It’s a sunny day at the racecourse. The sky is blue, the grass green and all the punters who’ve turned up in thousands look as though they’ve had their prayers answered. It had been raining until two days earlier. Now, the horses are out, bodies brushed and gleaming.
The jockeys in their individual colours astride, shutting out the crowd, bonding with their mount, concentrating on the race ahead — the final, big one. This is their moment as much as it is the horse’s.
It’s as festive as a major horse race can get. The ladies, in their finery, have evidently sought out the best milliners in town. Their hats, all one-off items. No two matching.
There’s an array of colourful feathers, netting, even faux twigs and leaves that might easily lead a passing swift or swallow to consider pausing awhile in this gorgeous looking nest. The men, impeccable in jackets and ties, some with top hats.
It sometimes seems synchronised because as soon as the hush is complete, the stall gates open and off go the horses, galloping for their lives as well as the wallets of every punter whose heart has left the chest cavity and flown into the throat. Three hours and thirty minutes they’ve waited for a race that lasts no longer than two minutes
Part of this hubbub consists of my mate Barney and his other half. They are marking an anniversary (Barney’s word, ‘marking’ — ‘You don’t say celebrating after forty-odd years,’ he whispered earlier.) They, too, are resplendently turned out, Barney in beige looking like a biscuit from a posh bakery and Mrs Barney in midnight blue which shade, she confided, was pre-chosen on account of one of the horses running which bore the same name.
‘I have never betted on a horse in my life,’ she tells me, ‘but Barney’s the expert and he reckons with my beginner’s luck we stand a good chance with Midnight Blue. Plus, there’s the trifecta, where you wager on three horses, not just the one.’ This is where things get a bit sticky.
Barney thinks a horse named Sand Down is another hand’s down favourite and should be picked. Mrs Barney disagrees on the basis that she thinks she’s detected a limp in one of the horse’s forelegs. It has a disturbing gait, she opines, and Barney chuckles, reminding her that her experience of horses and their gait amounts to zero.
‘I’d go with Show Me The Money,’ she urges nevertheless and after a tiny period of sulking Barney agrees. They both agree on the third horse, Anything Goes, because that happened to be one of their favourite BBC Radio programmes back in the day when they were nearly newly-weds. So, Anything Goes gets a nostalgic tick and in this way the trifecta list is complete.
By this time the buzzing crowd is slowly losing its buzz. Because at the far end the horses are being led one by one into their stalls. It is always interesting at a racecourse to follow the descending decibel line and note how a buzz turns into a hush.
It sometimes seems synchronised because as soon as the hush is complete, the stall gates open and off go the horses, galloping for their lives as well as the wallets of every punter whose heart has left the chest cavity and flown into the throat. Three hours and thirty minutes they’ve waited for a race that lasts no longer than two minutes.
As the galloping animals appear on the screen so does the roar begin to grow and swell until it reaches another well-timed climax. In the end, none of the three horses chosen by the Barneys makes it to the top three positions. The horse that was Barney’s initial choice — Sand Down — actually ends up winning.
Barney is both distraught and livid. You have absolutely no horse sense, he tells his wife and she, for her part retorts, ‘Horse sense is what keeps horses from betting on people, Barney.’
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.