A Day at the Races

Full 2022 UK Horse Racing fixture list by region: 2022_Fixture_List

What to wear
Do not be put off by images of top hats and exotic headgear at Royal Ascot these days morning dress is required only in the Royal Enclosure at that meeting and in the Queen’s Stand at Epsom on Derby Day. But at many courses there is a dress code for the Members’ Enclosure which, for example, may require a man to wear a jacket and tie. Indeed, for some people dressing up is all part of the fun of going racing. If in doubt, do not hesitate to telephone the course for guidance. The key to dressing for the races is not so much style as comfort: there’s no point in looking terribly fashionable if you’re freezing cold as the sun goes down. To enjoy a day’s racing to the full may require a good deal of walking around, so give particular

What to take
You will probably want to take with you a newspaper for a list of the runners and expert guidance (the trade paper is the  Racing Post)  and enough money to get you through the day! A few courses have banks which will cash you a cheque, and you can purchase Tote betting vouchers at any course by cheque or credit card. If you take a camera disarm the flash, as flash photography can upset the horses (which will in turn upset many of your fellow racegoers). You will not normally be allowed to take food and drink (including alcohol) into the enclosures (unless picnicking in a Course Enclosure), but you will find a wide selection on sale inside.

Which Enclosure
Most racecourses are divided into several enclosures and you can pay for admission on the day. Top of the range is Members or Club Enclosure ,for the use of annual members of that course (like season ticket holders at a football ground) but usually available to non-members for a daily charge. The cost varies depending on the course and the nature of the occasion – the average is around £12 to £15, but perhaps double that on the day of a very big race. For big meetings you can often book in advance (and for some it is essential to do so).

The Members Enclosure – admittance to which is by a small cardboard badge which you should keep displayed – has the best viewing and the best facilities, and your badge allows you to take advantage of all the facilities in the next enclosure down, usually called Tattersalls or Grandstand and Paddock (popularly known as ‘Tatts’). Here, for an entrance charge in the region of £8 to £10 (higher at major meetings), you will have access to the parade ring and winner’s enclosure (where the horses can be seen at close quarters) as well as a good view of the track and extensive eating, drinking and betting facilities. The presence of the bookies gives Tatts – usually the largest enclosure on the course – its characteristic hubbub and atmosphere. On the rail which divides Tatts from Members are to be found the ‘rails bookmakers’, who bet – mostly on credit  – with some of the heavy hitters among the punting fraternity.

The Silver Ring or Course Enclosure is the cheapest (around £3 to £5), at most courses without access to the parade ring and winner’s enclosure, but with betting and catering facilities. Cars are allowed in the Course Enclosure at some racecourses and picnicking is a very popular pastime. The exact nature of the enclosures may differ from course to course and from meeting to meeting – for instance, some courses merge enclosures on particular days – but again: if you need guidance telephone in advance.

Children up to the age of sixteen are admitted free to all racecourses if accompanied by an adult. In general, facilities for small children have improved immensely over the last few years, with a crèche available on some courses and entertainments, such as bouncy castles, much in evidence on many Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday meetings. Many courses offer concessions to senior citizens and students.

Understanding your racecard
Your basic tool for a successful and informed day at the races is the racecard, your programme for the day, available at the course for a small charge. The amount of information in the racecard varies from course to course, but wherever you are racing you will find it an invaluable aid to your day. Racecards will have a key to the layout of the information provided, as well as a short summary of each horse, and an estimate of it’s chances in a race. A large part of the fun is in making up your own mind, but the racecard summary will provide basic information to supplement any impressions you have gained of the horses in the Parade ring & going down to the start.

At the head of each race listed in the racecard will be details for that event, including the prize money on offer, and it may be helpful to know the different categories of race:
Race Categories

In a Conditions Race (or Weight-for-Age) the horses carry specified weights according to such factors as age, sex, whether they have won before or the nature of the races they have won. A Handicap is a contest in which the weight each horse is to carry is individually allotted (by the official handicapper) according to past performance, the theoretical object being to equalise the chances of all horses in the race. A Nursery is a handicap for two-year-olds. A Rated Stakes on the flat or a Limited Handicap in jump racing is one in which the range of weights is kept narrow: this encourages the participation of high-class horses, who will not have to make large concessions to other runners.
Directly after a Selling Race the winner is offered at public auction – a highly interesting and often entertaining sight.
Other types of race – such as Claiming Race, Auction Race or Median Auction Race – will often be explained in the individual race conditions printed in the card.
Over the jumps there are further variations, including:
Novices Race (hurdle or steeplechase), for horses which have not won a hurdle or chase respectively before the start of the previous season;
National Hunt Flat Race (known as a ‘bumper’), in which prospective jumping horses race without the inconvenience of having to clear obstacles;
Hunter Chase for horses which have been regularly hunted.

The Tote, identified by the red and black Tote Symbol, can be found in all enclosures. The system operates by pooling all bets placed on a particular race and sharing out the proceeds amongst the winners. Leading up to the race an approximation of the current odds will be shown on the Tote screens by the betting windows. However, the size of the payout will depend upon the amount of money bet. To place your bet at the Tote, state the amount of your stake, the type of bet and the number of the horse you wish to back, for example, £5 to win on number 5.

Bookmakers can be found in the Grandstand & Paddock and Family Enclosures. Each bookmaker will advertise the minimum stake he will accept and the odds offered on each horse. To place a bet with a bookmaker state the amount of your stake, the type of bet and the name of the horse.

Racecourse betting shops
Racecourse betting shops are similar to any high street betting shop, in that you can enjoy a variety of different bets, in smaller amounts than with a bookmaker and at any meeting being held on that day. To place a bet you will need to complete a betting slip with the appropriate details.

The parade ring and going down
There is ample time, both in the pre-parade ring and in the parade ring itself, to indulge in ‘paddock inspection’ of each runner. Beyond general admiration for the magnificent sight of a well turned out thoroughbred, what should you look for? With horses, as with humans, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and fitness in a horse is easy to spot (as with humans, a fat tummy indicates lack of condition). But generally the encouraging signs in a horse before the race are a coat with a good sheen to it, an intelligent and alert countenance, high head carriage with big ears pointing slightly inwards, a well-muscled body and a springy step.
A horse which is well muscled may be said to ‘carry plenty of condition’, whereas one with a lean and ribby look will have ‘run up light’. Be cautious of a horse sweating up but not necessarily dismissive, as some horses run better when they are on edge. Sweating around the eyes and ears is not a good sign. Beware colts and horses, especially two-year-olds, who make obvious displays of their gender – their mind and energies may be focused elsewhere.

Consider how the horse walks
An easy, loose stride is ideal, and a little jig jogging suggests that he is on good terms with himself, whereas the horse that will not be led round calmly is getting agitated and wasting valuable nervous energy. Take account of the equipment the horse is wearing.
Blinkers – a hood fitted over the horse’s head to prevent backward vision, focuses his concentration on what is going on ahead, and can transform the performance of a horse with a short attention span.
A visor- is similar to blinkers, but has a slit in each eye-shield to allow some lateral vision. It is commonly thought that the fitting of blinkers or a visor suggests an ungenuine horse, but this is not necessarily the case, so do not be put off if all the other factors appear to be in his favour. Try to watch each horse cantering down to the start, and have a good look at his action. If he strides out well, in an easy, flowing motion, he is comfortable on the ground, whereas if he moves to post scratchily he is not happy with the surface and is likely to be even more unhappy at galloping speed.
But the most beautiful and sweetly moving horse in the world is not much of a betting proposition if he cannot run fast enough, so at some point you need to get to grips with the basics of that mass of information which, once interpreted correctly, should yield the winner – form.

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