The start of your racing adventure: attending your first race meeting
Going to the races can be a daunting prospect for a first-timer. One might not know how to look, act, what to do and where to go. It’s like going out clubbing with your friends for the first time; the preceding buzz and nerves might catch you off-guard. Relying on a seasoned friend to guide you through is a solid option and an adequate way to start your journey into the world of horse racing.
Racing is a strikingly social activity, and therefore best enjoyed in company. Depending on where your interest lies, a strategy for a day at the races can be the engagement in the social scene. People of all walks of life can be found at the racecourse during a fixture.
Meeting new people, engaging in small talk and the sharing of experiences will provide a new racing perspective and might even lead to unique friendships. One can position themselves near the parade ring, at one of the bars, on the lawn or close to the finishing post. Racing enthusiasts galore, whereby everyone has one thing in common: a passion for horseracing.
A simple question such as: ‘Which horse do you fancy for this race?’ or ‘How are you involved in the horseracing industry?’ can be the start of a compelling discussion. All you need is an open-minded attitude, a bit of courage and of you go; kicking up a chat with a complete stranger. Generally speaking, most people enjoy expanding their networks, especially with like-minded individuals, so don’t be shy!
On that note, if you’d prefer to stick with your regular group, that is absolutely fine too. Racing days provide excellent opportunities for a get-together. For instance, you could indulge in a fine dining experience, or even set up your own little betting competition for the day; the winner shouts the drinks! The facilities, atmosphere and horses in action contribute to a memorable day. Especially if it is your first time at a racecourse, there is so much to see and do, the day will fly by before you know it.
“And they’re off!”, a much heard announcement by the commentator at the racetrack. Races follow a set program, with most courses allowing half an hour between races. Your program during the day can evolve around activities related to this pre- and post-race routine.
For instance, one can gather around the pre-parade ring or the parade ring, to get a glimpse of the stars around the course pre-race. Having a look at a horse’s demeanour and condition can aid your decision upon which horse to bet, or give you a general idea of the field for the race. Pay attention to the trainers and owners, gathered in the paddock, looking at their horses and communicating their instructions to their jockeys. Once the bell rings, jockeys will get the leg-up and head for the track.
Make your way over to a good spot to watch the race and let the spectacle begin. Post-race one can find a spot near the winner’s enclosure to join the general festive spirit, head towards the pre-parade ring to eye up next race’s runners, or simply return to have a drink or some food. It is all up to you!
From the race day itself, to preparing your day; thinking about what to wear and what to bring will prove useful. Consider the the weather forecast and the class of races being held. Race fixtures including Group class racing will require you to wear more formal clothing, appropriate dresses for the ladies and suits for the men. At the bigger race-meetings, wearing a hat can add that little bit of flair to your outfit. However, at certain meetings a hat is part of the obligatory dress code.
Preparing your own food is an additional idea to spice up your day at the racecourse. Bringing a picnic can be a great way of enjoying the spoils of home-made food, whilst significantly reducing the cost of your day out. This does require appropriate weather; during the jump racing season warm food inside the provided facilities will take preference!
Another way to get you excited for the day ahead is reading up on the fixture’s programme. Have a look at the races on the card, their distances, age and sex limitations, classes and purses. Familiarise yourself with the names of horses, trainers, owners and jockeys. You will be the one to inform your group on the day’s feature race and the runners with the most chance.
Nobody requires you to be an expert on the field, but a bit of involvement will take you further and gives you a better insight into the industry. It will considerably increase your enjoyment of the day, as you will actually know ‘what’s going on’!
Once you have been attending racecourses on a more regular basis, you will discover your personal preferences and routine during the day. Most of all, you will cherish the experience and look forward to the upcoming meetings, pick out your favourite horses and decide which meetings (or races) you do not want to miss. You end up waking up one morning, realising that ‘the Sport of Kings’ is now an integral part of your life.