A Simple Challenge?

I am one of those people who thrive on challenge. If something becomes routine or easy then I quickly loose interest.

It is the same with my racing, I like to set myself challenges, the more difficult the better.

I am one of those who has the full set of UK racecourses, multiple times in fact so that is no longer a challenge for me. However there is a twist I have not achieved and that is to visit all 61 UK racecourses in a calendar year.

61 racecourses?

Well yes because I count Newmarket as being two separate racecourses …. so different are the Rowley Mile and July Courses.  

So my challenge for 2010 is, or maybe that should now be was, to visit all 61 courses, in theory quite a simple challenge after all, on the face of it, it just means visiting a new course, on average, once every six days.

I also set out to add another target for 2010 and that was to go to the St Leger, the only Classic missing from my CV.

Easy peasy – no it ain’t, you would be surprised at the number of issues which have tried to prevent this seemingly simple challenge.

The year did not get off to a good start with a plethora of abandonments due to the bad weather in January and February.

OK it gave me the opportunity to tick off the, for me, dreaded all weather courses early on, but the abandonment of so many national hunt fixtures resulted in many re-draftings of my diary.   

Then we had the volcanic ash, which put paid to a couple of visits to Scottish courses, although being relatively early on in the year it did mean rescheduling was possible and without too much frustration and re-jigging.

By the end of June I was pretty well bang on target, having managed to visit 32 different courses and, as of now, I am up to 43.

Of course now is the time where it gets a little panicky as time is beginning to run out with the flat courses, many of whom are reaching the climax of their seasons.

As I write this, on 13th September, I have just three flat only courses outstanding (Redcar, Hamilton and York) but I think I am now in trouble.

A few weeks ago I was confident of reaching my targets, having spent a full day organising my racing schedule for the remainder of 2010. I was even feeling quite smug as I had even managed to include the St Leger and a weekend in Paris for the Arc.

What is it they say about the beat laid plans though?

I had forgotten to factor in Sod’s law – and oh boy is Sod hitting me with a vengeance?

Sadly my Father has been in declining health for the past few months and intermittent health scares have, obviously, resulted in having to miss racing to make visits to see him.

Not that I am complaining about missing racing in those circumstances, after all when it comes to the health and wellbeing of a family member or loved one, compared with horses running round a field, it is a no brainer.

I do not hold with the view of the late Bill Shankly that sport is more important than anything else …. family and friends always come first.

As a result of Dad’s declining health I have been generally planning my racing so I am never more than a few hours away from where my parents live and that has resulted in juggling visiting to the missing three flat fixtures, two of which I have had to reschedule on more than one occasion, but all finally seemed to be on target.

Then last Thursday I was at Epsom and as the runners were going down for the first race I had one of those phone calls everyone dreads. It was my wife calling to say she was on her into hospital with my Mother-in-Law. Obviously no was I going to stay at the races and leave her to manage on her own.

So we are now faced with two poorly parents, in different parts of the country.

Next to go out of the window was the St Leger … in reality another no-brainer decision. I have already been to Donny this year so it had been ticked in the main challenge and the St Leger will still be around next year – out parents may not be.

So today was to be a trip to one of the three remaining missing flat courses – Redcar. The final decision to go wasn’t made until last night, when I was happy both Dad and Mum-in-Law were relatively OK. Today being my second attempt to go to Redcar, the first being thwarted when Dad was going through a bad spell.

Now from where I live it is a 446 mile round trip to Redcar, so I decided to go by train. By purchasing advance tickets I was able to get from Peterborough to Redcar for only £23 return, far cheaper and quicker than driving.

The downside of advance tickets is you are tied to a particular train, not too a big price to pay for the cheap fare.

It’s just over 50 miles from home to Peterborough, a journey that usually takes 1¼ hours, however having an absolute hatred of being late for anything I set off just over 2 hours before my train was due – plenty of time!!!

I have one of these fancy “real-time” sat-nav systems which gives live traffic updates and not long after setting off it warned me of six miles of slow traffic on the A1, this whilst I was stuck in roadworks near Bedford.

By the time I eventually reached the A1 the traffic was not slow, it was at a virtual standstill and when I requested a re-route from the sexily voiced sat-nav I was told my revised e.t.a. would be five minutes before my train was due to depart – far too close for comfort.

Did I panic – of course not. Being a resourceful chappie I had a plan B. I was only a couple of miles from St Neots station, it was only 8:15 and there was a train from St Neots to Peterborough, leaving at 8:39 and due to arrive 12 minutes before mine departed … all was not lost.

I arrived at St Neots station to find the car park was pay-and-display and I had no change (Peterborough station has a pay on exit car park so I didn’t bother bringing any change with me), no problem the pay machines take cards. I insert my card to be told – “sorry, machine fault, we cannot process cards”.

It was now 12 minutes before the train from St Neots was due to depart.

A sign in the car park gave me hope – “Pay Your Parking By Phone” it said.


Well it is simple if you have previously registered, not if you had to register first. By the time I paid the £6.45 parking fee, a 45p facilitation fee and a 1.8% card handling fee there was only five minutes to departure time.           

I ran across the car park lugging a laptop and binoculars … to find only one person in the queue at the ticket office and three minutes to get to the platform.

It was then I glanced at the departure board only to see the St Neots – Peterborough train was running 20 minutes late, meaning I would still miss my train up North. All that rushing for nothing – and I couldn’t even get the blessed parking money  back.

I had a dilemma – do I drive to Redcar or do I cut my losses and go home?

If I had not had a sleepless night tossing and turning, worrying about Dad and Mother-in-Law I may possibly have gone for the drive but in the end I decided to cut my losses and come home.

The trouble is today’s delay now looks to have stymied my attempt to do all the courses in 2010.

Redcar have just three remaining fixtures in 2010. The first is next Wednesday, the day before I am due to fly to Perth for their final meeting of the year, the second in the Saturday of the Arc weekend and the third on a day where I have another commitment which I cannot get out of.

I am currently looking to see how far it is to drive from Redcar to Perth, but even worse would be the seven hour drive from Perth to Home, especially as I am at Ascot the following day.

Could it be I have finally been stopped in my attempt to visit all the courses in 2010?

Why is something, on paper, seemingly quite simple so difficult to carry out in practice and what else do the fates have in store for what is turning into a terrible 2010?

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