Racing In A Mist – But Memories As Clear As Day

May 12th, 2023 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

George Materna, a dedicated Goodwood supporter, missed the first Saturday in early May.

This was because his second daughter (of five) was having her pre-marriage ‘hen’ do in his box. I was the tipster and the only man there. Needless to say, I soon made my excuses and left, with an afternoon to fill on the worst day weather-wise Goodwood has known for several years. I walked slowly through the mist and rain to the open space betting office in what we used to call the silver ring.

I try to find some romance in it all, as one must. Gatsby in a mac at a party he didn’t pay for, perhaps, but it won’t quite do. Somehow I can’t see myself addressing anyone in the throng as ‘old sport’ and we aren’t in Gatsby’s blue gardens, with men and girls coming and going like moths, we’re down by the furlong pole at Goodwood and the mist and rain, denied their moment outside Westminster Abbey on coronation day, are making the most of this consolation prize.

Mind you, in this corner everything is indeed blue. That’s because William Hill have the concession here and the screens are blue, the counter is blue and the pens are blue, though of a lighter shade. To anyone who watches racing from the warmth of a box, or the comfort of an armchair, I’d just say you should experience one of these Saturdays, even though it won’t be your sort of thing at all.

There is no longer any need for a commentary or a presenter. Nor is there a screen given over to results. All that matters is the next betting event and one race follows another – no one can see anything at Goodwood, of course, but there is Thirsk and Newmarket and Uttoxeter, Naas and Greyville, greyhound racing both real and fake, with Dieppe to follow later on. The two counterhands are superb at their job – polite, thorough, not given to mistakes, quiet, calm and above all realistic, I suppose. It’s a job, after all, and we all need a job. I try hard to compare them to croupiers but that doesn’t quite work, either. Croupiers work half-hour shifts or whatever and then have a break, whereas these chaps will work steadily, implacably, until the long day closes. They’re warm and dry and in the end they get paid, which puts them three-nil up on most of the punters. What they think of it all – privately, that is – is not something we need dwell on here.

I place a few imaginary bets, as you do, and the one-time serious player in me knows full well that the only ‘proper’ bet you’d have, even at a shade of odds-on, is Aidan O’Brien’s debutant Johannes Brahms at Naas. If you were playing for real, it would worry you slightly that the possible threat, Tourist, has come in from 5/1 to 7/2. I don’t need the commentary, of course, not that it’s being broadcast or would be heard anyway, and Johannes Brahms lands the odds but not before Tourist has twice looked likely to worry him out of it. Seamie Heffernan has to give the favourite a hard race but Aidan O’Brien’s are supremely fit and in your heart you know the one chance of making the day pay has come and gone.

Aimez-vous Brahms? Oh yes. It’s the title of a Francoise Sagan short story, turned into a bitter-sweet minor film called Goodbye Again starring Ingrid Bergman. The night club singer is Diahann Carroll, who recorded Have I Changed (a direct lift from the Third Movement, Third Symphony) and was going to marry David Frost at one stage but things didn’t work out. They’ve both gone now. It’s funny, the things you think about in the rain and I knew Johannes Brahms wouldn’t be beaten.

Most of the people around me are half a century or so younger. The lads are all clutching pints of cold lager and shout at each other, though there’s nothing aggressive in it. My mother would have said their trousers were at half-mast, something of an exaggeration as they aren’t far above the ankle. The shoes aren’t trainers, not really, they’re more like spats and check jackets seem to be in favour. The girls are dressed for a beautiful summer’s day on the lawn – much chiffon, and short skirts gliding among the whisperings and the champagne. No, sorry, that was at Gatsby’s party; I do get confused these days and there wasn’t much whispering or champagne at Goodwood, not by the furlong pole anyway, but white wine was much in evidence and it was simply a place where the boys and girls enjoyed themselves, irrespective of the racing, which was close to being an irrelevance. This is also the way I think about Cheltenham where a certain age group, from a certain social background, is concerned.

A man pushing a wheelchair makes his way through the crowd. He is quietly determined to have his bet and he writes it out carefully before handing it over. His partner leans back and turns her lovely face towards us and smiles, a smile to lighten any day, even one like this, and I feel quite stunned. The man comes back and steers the wheelchair carefully between groups where the lager is starting to make an impression. The football chants are not long delayed but his dignity and her smile carry the day. I am humbled and moved.

Things improve further when I go outside and Time Interval makes all (I think) in the ten-furlong handicap. I haven’t backed it but Ian Bartlett is in cracking form in the commentary box, his voice registering amazement when some of the runners come in at, yes, time intervals of 18 lengths and 27 lengths in the heavy ground. “And they’re still coming in!” he cries as they plod home.

I worked with Barty at SIS all of 30 years ago. He is a good man and a proper pro and has been quite lucky for me over the years. I was relaxing in the Old Duke, a famous jazz pub in Bristol, when Eric Alston’s Record Time won at 14/1 at Newmarket in 1999 and Barty called her home. I missed very few Eric Alston winners and now he’s retired. I’m quite relieved when people retire these days because at least it’s not the other thing.

I look out at the rain and decide my tip in the last, Entrancement, has an even better chance in the heavy. He wins by just over six lengths and cheers me to a degree as I think about the man and his lady in the wheelchair, Barty and Brahms and the day I met George Materna fifteen years ago.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

By golly, I wish I’d written that.