You Can Keep It

Obviously I am a keen racing fan and am an obsessive National Hunt supporter. Whilst Cheltenham is the pinnacle of the racing year, in terms of racing quality the Aintree Grand National Festival comes a very close runner-up.

However whereas I cannot wait to get back to racing at Cheltenham, I would not have the slightest regret if I were never to attend the Aintree Festival again and it really hurts me to say that.

Although the racing is of a high quality the meeting itself encapsulates, for me, much of what is wrong with modern racing.

Call me old fashioned but for me, an afternoon at the races should be a relaxing day out, in a warm friendly relaxed atmosphere in the convivial company of others who enjoy their racing. Sadly you will find none of these at the National meeting.

You realise what you are in for even before you enter the course.

Racegoers are treated as if they are going to be troublemakers, corralled like sheep or cattle. You actually wonder if you are attending a race meeting or a football match where they are expecting trouble.

Arrive by train and you are greeted by Merseyrail staff who fall into one of two categories. They are either over zealous little Hitler’s who would make members of the Waffen-SS look like meek childminders.  Alternatively there are “chippy Scousers” displaying that infamous local “wit”, which I somehow always fail to find totally unfunny. Clearly none of them have ever attended any customer service course.

On arrival at the station at a busy time and you are then corralled into what is effectively a holding pen until they decide you can proceed to the course.

Before entering the course you will then have to go through the so called security screening process. This screening dates from after the 1997 National. This, if you recall, is the meeting which was Cancelled due to the IRA bomb threat and which resulted in one of the most embarrassing, incompetent displays of policing ever seen in this country. Basically the Merseyside force panicked big style and over-reacted in their reaction to the threat.

Perhaps Merseyside Police should spend some time with the Thames Valley police who are responsible for policing Royal Ascot, a much more high profile “target” from a security perspective but policed in discreet but effective manner.

Almost as a means to try and justify their actions the “ring of steel” was introduced to “protect” the event.

In reality this security screening is just for show and is a complete and utter waste of money.

This is exemplified by my arrival at the course on Thursday. All racegoers have to pass through airline style security scanners. You are meant to put mobile phones and metal item in a bag for examination. I “forgot” to take my PDA out of my jacket pocket. I went through the scanner, set off the alarm. At which point I was expected to be searched but no – absolutely nothing at all.

Next was the bag “search” – I had a computer bag with me. Four sections. I was asked to open one of them, a quick look inside. That was it.

So we had security screening. I set the alarm off and was not searched, I had a bulging bag which was not searched. What is the point? (This is not a “one off” either – the same happened to me last year. Indeed last year I saw a chap set off the alarm. He was asked to step aside to a search and he just walked off and was not challenged.)

So you are now in the course. Not in a happy mood by the way you have been herded like sheep. Concerned, because the ring of steel is, in reality, a just token mesh, expensive window dressing.      

Once inside you wonder where you are. Are you at a racecourse or are you at any UK High Street on a Saturday night?

Sadly, I would say the overwhelming majority of those at the course will not see a horse all afternoon. Most have glasses of alcohol in their hands and seem hell bent on pouring as much alcohol down their throats as possible.

The middle day is “Ladies Day”, although the other two days could easily be described as dress (or perhaps “undress”) rehearsals.

These Ladies days should be a “delight on the eye” and granted some of the outfits are delightful, being worn by attractive women. Sadly, however, these are a minority. The majority, not to put too fine a point on it, are awful.

I was tempted to include the words “mutton” and “lamb” in describing the women, however in doing so I would be insulting sheep.

There is so much fake tan on display I am surprised there is not a world shortage. The trouble is most of the tan is so obviously fake and badly applied it looks comical, especially when combined with high heels, mini skirts, tight tops and size 20 bodies.

If it rains the puddles are orange and the racegoers have “tiger stripes” from the streaks.

As the booze flows the noise gets louder the legs more wobbly.

Earlier I compared Aintree with a UK High Street on a Saturday night. The similarity is most apparent towards the end of the day. Racegoers falling over, vomiting, making even more of an exhibition of themselves.

Of course it isn’t just the women. The lads are out as well – ogling the women, swilling the beer doing very impressive impersonations of wide boys and spivs.

I suppose I should show some balance and say this phenomenon is not unique to Liverpool and Aintree. It is something that is certainly endemic at a number of northern courses.

Chester is as bad as Aintree for exhibitionist “ladies”, whilst the loutish lads predominate at York. For balance both sexes attempt out drink one another at Newcastle and Haydock.

Indeed thinking about it, the problem isn’t just a northern problem anymore as this insidious behaviour is now creeping south. Newmarket is attracting more than its fair share of undesirables – look at the problems at the last two Guineas meetings or the July meeting and Sandown has seen a few juicy punch-ups in the last year.

The sale of booze is a cash cow for racecourses so you can see their reluctance to clamp down on sales. However do they not realise they are going to lose the genuine racegoers. I know many people who used to go racing on a regular but now no longer go because of the “atmosphere” at an increasing number of courses.

I’m not sure what the Liverpool version of a Chav or Pikey is – whatever it is they are out in force at Aintree and that is what ruins what should be one of the best meetings of the year and that is why I, regrettably, don’t care if I never go to Aintree again.


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