I have been involved in running race night events for over twenty years. During this time, I have compered events at Aintree, Haydock, Cheltenham, Ascot, Newmarket and Doncaster racecourses. Some of these race night meetings have been corporate events and others have been charity fundraisers. I am often asked which I prefer. Bearing in mind that it was the fundraising side of things that originally got me involved in the race night business, I feel obliged to say that fundraising is in first place and the corporate work is in second place. Having said that, the corporate work is a lot more lucrative, so I’m not completely sure which I prefer. Either way, it would certainly be a photo finish!
During the corporate events, I often have time to walk the racecourse or to look out over a balcony and take in the sheer beauty of the winners’ enclosure, paddock, finish line and the surrounding scenery. During a fundraising race night, the betting desk is a sight to behold, with people spending money like it’s going out of fashion. I imagine this is because people know that, even if their chosen horse loses, their hard earned money is going to a charitable cause.
During a corporate ‘fun money’ race night, the sight of people waving around £50 novelty notes, after selecting a winner in the first race, brings a smile to every punter’s face. Some people bet on the horse’s name, others look at the colour of the jockey silks, while the remainder have a flutter on their favourite number.
The best thing about a race night is that it’s all about pure luck, with the Betfred regular having no more of a chance than a Grand National novice. My love of horse racing stems from my work as a race night compere, and while I would not consider myself as a racing expert, my knowledge has expanded because of people giving me their betting tips for the next day’s racing at all the UK’s major racecourses.
A race night is the sport of kings and queens, lords and their ladies. It is also the sport of knaves and bounders, spivs and cheats. A race night is also the sport of the ordinary man: from housewives with their 50p to bet on Lester Piggot in the Derby, to anyone who has entered a Grand National sweepstake. It is a huge commercial industry with a million pound turnover in betting and prize money. It is also an entertaining event, whether it be the splendour of Royal Ascot, Epsom dolled up for the Derby, Cheltenham rocking to the Irish enjoying ‘the craic’, or the homeliness of the most humble country course. The names of race night jockeys have become engrained in the nation’s consciousness: who has never heard of Red Rum, Best Mate, Shergar, Arkle, Desert Orchid, Nijinsky, or Richards, Winter, Lester Piggott, Francome, Frankie Dettori, or McCoy? And who has not rooted for one or all of them when they have lined up in the Derby, Grand National, Cheltenham Gold Cup, or even on a race night DVD?