6 NOVEMBER 1976, Page 13


First time out

Jeffery Bernard

The Night Nurse–Lanzarote race at Sandown Park last Saturday was the best race I've seen for ages. The only complaint I've got is my usual moan about Saturday crowds. For utterly selfish reasons I'd like them to run the best races in the middle of the week. The 5ft 9ins of me was wedged against a wall behind a legion of tall men, all wearing hats, not the best way of watching a horse race. My feelings about holiday race crowds remind me of the story about the very, very posh trainer who once trained for the Queen. He's supposed to have said that only he and the Royal Family should have been allowed to watch racing. When someone asked him why shouldn't the working classes be allowed to watch as well, he said that it was a spectacle that was too good for them.

But, to go back tc, last Saturday, I took a woman to Sandown who'd never been racing before. It's always fascinating in a ghastly sort of way to take someone to the races for the first time because they inevitably ask such daft questions. At one point this particular lady asked me why did the horses have tissue paper stuck to the insides of their hind quarters. I couldn't think what the hell she was talking about, gingerly approached the rear end of a horse in the unsaddling enclosure, and realised she was referring to the white foam that horses sweat.

She did make the interesting observation that racing people look conspiratorial, tend to talk out of the side of their mouths and invariably look as though they're up to no good. I've got so used to them that I don't notice, but she's right. The jockey, Paul Kellaway, who's just about to take up training, talked to us as though he was operating a ventriloquist's dummy and it was with him that I had the month's most embarrassing moment. Sitting with us at a table in the bar was an owner new to racing. Thinking himself a bit of a lad, he suddenly leant forward and said to Kellaway, 'I suppose you've pulled a few in your time?' This is roughly like asking a police officer, 'Taken any good bribes this week ?' The amount of people in racing who don't engage brain before operating mouth seems to grow daily.

For the first three races on Saturday my companion attempted to pick the winners by what she called cosmic means. When that failed, she turned to astrology. I pointed out to her that the sun signs method might be slightly unbalanced since horses are born in the first half of the year leaving everything from Leo to Sagittarius pretty blank. When I told her, just to make conversation mind you, that Park Top and I share a birthday on 27 May she became even more convinced that it was all in the stars. I'm glad to say that