Galway students show there is no need for dress codes
The Thursday column
Racing is a magnificently photogenic sport and is lucky to have a number of world-class photographers employed to capture its colour and character as well as its key moments.
One such snapper, Patrick McCann, was responsible for the image that accompanies this piece.
It was taken at Galway on Monday and is fascinating in a number of ways, not least because, having attended the meeting, I can confirm it manages to convey what was a surprising atmosphere.
A day trip from Surrey to Galway was always going to produce one or two unexpected elements. These ranged from the pleasant, such as the speed with which one can get from Dublin airport to the west coast of Ireland (an hour and 40 minutes even without risking the attention of the police), to the less pleasant, such as our dreams of glory with Hey Little Boy being somewhere between dented and destroyed by a tame showing in the final stages of his race.
But what I expected least of all was the crowd. Even allowing for it having been a bank holiday in Ireland I had expected Galway to be roomy and spacious compared to the throngs that gather there every August, but instead it was heavily populated by young folk dressed to kill.
This was another of Ireland’s student racedays that are loathed by that blinkered hardcore who feel they have the right to spend a day at a deserted racecourse whenever they like but which have always struck me from afar as being a superb idea.
And having now experienced the atmosphere of one in the flesh I am even more convinced they are a great innovation, albeit by the time I scarpered east to catch my flight the day was still quite young and I had only seen one poor girl empty the contents of her stomach on to the tarmac.
As you can see from Patrick’s picture, the return of the bow tie remains alive and well with a solid majority of the lads in attendance opting for the Peaky Blinders look, while the female students wore either wedding outfits or something more skimpy despite a bitter wind blowing in off the Atlantic.
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They all seemed to be having a great time and happily the racing did not pass them by. When R Walsh rode a winner the cries of “come on Ruby” were as lusty as when he storms up the Cheltenham hill in front.
The are two things that really interest and please me about the photo. First, look at him. The regular racegoer. It doesn’t take long to spot him. Halfway up towards the left of the shot. Glasses, flat cap. You’ve got him.
There he is with his racecard, looking to see how his horse is getting on. On a normal day he would blend into the crowd like a chameleon in a rain forest but here he sticks out like a 21-year-old would if he turned up at Southwell in a suit and bow tie. He doesn’t seem to mind, and nor did I, another racegoer who fell into the traditional bracket.
I thought it was excellent to see so many young people enjoying a day at the races without needing the carrot of a Little Mix concert after the last.
But best of all was that the day was so successful without the need for anyone to be told what to wear in yet another example of how pointless dress codes are at racecourses.
The youngsters decided to put on their fanciest outfits without being ordered to while the people who just wanted to turn up and enjoy the racing in clothes that made them feel comfortable and the right temperature were able to without someone ordering them to don a necktie or sling their hook.
As an owner who had hoped he may have had a share in a horse good enough to compete at Cheltenham in March, Monday’s meeting at Galway was a slight disappointment.
As someone who cares for racing’s future and is keen to see how courses can attract new racegoers without deterring their existing audience I thought it was tremendous.
Government too slow to show their hand in gambling review
Whatever the outcome of the government’s gambling review it’s fair to describe the process as something of a slow burner.
Given they were due to have made some decisions in April until the general election meant they had to hold their bets, it’s pretty unimpressive that here we are in November knowing only that the maximum stake per spin will be somewhere between £2 and £50.
At this rate the final decision will be expressed in units of Bitcoin rather than sterling.
There was mild interest in the revelation that there could be different limits for slots and roulette, which makes sense given they are played in different ways, but basically Tuesday’s announcement was as dull and vague as it could possibly have been.
But that didn’t quell the media’s appetite for the story. They lapped it up and gave it the sort of prominence one might expect if the Grand National had been won by an actual dromedary.
Clearly there is a need to protect problem gamblers, but the mainstream news outlets seem painfully incapable of examining whether focusing on FOBTs in betting shops in isolation is actually going to have the desired effect and prevent significant numbers of people squandering indispensable cash and getting themselves into major difficulty.
While it was good to hear the government announce this week that there is to be an advertising campaign costing up to £7 million to educate people about the potential perils of excessive gambling, there is still far too much attention given to physical FOBTs and not enough to what might happen if they are so heavily restricted that vulnerable people stop feeding money into them that they cannot afford to lose.
Surely restrictions to the machines that are found in betting shops have to be applied at the same time to virtual equivalents otherwise many problem gamblers will just leave the shops and pick up their phones with potentially even more serious consequences.
There is much to be done to prevent problem gambling but as things stand there is a disproportionate spotlight on one source of a wider issue.
It is akin to trying to tackle chronic alcoholism simply by banning the sale of spirits in pubs. Whatever the government believes it should, or can afford to, do it is hoped a decision is made soon because the whole saga is dragging on far too long.
Sunderland slump is sad to see
On a freezing November afternoon in 1993 I watched Forest, helped by a superb brace from Stan Collymore, beat the hosts 3-2.
Forest went on to gain promotion while Sunderland ended up in mid-table. The good times would return for the Mackems, with the team dancing between the Premier League and the Championship and giving their fans a bit of joy and a bit of hurt along the way.
Now, though, this famous old club is ailing in a way that reminds all fans that however big their beloved team is nobody is immune to a slump that saps every last drop of joy out of being a football supporter.
Coventry fans will vouch for that and it is impossible for those who do not support Newcastle to take a scrap of joy from Sunderland’s demise.
The signs were not good at the start of the season when a drunken Darron Gibson was filmed lambasting some of his teammates, and sure enough the lack of that vital ingredient morale has caused the team to nosedive down the Sky Bet Championship standings.
Initially there were hopes that Gibson’s revelations may have provoked a positive reaction, with the team winning three, drawing two and losing one of their first six matches.
But since then have drawn five and lost seven of their next 12 fixtures and lie 22nd of 24 in the table. Relegation, a 14-1 shot before a ball was kicked, is now 7-4.
The owners have decided, as owners usually do, that manager Simon Grayson had to carry the can and he was jettisoned on Tuesday.
Whoever takes over has a monumentally difficult job on their hands because they will be taking over a club that has become painfully accustomed to failure.
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