A drive through Sedgefield on a Sunday afternoon puts the blog into unusual territory. Instead of the traditional haunts of former pit villages and their Welfare Grounds, this was a pleasant market town. Never prominent in local football circles, it’s always been a horsey kind of place: racing here apparently dates back to 1732, although records are sketchy. By the early 19th century, members of the local hunt included the father of Robert Surtees, author of the famous (although rather tedious for modern audiences) Jorrocks novels, tales of a cocky cockney sportsman. After World War I, the current racecourse was officially born and that made for the weekend destination.
After the success of taking Alicia to a hockey game, the next stage of introducing her to sporting events was horse racing. Sedgefield’s Sunday afternoon meeting was close enough to home, the weather was good and there were few rival attractions for us on the day. If nothing else, the idea of seeing some animals appealed.
Not being a regular race-goer – my previous trip was some years ago in Moscow – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Certainly not the monumental architecture of a Soviet hippodrome. Instead, Sedgefield is quite a homely affair: fish ‘n’ chips, a couple of terraced grandstands, a neat parade ring and an undulating mile-and-a-quarter course with eight jumps through the County Durham countryside. Once cruelly dubbed “all field and not much sedge” – an odd putdown, considering that sedge is merely a type of grass – the course has come a long way in recent years. However, those undulations did cause Alicia some problems: it’s in the nature of horse racing to have the action disappear from view for long periods, something that a two-year-old finds hard to grasp. The big screen was only partial consolation.
Still, there was the parade ring for an up-close look at the runners. And, since we’re trying to work out numbers at the moment, there was ample opportunity for some practice as the horses trotted past, numbers proudly on display. Ahead of the 2:10, Alicia decided she liked the look of horse number two. The form guide suggested it might be a decent run for our money, so off we went to place a small wager (all of £2:50 each way; it was that or a beer). Picking a prime spot next to the winning post, we were ready for the off. Our horse, My Wigwam or Yours, rushed into an early lead as two horses dismounted their riders at the first. Had our pick peaked too soon? We gave it a cheer as it came up the home straight before a second lap of the track, still out in front. Jumping well, up by a good four lengths, it felt like money in our pocket. Then, inevitable, it fell at the third last. A 13/2 shot cruised home. And, like a proper, responsible parent, I’d introduced Alicia to the downside of gambling from an early age. The next pick – a 200/1 shot that brought up the rear from start to not quite finishing – was vetoed by the banker and we decided just to enjoy watching the animals do their thing.
The rest of the afternoon was spent getting to know the other kids who had come along for the meeting, a game that involved much scampering around the terraces and some sulking when it was time to go watch another race. But there was one more attraction: an equestrian statue that made a perfect place to pose for a photo.