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Author of Shouting The Odds

The Evening I Broke My Racecourse Duck …

Kempton Park in the west London suburbs isn’t Longchamp or Santa Anita by any stretch of the imagination. But the fact that I could get there on the 140 bus from close to the bookies where I worked spoke very much in it’s favour. And during the days when they still staged flat racing on turf, Kempton Park will always be the place where I broke my racecourse duck.


Before I worked at the bookies I’d never been to a racecourse. My visual introduction to the Sport of Kings came exclusively via the SIS live feed at work. The remit of an SIS camera operative is, lets be honest, to keep things simple: broadcast the race as it unfolds from beginning to end, in focus wherever possible and be sure to show the placed horses crossing the finishing line. The latter was imperative, as I knew from personal experience that there would be mayhem on the betting shop floor otherwise. Each race was filmed in exactly the same way, no need for the fancy, panoramic drone photography of today. Just show the horses who run into the money! SIS usually obliged. My impression of horse racing as an ‘experience’ was formed solely from this formulaic process, to the extent that I could have been forgiven for forgetting that racecourses were living, breathing places, existing in real time beyond the one-dimensional version broadcast to me on my small TV monitor above my desk at work.

Then one afternoon, all this changed. A mate of mine rang and asked me if I had any plans after work? He was the manager of another shop on our district and we both had the evening off. I told him I didn’t.

‘Do you fancy going to Kempton’s evening meeting then?’

‘Er yeah, okay. Why not?’


We met up outside Ladbrokes in Harrow town centre. I just had enough time to put on an elaborate placepot at the counter before he arrived. My racecourse debut didn’t get off to the best of starts. Though the 140 bus service took us all the way to the racecourse, it was running late and we missed the first race. I stepped off just in time to hear my placepot crash out of the first leg and by the time I’d bought a programme and a ticket for tattersalls, I was going off the ‘racecourse experience’ I’d heard so much about before I’d even set foot on one.

But as I passed through the turnstile and emerged on the other side, something happened. I left behind me the noisy tobacco-stained interior of my workplace and entered a multi-coloured three dimensional world. As I made my way across the lush green racecourse lawn, the sun came out from behind the clouds and it quickly turned into a warm and sunny west London evening. Reaching the parade ring I saw thoroughbred racehorses up close for the first time. As the runners and riders paraded for the second race, Pat Eddery strode past on a giant chestnut with a distinctive white blaze down his face. We both put a tenner on him in the silver ring and a short while later, cheered like madmen from up in the grandstand when he got up on the line and won by a head. I bought a pint and a greasy hamburger from a van out of my winnings. I backed more losers than winners that evening; but as we waited on the platform at Kempton Park train station after the last race – sod the 140 bus service –  I found myself  thinking about which of Britain’s other sixty or so racecourses I would visit next.


As I opened up the shop the next morning, I did so with a clearer understanding of the racing and betting world that I was a small part of. Later that afternoon, I settled down behind a large pile of bets in front of the small TV monitor above my desk as per usual. I looked out across the betting shop floor. It was packed. Then I looked at my TV monitor. The runners were loading for the first race of the day, the 1.50 from Goodwood. And as the horses burst from the stalls and the coverage of the race unfolded before me, my mind began to wonder and I tried to imagine what Goodwood Racecourse actually looked looked like beyond the confines of my small TV monitor. There was only one way to find out …

Which was the first racecourse you visited? Was it a flat meeting or a jumps meeting and was it at your local racecourse? Please leave your comments below – I loved to read them.


#ShoutingTheOddsBook #HorseRacing #writerslife #newblogpost #racingnewbie #dayattheraces #NationalReadABookDay

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