A foggy day at Lingfield Park
The Secret Racegoer is back on track, even if the viewing is a bit foggy
It had been a long wait, but finally the Secret Racegoer was back on course. Lingfield to be precise, when up to 2,000 racegoers were permitted to return to the races.
Now, many had waited since March, but the Secret Racegoer had been able to make a brief return to the races in September, to Doncaster, for one of racing’s pilot days. Unfortunately, the local director of public health, Dr Suckling, announced somewhat dictatorially that he’d “instructed” Doncaster to abandon its pilot scheme after one day.
But here we were at Lingfield, in deepest Surrey, which was one of four tracks able to offer admission to racegoers on Wednesday, 2 December.
A 2,000 capacity was never going to be challenged for this all-weather fixture, and it was doubtful that the crowd got into four-figures.
Yet, a few hundred were eager to witness live sport. The first race was due off at 11.30, which was a bit of a shock to the Secret Racegoer’s system as his time of rising had, during the past few weeks of “lockdown 2”, been long after first lot.
Despite the hour, here he was at Lingfield’s entrance gates 10 minutes before they were due to open at 10.30, which meant he was able to watch the ceremonial repositioning of the table for bag searches.
Like many of the nation’s Covid-19 responses, things weren’t quite right. The table had been placed in front of the entrance, but once that had been spotted and it was moved aside, racegoers were allowed to march through.
Guard of honour
They then proceeded past the guard of honour formed by of members of Lingfield’s finest security guards in their orange tunics, and followed the route through to the front of the stands, where they were greeted by the corps of bookmakers in the traditional formation of three in Tatts and three on the rails.
First port of call for the Secret Racegoer was the coffee shop. “Are you excited to be here?” asked one of the two baristas. “Not exactly excited”, replied the Secret Racegoer, “but pleased to be back.”
The barista looked a little crestfallen.
A note of normality was soon sounded when the raceday presenter informed the massed ranks of racegoers that, in the first race, two runners had missed roll-call and the troop of 16 for the opener, a handicap, was now down to 14.
Once the news of two deserters had been communicated, the public address struck up with some festive music: “Fairytale of New York”. Was this going to be the original version, or the anodyne version now preferred by the BBC? In fact, it was neither, but a safe orchestral version.
News was also imparted that Adam Kirby would miss his ride in the opener due to traffic problems. Judging by the number of racegoers, this was not an issue caused by local traffic congestion.
One of the stipulations of being at the races in these troubled times is the requirement to wear a facemask at all times. Nothing wrong with that unless you think it infringes human rights. Or you wear spectacles.
The Secret Racegoer wears spectacles, and his glasses quickly fogged up. It would be ok, he thought, when he watched the racing through his binoculars. Wrong. They too fogged up.
The same problems was being experienced by one of bookie Barry Dennis’s foot-soldiers: “Do you have to wear your mask over you nose” he asked after a PA announcement reminded everyone that the wearing of a face mask was part of the dress uniform.
Meanwhile, the Secret Racegoer failed to get a clear view of Hollie Doyle delivering a late charge to win the second on Yes My Boy by a short-head.
He’d backed Doyle’s mount, a flagrant dereliction of duty as the runner-up, Make It Rain, was the Racing Hub’s Daily Tip.
So, after watching the first two races through a pea-souper, the glasses were dispensed with. Reading the Racing Post was fine, but anything more than a foot away was a blur.
This was evidenced when the Secret Racegoer was in the bar and a couple approached him saying hello. Scrambling for his glasses, he said “This is very embarrassing, but I don’t know who I am talking to.” “Oh, we don’t know you” one said, “but you have the same Injured Jockeys Fund face mask as we do.”
Being in the bar had to be mentioned at some point, and the Secret Racegoer had to cope with the news that there was no Guinness, or Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. Such blows should not be taken personally. The Shipyard Pale Ale was an ok alternative but, at £5.70 a pint, he was quickly reminded of sports event pricing.
Even more extortionate was a bar of chocolate at £1.50. The Secret Racegoer didn’t know whether to eat it or put it in a safety deposit box.
The cost of the confectionary was soon forgotten as the Secret Racegoer, displaying all the traits of a mug punter, had a bet in every race and found five winners.
So that was a day back at the races. Sandown beckons on Friday and Saturday, with Cheltenham next weekend. In between, there’s a rugby match at the new home ground in Brentford of London Irish. Despite the Exiles winning last Sunday, beating Leicester, next weekend’s game against Sale might be best watched through fogged-up glasses.
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