This was Goodwood without the glorious
Punters scurry for cover as the charming Sussex course is battered by gales, writes Alan Tyers
Alarge plastic bag blew across the home straight, making all the running from a black-jacketed pursuer, who was giving his opponent several pounds. He eventually hauled it in not far from the finish line.
The rain drove down. A few yards away, a baleful trombonist wiped the drips from his spectacles before he and his comrades-in-brass of the British Imperial Military Band struck up.
Damian Wilson, a camera operator, nervously eyed what was shortly to become his perch in the crow’s nest atop the Charlton Stand. “The camera shakes in the wind, it’s like when you point a gun a millimetre out when you aim, and then it is feet out at the other end,” he said.
It was Goodwood, but not as we know it. The forecast was for sound and fury, and a tree down on the train line was an early harbinger, with this uniquely lovely racecourse’s hilly splendour making it ideally ill-suited for high winds.
The weatherperson had it right, albeit perhaps a bit earlier than the worst fears. The gates had hardly opened when the heavens did too, sending staff to haul promotional flags to safety, bar workers to rush as they ferried crates of drinks around, and chefs to wonder if poached salmon might be better replaced with mulligatawny soup.
With only mad dogs and Englishmen out in the noonday rain, the few women who had stuck gamely to summer headwear were sensibly seeking shelter, and the Goodwood merchandise stall’s two most prominently displayed items were playing out a mismatch: Golf Umbrellas 6, Panama Hats 0. Alas, at least one hat was seen leaving its owner to take wing, as the promised gusts came to pass during both the first and second races.
Down by the side of the track, the wind was making the safety rails rattle and sing and hum, the sound that a train makes when approaching. This eerie soundtrack was soon joined by another voice: you would not have thought it possible for a steel band to exist this far removed from its natural habitat, but although the Caribana Steel Band were sticking gamely to their work, the trio found even their jolly tones taking on a plaintive, minor key. The Secret Garden tea lawn remained not so much secret as desolate, a single upturned chair lying, felled, on the grass.
Meanwhile, the lady in the coat check was enjoying the quietest afternoon in memory, for the simple reason “that everybody still has their coat on” and by the time of the third race, Phoebe and Caitlin in the ice cream truck had shifted just three.
The man selling the Timeform race cards was unmoved by the horizontal rain. “I’m from Yorkshire, this is just a normal day for me,” he said.
By mid-afternoon the winds had abated somewhat and the worst of the rain had passed. Local knowledge was invaluable, the Duke of Richmond, the Goodwood head man, bundled up in a voluminous mustard mackintosh. The band played Waltzing Matilda – one hopes that Australian Ashes ambitions find themselves similarly rained upon – and, everyone hopes, the Gloriousness will arrive later in the week.
Heavy going: Racegoers brave the elements at Goodwood yesterday