I was at Ludlow races with a friend. We were doing well. A sneaky 40/1 winner in the second, a 7/1 shot in the 4th. A smattering of losers and foolishness. Mustn’t grumble. The sun was shining on our backs, and we were time travellers, beamed into a farmer’s field in the early spring of 1954 (seriously, the entry gates only accepted cash – I’ll repeat that for the phone generation, the turnstile operators only accepted cash - and the only food outlets were a couple of plain-tabled huts serving pasty and chips and urn-tea like we were still in college refec in Lampeter 1982.)
Back to business. We wandered over to the paddock ahead of the fifth race. A juvenile hurdle full of unknowns. I said to Mike, “not many big trainers here, are there?”. No Skelton, no Nicholls. Their horses might be favourites but not worth actually turning up to see. In the middle of the small paddock I spotted the somewhat formidable, and undeniably hot, flat trainer Gay Kelleway, flanked by one owner, a jockey who has never ridden a winner, and a horse trading at 100/1. “What’s she doing here, all the way from Newmarket?” I said to Mike, though in truth I haven’t a clue where she lives.
Gotta be worth a sneaky fiver, I said. 100/1, though when I fired up Betfair it was now 80/1. Just for the craic. When you’re winning, you’re leaky like that. Oh, if only we could all be cyborgs like rational Dom. There is no scientific validity to the notion of "the hot hand", of the zone, of luck itself.
Fuck science. The jockey sets off in front. 20 lengths in front. This happens a lot. A bad horse with no chance of winning, gets loose on the lead, running too free. The other jockeys ignore him, like the peloton ignoring the sacrificial advertising lambs of the day, they know he’ll come back to them and they’ll sail on by. Rounding the home turn, the horse is still 20 lengths clear and I say to Mike, “it’s not actually pulling for its head, you know, I think he’s just stolen 20 lengths.”
There’s three hurdles to cross in the home straight. The crowd is completely silent. I let out a yelp. Mike turns to some posh couple next to us and explains why I had a bet. The horse gets the second all wrong. The peloton closes in for the kill. But gets there too late, as my boy wins at 80/1 to the sound of just one fat person shouting out “come on my babby”.
It was only a fiver but, hey, as the great WA Stephenson, who knew more about life than Dom ever will, used to say, little fish are sweet. Mike’s a bits and pieces, small-stakes, fun gambler – a placepot, a humble exacta. I looked at him. He looked at me. We high-fived. Not something we do. “I had a tenner each way”, he said.
As we passed by the paddock for an early exit, our job done, we passed Gay Kelleway on her way to the winner’s enclosure. The Racing TV announcer was pointing at her, laughing. “What, you think I’d come all this way to the arse of nowhere, for no reason?” she said.