Ishould probably come clean here; while this issue has a bit of a horsey theme going on, I’m not big on the whole equine thing. It’s not that I don’t admire a handsome horse; just that I find them slightly terrifying.
Anything as substantial as that which thinks for itself and is invited to cooperate with human beings always has the upper hand. You just don’t know what is going on behind that long, impassive face.
To be fair I haven’t had any terrible experiences with horses. The odd pony trek on holiday passed without incident and I’ve never been kicked, thrown or bitten by one.
In fact my worst horse-based experience happened when I was a very junior reporter on the EDP and I was invited by a senior colleague to an early Bank Holiday meeting at Fakenham.
It wasn’t a social invitation; I would be working with Dick on his coverage for the Sporting Life, then the pre-eminent paper for racing. I’d get a tenner and a beer and in those days that was incentive enough to give up an early May afternoon.
I can’t find it in the records, but I believe that was the coldest Bank Holiday since the Ice Age. In those days Fakenham wasn’t as well-appointed as it is now and, dear reader, in inadequate clothing, I was frozen, shivering so hard that I must have looked fuzzy around the edges to everyone else.
But that wasn’t the real problem. Then, as now, I simply
knew nothing about the sport of kings.
“Barkle Bumpty in the 2.10 has moved up; he’s threes over seven since Wincanton when he was carrying two stone and a Belgian hatstand,” says Dick. Or something like that.
It didn’t get any better when the racing started. My sole job was to phone the Sporting Life and give them the odds.
I was clueless. “Barkle is now fours; Smithy’s Hanky is evens, Spongebob is legging it out to elevens and Up the Ante has gone Horlicks,” says Dick.
So I’d pick up the phone and glumly dial the copy-taker. Competing with the tinny Tannoy blaring out race commentary I’d pass on some entirely useless information which had become even more nonsensical in my iced-up brain.
The copy-taker, an old hand, was baffled but kind. He tried to prise something useful out of me but he was fishing in an empty pond. He finally gave up. “Put me back on to Dick,” he said, wearily.
And so that was the pattern of the day. Everyone else was having a whale of a time. The racing was colourful and exciting and people were loving it all.
As Terry Redhead says in this issue, Fakenham and Great Yarmouth, Norfolk’s two top racecourses, offer much to the race-goer. But I’ve never been able to lay the ghost of that miserable Bank Holiday Monday.
And I never did get my tenner, either.
Race-goers at Fakenham enjoying the action