The Races. (the Back Half)

By Smith, Stephen | New Statesman (1996), May 20, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Races. (the Back Half)


Smith, Stephen, New Statesman (1996)


In real life, you seldom meet the sort of people you come across in jokes: actresses who are romantically involved with bishops, nymphomaniac brewers, talking dogs. But I can report the sighting of one of the most cheering characters in all tall stories, the racehorse owner who passes on a nap involving one of his own nags. This welcome figure was standing by the rails of a northern racecourse in a flat cap, a worn shirt and a ski mask of ruddiness. He looked as if he'd come from his allotment rather than the weighing room. But it emerged that a horse running in the 4.30 would be carrying this gentleman's colours, not to mention a competitive price.

Things were looking up at last. Unless you count the therapeutic shredding of my betting slips, the highlight of the afternoon so far had been a lap of honour by the local hunt. This was a curtain-raiser for a race sponsored by the Countryside Alliance. The parade of foxhounds, accompanied by trumpeting huntsmen, had been more like a threat than an advertisement, a declaration of the indomitability of field sports in those woolly parts. As a warm-up event, it also recalled the antique and faintly sinister procession that precedes a bullfight.

A hot tip could not have come along at a better time. But my new best friend in bloodstock warned me that he got the best results from his eight-year-old on a softer sod than the one beneath our feet. "We might pull him out on account of the ground," he said, "but if we leave him in, he might be worth a few bob. …

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