A Funny Thing Happened

…..  on the way to the races.

In my last musing I ended by saying I would be going to the Shergar Cup at Ascot to hopefully witness its demise. I am not sure if this will be the last Shergar Cup, if it was I am afraid I ended up missing it, although in the process I ended up wondering if it was my demise I would end up witnessing.

Being an old curmudgeon I am bemused when I arrive at a racecourse and see groups having picnics in the car parks before racing. I always tend to see racing as solitary sport, I much prefer to be left on my own to look at the horses in the parade ring and study the form quietly. I don’t want to engage in meaningless chit chat, even less do I want to discuss what I will be backing – after all why should I do all the hard work only for somebody else to benefit?

So when I was offered the opportunity to go to Ascot as part of a group, including a pre-racing picnic in the car park, I thought “what the heck, I have nothing to lose and who knows I may even enjoy it.”

Shortly before the appointed hour I was, complete with – would you believe –a cool bag of food, waiting for my fellow racegoers. As I understood it, there were to be ten of us in the group. Yet come the hour there was only myself and one other, soon two others joined us. 

Almost fifteen minutes late it appeared – I am still not sure now if I heard it before I saw it – however it appeared. It was white with plenty of brown patches, torn seats and very few working seatbelts. I am told by those who know these things better than me that it was a mini-bus and I think the emphasis should be on the word ‘was’. An H registered vehicle, which according to the DVLA means it was first registered in 1990 – was it really that new? It did achieve one momentous first – for the first time in a long time I was lost for words. It seems this mini bus “service” is run by a neighbour of one of the group – “I can get you a good cheap deal!!!”

Anyway I took a seat in the back, so I could sit quietly and finish off my racecards ready for my race reading. Despite there being four ladies dressed in their Ascot finery and wearing expensive perfumes, the overwhelming fragrance in the mini bus as we set off was eau-de-diesel.

Things started off reasonably well with general chit chat, windows were opened to try and release the fragrance. I was happily annotating my racecard then I felt the first shudder. First impression was it was a bad gear change but no, there it was again another judder, then the knock started. How I wish I had started offering odds on us getting to Ascot as soon as I set eyes on this festering pile of metal.

The juddering was getting worse the vehicle was getting slower, what was really scary is we were on the M1. By this time we were doing about 20 mph in the inside lane. I was feeling decidedly nervous at this stage, it is amazing how big and fast lorries look when thundering past you on the motorway. The nerves go worse when my neighbour actually spoke the concerns out loud and talked about hearing stories of broken down vehicles being run into on the motorway.

The driver eventually took to driving along the hard shoulder, his target Toddington services two  miles away. Better to be stuck there than on the hard shoulder I suppose. However between us and the services was a junction, now I would have thought it better to have come off at the junction but the driver had other ideas. Just before the slip road he lurched out to lane 1 at the super speed of about 15 mph, then back on the hard shoulder then across the other side of the slip road. I am not, in any way, a religious man but I was saying my prayers. I’m sure it is just coincidence but they seemed to be answered, we made it to the services just as the vehicle finally breathed its last.

Never in my life have I been so pleased to arrive at a motorway service area, they are only places to be visited for calls of nature and I must be honest by this time I had a very urgent call to answer.

My fellow travellers opened the booze and in the best Dunkirk spirit started having a party. I had already started arranging my rescue. After almost an hour the vehicle was still dead. It was announced that the onward journey to Ascot would be undertaken by taxi and the journey home would be by another mini-bus. However there was a slight snag, this was a ten seater bus including the driver so somebody would have to sit on the floor coming home. This was my chance, in the best journalistic tradition I made my excuses and said I would leave, thus leaving sufficient numbers. I immediately confirmed my rescue and it was with some relief that I saw my fellow potential racegoers disappear into the sunset, well onto the M1. They were, I have to say, a good crowd of nice people but the way the day was panning out the vibes were not good.

My knight on a white charger, well a red Scenic to be accurate, arrived shortly after. When I was eventually home an hour and a half after the travellers had left the services I sent a text to check they had arrived at Ascot – they were stuck on the M25!!!
I still don’t know what time they eventually arrived at Ascot, or how many races they got to see, having said that I think the main priority for them was to watch Madness after racing, never before has a post race act been more appropriately named.

As for me, I decided to ring Lingfeld racecourse to see if they had any space in their restaurant for the evening meeting so I could thank my rescuing knight (is there such a thing as a knightess?) - , they had. I watched the first four Ascot races on TV then set off for a great evening at the races, not at Ascot but at leafy Lingfield. Thank you Lingfield for saving my day.

I will leave the final word to a press room colleague at Lingfield who said, “you are much better off coming here to Lingfield than going to the Mickey Mouse Shergar Cup.”

You know what – he wasn’t wrong!!!

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