cooked breakfast in preparation for the day that lay ahead.

It was seven thirty in the morning and there wasn’t a soul around. I set off through the rain under my portable umbrella in the direction of Queens Park Bridge. As I approached the stunning art-deco structure, a tall stooping man emerged from a pathway a few yards ahead of me. He wore a brown trilby hat and was walking a small dog on a lead.

‘Good morning,’ he said, smiling.

‘Good morning,’ I replied and with that he was gone.

Moments later I arrived on the other side of the bridge. I bought a copy of the Racing Post at a paper shop opposite a bandstand on the banks of the river, my verbal exchange with the stranger by now long since forgotten. But as I made my way back across the bridge, the man in the brown trilby reappeared in my mind’s eye. His face seemed familiar but try as I might, I wasn’t able to put a name to it.

Later that day, I was stood with my camera just inside the entrance to Chester’s winner’s circle. The marketing manager had asked for some post race photographs of a winning horse, smiling jockey and jubilant owners, arriving in the winner’s circle to a cheering crowd of well-wishers. For the purpose of these photographs I chose the Cheshire Oaks. I watched the race unfold on the big screen inside the winner’s circle. As the field turned the sharp bend and charged up the home straight, it became clear that an upset was on the cards as the outsider of the field, a filly called Hidden Hope, hit the front deep inside the final furlong, getting the better of Menhoubah and Crystal Curling close home.

Within seconds of the result being made official, a sea of well-wishers descended upon the winner’s circle. Suddenly I was surrounded by a swarm of racing journalists and photographers, jockeying for position for a quote from the winning trainer or some photographs of the star filly. Grimly I dug in deep and held my ground. After the second and third placed horses had been led in, I raised my camera in anticipation. A fanfare of cheers greeted Hidden Hope’s arrival and suddenly there was Ted Durcan, sat aloft the glistening filly donning his cap, smiling broadly, his racing goggles raised to his forehead. I pressed my camera shutter and my motor drive whirred into action. Leading them in was a beaming stable lass flanked by two immaculately dressed girls adorning matching sachets emblazoned with the race sponsors name. Last to enter the winner’s circle were an ecstatic couple who I took to be Hidden Hope’s owners. They were accompanied by a tall stooping man sporting a brown trilby hat … the very same man who had greeted me while out walking his dog this morning! Of course, it was Newmarket trainer Geoff Wragg, who had just trained the Cheshire Oaks winner at the very attractive odds of 14/1.

There were lessons to be learned from my day at Chester races. The first lesson was the importance of an old racing adage. Upon arriving at the races, always without fail bet on a horse trained by the first trainer you see. And the second lesson? Make sure that you have your wits about you before venturing out in the morning in search of a copy of the Racing Post …

 

 

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