“You got a spare tweed jacket mate? Mine’s still covered in mud from Secret Garden Party.” That was the request from one room to another at 9am on the coldest Saturday morning of the year. “Yeah man, as it happens I do,” came the response.
“You mean you’ve got two tweed jackets?”
If you’re about to head to the races for the first time, then attending with a man who owns two tweed jackets is a good start. It’s Hennessy Gold Cup day at The Racecourse Newbury and Crack’s got its glad-rags on. We’re about to enter another world. Hold onto your money (or try to), we’re having a shot at high rolling.
Hennessy’s sponsorship of the Gold Cup is the longest running sponsorship of any sporting event in the country, and you can see why. This is horse racing of the first class highest calibre, exemplified by the wealth on show. So an immediate reality check is taken in the car park as Crack sandwiched its Polo between a Mercedes and a Jaguar. You might have the clothes, you may have an access all areas pass, but if this was a quaffing contest we’d be little more than a dribble in the complimentary champers. This is the races, however, and all that can change with one big bet.
First things first, lets have an explore. Heads up, Crack rolled into the parade ring to get a taste of what it’s like in front of the camera lens. Well actually, slightly to the left of the camera lens, with Liz Hurley, Cilla Black and Denise Lewis stealing the majority of the flashlight action. A wildly interesting selection of people had assembled in this area, combining the glamour of the aforementioned celebrities with some of the most hardened punters. The kind of seasoned gambler and horse aficionado that can look at the way a horse’s tail is positioned and how pissed off it looks and make an educated guess on how he’s going to perform. Safe to say Crack doesn’t fit into either of these categories, but we bloody loved the palpable sense of anticipation. The people here were not messing around.
After a little foray into the weighing room and witnessing a wonderfully chirpy groups of jockeys absolutely covered in mud and positively racing with adrenaline after an earlier race, we went up to the commentary box for a bird’s-eye view of the whole course. It was quite the spectacle. So now, feeling as if we’d got to grips with the place, down to business. After a second place (a common theme of the day, we hadn’t really worked out the potential rewards of each-way betting yet), with a horse named Ma Filleule coming in a few lengths behind the winner, Crack concluded this was a relatively positive start to our day.
One thing you can’t take your eyes off at the races in the wonderful array of characters on display. You can roughly characterise people into three brackets. Pros – namely the old chaps reading the paper wearing flat caps, whom you also happen to spy collecting breezeblocks of cash at the end of each race. Posers – often with a rather attractive other half, sharply dressed and sometimes collecting wads of cash at the end, and definitely talking about their healthy paper situation whatever. Finally, chancers – badly dressed, dodgy footballer imitation hairdos, letting everyone know exactly when they are collecting a shit load of cash because they’re the ones jumping up and down. We hovered reluctantly somewhere between the latter two, minus the girls.
Crack continued its fine second place form in the next race, before our partner in crime finally took down some wedge with a cool £80 take on a horse called Rolling Aces. After getting nowhere in the next race, the mood was starting to get a little sombre, so we went for a bit of a pep-talk from our hosts for the day, and returned to the fray reinvigorated. The biggest race of the day, The Hennessy Gold Cup was about to commence.
Spying one of the aforementioned pros in the queue, and another one in front, it seemed all the smart money was going on a horse called Tidal Bay. So yet again, ignoring the opportunity to bet on the favourite (the favourites had won a lot today), we threw down a fair bit. Well, £50. In what was a very close call, the eventual winner was the favourite called Bobs Worth, Tidal Bay coming in second. Again. Gutted.
One chance left, and you can’t possibly go home on a great day if you’re over £100 down. Balls in. Neck on the line. £60 down at 3-1 on the favourite Ulck Du Lin. Crack could barely watch. We wanted to be munching KFC at Swindon Services with no regret whatsoever about the price of the chicken. Boom! Our Paul Nicholls (the last word in horse training) trained four year-old romped home by three lengths. Never in doubt.
So we didn’t go to the KFC, we got trashed at the after party and watched more champagne quaffed per square metre than at any other event we’ve ever attended, congratulating ourselves all the way on our good fortune.
Words: Thomas Frost