Off to the Races!

It was inevitable that at some point I had to go to the races and cheer on the ponies!

After all, horse racing is such a quintessentially English obsession.  There are sixty race courses in Great Britain!

So off we went to The Royal Windsor race course, not far outside London located in the shadows of the majestic Windsor Castle.

The Royal Windsor course is a relatively informal, relaxed, and intimate setting that draws a varied crowd.  No fancy hats are required as at Royal Ascot.  Instead, we mixed in among inveterate gamblers in tweed caps, tarty women in too-short skirts and too-high heels, Eton toffs in posh preppy outfits, locals in Barbour and britches, adults in blazers and country club attire, jockeys in bright silks, and sportscasters in bright ties.

But the people are not the stars of this show.  It is the horses who garner all the attention with every camera aimed at them like the celebrities that they are in this venue.  Here is Purple Spectrum with an owner who has a certain celebrity status of her own… The Queen!

winner

I know basically nothing about horses and even less about placing bets.  I learned that before each race the horses are paraded around in the center ring for all to view and assess.  The spry jockeys jump upon the moving horses mid-trot as if on a merry-go-round.

jockey

A total novice,  I like to place my bets on a horse with a clever name or pretty colors.  Luckily, I had an expert with me who did his homework and knew how to analyze the jockey’s experience, the horse’s potential, the owner’s reputation, and the conditions of the field.  With his help, I placed bets with the bookies to either “win” or “each way”, allowing a prize for a horse who places first or second.

Once all bets are placed, the crowd moves to the grand stands in anticipation of the race which starts far afield.  An electronic  jumbotron shows the horses lining up in the gate and then they are off!

The spectators grab their binoculars in an attempt to see the action.

The excitement mounts as the ponies come into view, thundering around the track.  Binoculars drop, and the crowd cheers enthusiastically as the horses fly through the final stretch.

Then the whole process is repeated as the next race is slated to begin within a half hour.  There were six races on our program, all running approximately two furlongs (about one mile).

Of course, racing conditions are always a factor.  We had a typical English day that seemed to encompass several seasons in the breadth of 2 hours.  We arrived in warm sunshine, dodged teaming rain, bundled in the crisp post-rain air, huddled under umbrellas during another gusty downpour, and then enjoyed the resulting rainbow as the light began to fade.

Unlike the jockeys who ride with leaden pouches to add weight and allow for proper handicapping on the track, I reduced the amount of weight in my pockets as I walked off the field.  I chose one winner, but my earnings did not cover my losses on other less successful bets.

I know a safer wager to put my money on:  Will I be back to the races one day?

You bet!

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