A Day at the Races Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

A Day at the Races

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There are fewer things finer in life than a day out at the horse racing. Around Britain there are many fine racecourses such as Ascot, York, Aintree, Newmarket and Cheltenham (the self-proclaimed home of national hunt racing). Many people, however, never go to the races and, despite horse racing being on the television many days a week, they know next to nothing about the sport. So here follows the basics of what the world of horse racing is all about so that everyone can enjoy a day at the races.

What Type of Horse Racing Will I Be Watching?

There are two different types of horse racing; these are national hunt (which mainly takes place in the winter months and involves the horses negotiating their way safely around and over jumps) and flat racing (which mainly takes place over the summer season). National hunt horses are usually much bigger and stronger than their flat racing counterparts, which are specially bred to be the fastest, classiest animals on the field. There have been many great horses of our time that have won fantastic races such as the Derby won in 2001 by Galileo; the Grand National, won famously three times by Red Rum; and the Cheltenham gold cup, won by Desert Orchid.

How Do I Dress?

There is no dress code for people when they are at the races; many people choose to go in suits or at least smartly dressed while others wear what they feel comfortable in. However, on Ladies' Day, all the women like to go in their most fashionable clothes and a hat and, during Royal Ascot, men like to attend the meeting in top hat and tails but these are old customs and are not enforced in any way. It has to be remembered by anyone that goes to the races that in the winter months it can get very cold and warm clothes like hats, gloves and scarves are essential.

So Exactly What Do I Do?

So, you've been invited out to the races for a day and you don't have the faintest clue about what you're letting yourself in for. Well, once you've chosen what you're wearing, you have to get your money sorted out. You'll need money to get in first of all (unless your ticket has already been paid for). The admission charge is variable and depends on what course and meeting you go to. Admission to the club stand at Ayr racecourse, for example, ranges between £141 on normal race days and £39 on Scottish Grand National day. You also need money if you are intending to have lunch at the course although in summer time it is a nice idea to take a picnic with you and eat on the course. Finally, money will be needed if you are going to the races with the intention of gambling!

Right, now the clothes and money are sorted, how do you get to the course and what are you to expect when you get there? Getting to a course is usually easy with there being trains, buses and usually huge car parks to go to. Find out in the morning paper when the first race is and aim to be at the course at least 90 minutes early to make sure you can get parked and into the course before the first race. There will usually be between six and eight races on any given race day. Races are run at 30-minute intervals throughout the day, giving you plenty of time between races to place bets, get some food and drink or go to the toilet.

What About Picking My Horse?

How do you pick the horse you want to stake your money on? A question asked by every gambler that has ever lived. The true answer is - pick the way that works for you. However, some methods commonly employed are:

  • Studying previous winning form for each horse, trainer and jockey and deciding if the horse is going to be in good form today.

  • Reading the professionals' opinions on the horses printed in the race card, national daily newspaper or other respected horse tipsters' books.

  • Phoning a tipster's line to see where the big gamblers' money is going.

  • Choosing the name of the horse you fancy.

  • Choosing the best colours worn by the horse's jockey.

  • Put a pin into the listings and choose at random.

Any of the above is a fine way to choose a horse. So long as the method works for you then it's fine.

How Much Should I Gamble?

Well, this depends really on how you're feeling; if you really fancy the horse, you can put any amount of money you want on it so long as the bookie will accept your bet. Or you can put on just a few pounds so that you can have an interest in the race. At the course, you can put your bet on with either the course bookies or the Tote. You no longer need to pay tax on any bets you want to place but it has to be remembered that the return you will get for your money differs depending on who you put your bet on with. If you win with the bookie you get your win-money plus your stake back. With the Tote you only get your win-money back, but often the return you get is higher with the Tote than the bookie. If you get to the course and still don't know what to do, just ask the either the person behind the Tote window or the bookie and they will explain exactly what you have to do.

Types of Bet

The simplest type of bet is of course the 'win' line where the horse you pick must come first for you to collect any money

If you're not sure if the horse will win but you're sure it will come in the first three to cross the line you can put on an each way bet and guarantee a return on you money (so long as the horse finishes in the top three places).

If you fancy two horses in a race, you can put on a forecast or reverse forecast so that you get a bigger return if the two horses come in first and second.

There are also many very complicated speciality bets, in which your winnings are multiplied depending on the number of winning horses you bet on. Ask your local friendly bookie to explain these things to you.

Win or Lose, I've Had a Great Day!

Finally just enjoy yourself in the fresh air and have a nice day out. Get involved in the racecourse atmosphere, call your horse home loudly and proudly and, if you win, buy everyone you're with a pint! On the other hand, don't get too upset if the only winner on the day is the bookie - after all, you've got through the day and there will be another opportunity to come out on top next time you go to the races.

1At the time of last update.

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