Archive for the ‘Horseracing’ Category

Point to Point at Witton Castle, Monday 2nd May 2016

August 14, 2016


Whilst driving back to Teesside from a Northern League game at Tow Law I spotted a sign advertising a point-to-point meeting a couple of days later. I like horse racing and, as is the case with football, it doesn’t have to be elite level.

Bank Holiday Monday rolled around and we had a drive out to Witton Castle. Entry was ten quid. That was for however many you had in your car and so whilst it was decent value for Jen and I, it would have been a real bargain with a car-full.


The meeting was organised by the Zetland Hunt. It must be at least ten years or so since hunting with dogs was outlawed but it doesn’t seem to me that a lot has changed. The packs still exist and I’m sure that when they go out for a run in the countryside they inadvertently stumble across quite a few foxes.

There was a lot of pro-hunting propaganda put out over the loud speakers, but I imagine that most of those present  didn’t need any reinforcement of their views. I’m fairly open-minded on the whole issue, although I suspect that could just as easily be translated as I couldn’t give a toss either way.


There were about five or six hundred people spread between the beer and food tents with others watching the racing from a grassy bank. A handful of bookmakers looked to be taking plenty of cash.


I’ve been to a few point to points before and a decent jockey tends to make a big difference. As I had no idea who could ride and who couldn’t, I wasn’t able to put that knowledge to good use and so we struggled for winners.


The side of the hill was a handy place to watch the racing. Any event that I can watch whilst lying on the grass gets my vote. Or at least it does when it’s dry.


The rain arrived after the first couple of races and whilst we were able to take shelter under the overhang of a nearby sponsor’s tent, it meant that lying on the grass wasn’t as an attractive proposition once the rain had stopped.


We had no winners from the first four races and with the wind getting up and the rain still in the air we left them all to it.







Horse Racing at Alice Springs, Saturday 23rd April 2016

July 10, 2016


When I decided to take the job in Australia there was one trip that I wanted to do more than any other and that was to visit Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it’s more commonly known among English folks of my generation.

A little bit of research suggested that the best way to do it was by way of a road trip from Alice Springs and so that’s what we did, taking a flight there from Darwin to save fifteen hundred kilometres of driving each way and then making the journey from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock and back in a camper van over a five day period.

There’s not a great deal goes on at Alice Springs. If I mention that, horse racing aside, the highlights of our time there were visits to museums celebrating the School of the Air and the Postal Service respectively, you’d probably conclude and quite rightly in my opinion, that Alice Springs is fine for a night or two whilst on the way to somewhere else.

We picked up the camper van with the intention of driving the five hundred kilometres to Ayers Rock in one day. However, a later than planned start meant that I wasn’t sure that we’d be there before dark. With that in mind we called it a day at the Curtin Springs Campground, about an hour and a half short of our original plan.


It was a good decision. The campground had electric hook ups so that we could crank the air-conditioning up and an outdoor restaurant with a couple of small dogs that we could discreetly feed with sausages.

Best of all we had a view in the distance of the ‘fake Ayers Rock’, Mount Conner. To my untrained eye it didn’t look any different from its more famous rival. Perhaps it’s all about marketing.


Next morning we drove the remaining one hundred and forty kilometres to Ayers Rock, arriving at around 9am. It was already busy with coachloads of tourists listening to their guides telling them about rock art, whilst others were taking the path to the top.


The traditional owners, the Anangu people, don’t approve of visitors walking on the rock and request that visitors don’t do it. It looked quite steep to us and so we were happy to comply with their wishes, choosing instead to take the eleven kilometre trail that went around it.


A small part of the walk was in the shade but our late start meant that most of it was in the sun. It was ok, as rocks go, but if I’m honest a bit on the dull side. The flies were a nuisance too. We’d bought head nets but who wants to walk around with a net on your head?

Jen’s net came attached to her hat which she thought made it ideal for a wedding.

The next morning we called in at Ayers Rock to catch the sunrise, or at least we would have done if we’d managed to arrive three or four minutes earlier. We then drove on to Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas as it was previously known.


This was a much more interesting place and we walked the Valley of the Winds trail. It was as windy at times as its name would suggest and there were more flies than at Ayers Rock but we had our nets so it wasn’t a big deal. The scenery though was fantastic, like nothing I’d seen anywhere else.


The Valley of the Winds is a circular, eight kilometre walk with a steepish descent, then a climb up to the sort of place that would have worked well for holding up Simba in the Lion King. Or at least it would have done if Australia had lions.


It was less busy than Ayers Rock and that’s another reason why I preferred it. The park authorities only let you walk if it’s below a certain temperature so it’s definitely worth setting off early.


The next day we drove to King’s Canyon. I suppose what we should have done was just set off once we’d finished our Olgas hike. There’s not a lot to do in these places once you’ve finished walking and if you are keen, like me, to be somewhere with air-conditioning then you might as well be driving rather than just sitting about in the camper van.

The campsite at King’s Canyon is notorious for dingoes and we were fortunate enough to spot some wandering around. We barbecued some sausages that evening in the hope of tempting them in but it didn’t happen. I reckon I could have trained them to sit up and beg if I’d had some of Blackwell’s finest.

Despite the scenery at the Olgas, King’s Canyon turned out to be the best walk of the trip. We did the route around the rim that has an initial steep ascent but then takes you around both sides of the canyon before making a gradual decent into the valley.


A lot of the rocks reminded me of those in Africa as we’d seen similar on the various farms that we’d stayed at in Gauteng or Mpumalanga, although not many of those places had as impressive a canyon.


The rim walk was about seven kilometres from start to finish and then we extended our hike by adding in a couple more kilometres along the less strenuous valley walk inside the canyon.


I’d learned my lesson the previous day and despite having a campsite booking for two nights we made better use of our time by driving back to Alice Springs that afternoon. It meant that we didn’t have to rush the next day to get the camper van back before the office shut and it also freed enough time to be able to go to the races.


I suspect the race meetings at Pioneer Park are the highlights of life in Alice Springs. After all, there’s only so many times that you can spend your weekends at the Postal Museum.

Everyone seemed much more dressed up than I’d have expected them to be, or at least they were much more dressed up than we were. Mind you, that’s not unusual, even in Darwin. Maybe Jen should have worn her fly-net hat.


A quick scan through the race card showed that most of the horses were trained in Alice Springs. That’s not surprising I suppose, as it’s a couple of days drive minimum to anywhere of note. It means that the same horses will run against each other throughout the season though.

As with a lot of country courses there was a decent backdrop. I like that. Hexham is probably my favourite UK racecourse and it’s as much for the scenery as anything else.


As in Darwin, there were proper bookmakers. I like that too. It’s always good to be able to shop around for the best price rather than having to take the tote return.

If I remember rightly we had one winner, although once we’d taken the ten dollar admission, the racecard, the pie and chips and ice creams into account we were probably down on the day.


That day at the races brought the Ayers Rock road trip to an end. It brought the Australian adventure to an end too. My job had finished a month or so earlier and after spending some time seeing the places that we hadn’t yet gotten around to it was time to fly back to the UK to catch the climax of the Boro’s promotion campaign.

There were some great places to visit in Australia; Sydney and Brisbane were good, whilst I’m pleased we made it to Litchfield, Kakadu and managed the outback trip. We’ve watched dingoes, koalas and kangaroos in the wild and seen enough spiders to fill a bath. The Darwin climate wasn’t for me though and I feel as if I spent most of the seven months that we were there in an air-conditioned bubble.

My next job is in Malaysia where it looks to be a few degrees cooler than Darwin. I’ll settle for that.

Horse Racing at Singapore, Sunday 13th March 2016

June 30, 2016


One of the best things about my current job is that I get every fifth week off. That means that Jen and I can pick somewhere to visit and clear off for a holiday.

As it takes around four hours flying to get from Darwin to most of the places worth visiting in Australia, I had a look at the options to the north and for this trip we headed off to Singapore.

I’d read mixed reviews of the place, most of them mentioning that it was a bit dull. Sterile was a description that seemed to crop up. These people have obviously never been to somewhere like Billingham.

We stayed in Chinatown in an old hotel that tried to give the impression that its décor was based on a brothel. A sumptuous establishment from a century ago, that is, full of red velvet curtains, rather than the back room of a modern-day massage place with plastic covered mattresses and trafficked Chinese farm girls. I doubt the latter would go down well on Tripadvisor.


We landed early in the morning and after dropping off our bags took an MRT train to the north of the island and the Kranji racecourse. It was six dollars to get in to the general admission area, which is about three quid. That got us everywhere apart from the Gold Room, which requires a collared shirt and so ruled me out on sartorial grounds.


It was busy inside, with most of the punters choosing to watch the races on the televisions rather than through the windows of the grandstand or from out in the open air. It was amusing to watch people shouting home their horses on the televised races from Hong Kong and Australia that filled the gaps between live action, although I suppose that’s no different from me exclaiming “FFS” and yelling my disagreement with something someone has said on the news.


I started off by trying to do things properly and bought a form guide, before watching the horses make their circuits of the parade ring. I may as well not have bothered though as I’ve no real idea what I should be looking for as they walked around. None of them had an obvious limp, which would probably have been sufficient for me to rule them out, but apart from that none of them looked as if they were any faster than the others.


My selection process changed when I spotted that Alan Munro was riding. Maybe some of you remember him, he was the young lad who rode Generous to victory in the Derby back in the days when Colin Todd was in charge at the Boro and ‘ooh’ Andy Dibble was in his initial clean sheet spell on loan rather than the less successful return some years later. Does that seem a long time ago? It does to me. That’s because it was.

Anyway, on the basis that I couldn’t be arsed to read my form guide, I decided that life would be simpler if I just backed whatever horse Mr. Munro was riding. I realise he’s knocking on a bit but he must still be agile enough to ride horses or else he’d be doing something else by now. I’m sure Lester Piggott rode until he was about sixty and I doubt Alan Munro’s quite that old.


The racing was a mix of grass and polytrack. I watched some from outside and others from high up in the grandstand where I could benefit from the air-conditioning and take advantage of the food court. It was all cheap enough, with spring rolls for a dollar a go and coffee and coke not much more. There wasn’t any beer for sale, which seems strange for a race meeting.


We made a rare profit on the day, or at least on the six races that we stayed for, with Munro winning one and then coming in third on a sixty to one shot. As we made our way out, there were still people coming in.  Perhaps they had just got out of church.

Fannie Bay Racing, Saturday 2nd January 2016

March 6, 2016


Horseracing is a popular activity in Australia with so many race courses that nobody seems able to count them. The information on the internet suggests that there are more than three hundred and sixty but less than four hundred. That seems a lot but it’s a big country, a big country where, would you believe it, there are flowers in the desert and you can see the sun in wintertime.

The nearest racecourse to us in Darwin is Fannie Bay. It’s a three-mile walk away along a coastal path and as I had a Saturday off work Jen and I had a wander up there.

We’ve walked the path a few times, generally going on to the Eastern Point nature reserve a couple of miles further on. The coastal aspect of the walk is good, it’s always enjoyable walking with the sea in view, but if you go as far as the nature reserve it gets even better as you can stalk kangaroos. We don’t often get closer than about thirty yards to them as they are fairly wary of humans. Maybe I should take some snacks for them.


This time we were veering off to the racecourse and so the only wildlife of note that we saw were mud crabs. They are quite skittish too, but whilst most of them dash for their burrows when they see us, others decide just to sit perfectly still. They make for better photos. It’s a pity the kangaroos don’t try the same technique.


It was ten dollars admission to Fannie Bay. If we’d been prepared to pay eighty dollars each we could have gone in the posh bit. Unfortunately the dress code stipulated no shorts or thongs. Thongs are flip-flops in Australia, meaning we didn’t need to have our undercrackers checked, but I’d have failed on the shorts rule anyway and so we had to leave the elite to watch the racing without us.

Our ten dollars entitled us to go just about anywhere we liked at ground level, including an air-conditioned bar and a betting hall. They had three bookies, all of whom wisely pitched up indoors in the cold rather than trackside.


I like to watch the racing outside and so we took a table next to an outdoor bar and worked our way through a variety of bottled bears and ciders. None of them struck me as being particularly good; maybe I’m losing the taste for it.

After a while I visited a food kiosk for a snack.

“What are those?” I asked, pointing at a tray of something that I suspected might be mini sausage rolls.

“A dollar each” was the response from the lady behind the counter, leaving me none the wiser as to the content. They turned out to be spring rolls, filled almost exclusively with bamboo shoots. No wonder she was evasive.


The races took place every half hour or so, but for those who wanted a bet every five minutes there was racing from around the rest of Australia shown on the screens. I think the programme listed close to forty races and a lot of people appeared to have an interest in all of them.

I suppose if you picked your horses and placed your bets in advance it would be ok, but I quite like the leisurely rhythm of get your beer, pick your horse, place your bet, move closer to the track to watch the race and then repeat on a half-hourly cycle. Of course, it would be better if the cycle included a return trip to the bookies to pick up some winnings but we drew a blank all day.


Later in the day as the east coast racing concluded the television betting was supplemented by greyhounds and trap racing. It would have been a lot to keep on top of.

When it was over I’d hoped to find a taxi heading back into town as there’s a limit to how much walking in the sun is sensible. Unfortunately there were none to be seen and so we had to retrace our route along the coastal path and frighten the mud crabs for the second time in a day.

Scottsville Horse Racing, Sunday 29th March 2015, noon.

June 12, 2015


One of the reasons for heading over to Kwa-Zulu Natal for the weekend was it gave me a chance to see another of the South African racecourses. There’s only eight of them these days as both Arlington and Clairwood Park look as if they’ve closed down. Of the eight remaining tracks, Scottsville was the fifth of them that we’ve visited.



As is usual, if it isn’t one of the big meetings, admission and parking was free. We parked up about half a furlong out from the winning post and made our way towards the grandstand. I find it hard to separate in my memory most of the racecourses that we’ve been to out here as they all seem very similar.

It’s not like the UK where, in the main, the racecourses all have distinct features and character. Here it’s generally one big stand with just different levels of poshness in the viewing areas.

Towards the Finishing Post.

Towards the Finishing Post.

Another common feature is a restaurant with a buffet and as is becoming our regular practice we spent most of the afternoon in there.

I reckon that a table in a restaurant is the way to watch the racing over here. I’ll nip outside every now and then to see the horses parading or hammering up the home straight, but the rest of the time I’m content to eat, drink and look out of the window, whilst a waitress takes our bets at the table on both the live racing outside and the racing from elsewhere on the telly.

Inside the restaurant.

Inside the restaurant.

The buffet was less than a tenner a head which seemed particularly cheap when I realised it included soft drinks as well.

Parade Ring.

Parade Ring.

As for the betting, well, we had just one winner all afternoon but with it being returned at fifteen to one we left a few rand ahead.

Vaal Horse Racing, Saturday 30th August 2014

September 18, 2014

vaal races

I’ve been making a bit of progress in my quest to get around all of the South African racecourses. There’s only eleven, so it’s not too onerous a task, and at the weekend we ticked off number four, Vaal.

Vaal is a couple of hours away from our house in Bronkhorstspruit and it was the second time in a week that we’d headed down that way. The previous weekend had been spent on the Vaal River, driving a boat around. We’d slept on it too, dropping anchor in the middle of nowhere on the first night and then tying it to the jetty of a restaurant on the second evening.

Tying it to reeds wasn't too successful.

Tying it to reeds wasn’t too successful.

It was quite a relaxing way to spend a couple of days, especially as we didn’t fall overboard once in the whole weekend. We had otters swimming up to the boat and then a carp feeding at the surface on bread that I’d thrown in for the ducks. There were also a few deer of some sort popping down to the riverbank in the early morning for a drink.

I'd guess at a 'big-horned waterbok'.

I’d guess at a ‘big-horned waterbok’.

This weekend we stayed in a hotel, which was less interesting, but better for not drowning and handier for the track . I’d had the date marked on my ‘to-do‘ spreadsheet for a while, mainly because there only looks to be a couple of weekend race meetings at Vaal each year.

The Main Stand.

The Main Stand.

As with most of the South African racecourses, admission was free. There wasn’t much of a crowd, maybe fifty or so sat in the sunshine outside and perhaps a hundred in the four storey building by the finishing post.

In front of the Main Stand.

In front of the Main Stand.

We made our way up to the Members Lounge where we were able to secure a table complete with a telly for watching races from Turffontein and Sandown. I doubt we’d have got anywhere near the lounge on busier days but on this occasion it all worked out very well.

Inside the Members Lounge.

Inside the Members Lounge.

We’d timed things nicely for the food too, with a three course meal on offer for seven quid. The starters were nothing special but there was an outside braai that served beef, pork and lamb followed by old school sponge pudding and custard. I was happy enough with that.

Outside for the food.

Outside for the food.

The racing was on the sand track, which I tend to associate with lower grade horses. Most of the ones that we backed certainly seemed lower grade, or at least lower than the other horses in their races. We had a couple of winners to offset the donkeys though and didn’t finish too far down on the day.

Overall it was another good afternoon out, particularly as we were able to take advantage of the Members facilities without any questions being asked. Maybe we’ll try the owners and trainers area next time.


Greyville Horse Racing, Saturday 26th July 2014

July 29, 2014


Jen and I had flown to Durban to watch the Sharks host their Super Rugby semi-final. It was a trip that I’d booked a month or so earlier at a time when they were riding high at the top of the league and looked nailed on for a home semi-final spot. Unfortunately our booking seemed to trigger a late season slump that saw them drop from first to third place in the table, thus losing the home advantage. So, whilst we were in Durban for the match, the Sharks were actually playing it a few thousand miles away in New Zealand.

Oh well. Durban has plenty going on without the Super Rugby, to the extent that some people will probably visit the place without even having a sporting event in mind. We opted for some fresh air and spent a few hours walking at the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve. Whilst hiking down and up a big ravine, we were circled by a buzzard that took longer than I liked to decide that we probably still had a bit of life left in us.

It was steeper than it looks here.

It was steeper than it looks here.

This isn’t a blog about going for a walk though, no matter how many spectacular the scenery. It’s about going to the match. Or on this occasion when the match took place in a different continent to the one we were in, it‘s about going to the races.

Greyville racecourse sounds to me like one of those fictional venues from which the bookies show computer generated ‘races’ for the purposes of taking money from punters when there aren’t enough real races to lose your money on. It isn’t fake though, it’s a proper track and fortunately there was a race meeting scheduled for whilst we were in Durban.

The Parade Ring.

The Parade Ring.

It was quite an important day in the racing calendar by the look of it, with some Group 1 races and a Gold Cup. It was also a long meeting with twelve races listed, starting just after noon and going on until around half past seven in the evening. That suited us as we didn’t have to rush the hike  and so we turned up with the first four races already over.

Both of the tracks that we’ve been to so far in South Africa, Turffontein and Kenilworth, provided a very similar experience. They were free to get into and there weren’t too many spectators watching the racing, although a few more were avidly following events on telly screens. It seemed as if the racing was going on more for the benefit of bookies around the world than the paying public.

Greyville was a far bigger occasion. For a start we had to cough up a hundred rand each just for course admission and once inside it was heaving. I’d estimate that there were a good few thousand people there.

The Grandstand.

The Grandstand.

A lot of people were spending their day in the sponsored tents on the inside of the track. We had a brief look into one or two, but even the one organised by a charity for the homeless looked a bit posh for us. In hindsight I should have arranged Member’s passes or some sort of hospitality tickets, but I’d no inkling as to how busy the place would be.

We ended up watching a couple of the early races from the seats at the front of the grandstand. It was a decent view, with the horses running on the nearside grass course rather than that polysomethingorother surface that I’m sure is a combination of loft insulation and belly button fluff.

The view from the Grandstand.

The view from the Grandstand.

It was a bit on the chilly side in the grandstand though and there was a better option provided by a beer tent down by the rails. Whilst the view wasn’t so good, there was plenty of food, alcohol, a betting kiosk and even some of those gas patio heaters. We settled for that.

The view from the beer tent.

The view from the beer tent.

Betting-wise, it was a poor afternoon, with a third place in the last race we watched before clearing off turning out to be the only return of the day. Next time we’ll get a couple of badges and lose our money in a bit more comfort.


Kenilworth Horse Racing, Sunday 8th June 2014

July 2, 2014

Kenilworth 1

I’d noticed that there was horse racing going on at Kenilworth and so that gave Jen and I something to do on the second day of the Cape Town weekend. Not that Cape Town doesn’t have plenty of attractions, but as Kenilworth is a racecourse that I’ve only ever seen on a screen in Ladbrokes, I quite liked the idea of visiting it in real-life.

The racing didn’t start until the afternoon and so in the morning we had a drive down the coast towards Cape Point, stopping off at Boulder and then Simon’s Town. Boulder is famous for its colony of penguins. I’ve no idea what type of penguins they are, faulty ones I’d imagine, as I’m sure penguins are supposed to live in icy places.

This lot were just wandering about on the sand and in the bushes. Some of them even had burrows. Burrows! Maybe they have been crossed with rabbits or something. They’d be in trouble if they had to live on an iceberg. Whatever, they were entertaining to watch although you weren’t allowed to touch them or give them carrots.

There are probably some polar bears around the corner.

There are probably some polar bears around the corner.

Simon’s Town is a bit like Beamish with its well-preserved buildings and appeared to be very popular with people having a drive out for Sunday brunch. Perhaps after visiting the penguins and before a trip to the races. It seems a pleasant enough town, albeit with little else apart from antique shops and shabby-chic cafes. I didn’t find out who Simon was but I bet he had a pony-tail and a cat.

Simon's Town.

Simon’s Town.

After a bite to eat we headed back into Cape Town to Kenilworth, home of the South African Derby. As with Turffontein, it was free to get into. Maybe that’s how it is at all South African tracks. Initially we found ourselves in a large betting shop with no windows, but were soon directed to the four storey grandstand.

Quite posh really.

Quite posh really.

Whilst there were plenty of seats outside, it was a bit windy for that and we ended up at a waiter-serviced table by a window in one of the member’s lounges. I doubt we’d have got anywhere near the place on Derby Day but on this occasion a steady drip of tips meant that nobody had any interest in moving us on.

I did nip down to the rails a couple of times to watch some of the racing in the fresh air but, apart from the professional photographers, few other people braved the weather. I doubt even proper penguins would have fancied it.

Parade Ring and Unsaddling Enclosure.

Parade Ring and Unsaddling Enclosure.

The racing was on grass, with a straight track cutting through the inside of the oval for races up to 1200 metres and an outside circuit for the longer distances.

We didn’t have much luck early on but a run of winners later in the day saw us finish a couple of hundred rand ahead. That’s not a bad result really and next time I see Kenilworth on the screen in Ladbrokes, I’ll be able to think to myself‚ ‘I’ve been there’.


Turffontein Horse Racing, Sunday 25th May 2014

May 27, 2014


After eight months in South Africa Jen and I still hadn’t seen any horseracing and so on Sunday morning I decided to put that right. There are ten tracks across the country with two of them being in the province that we live in, Gauteng.

Turffontein is close to Johannesburg and from what I can discover, hosts a big race in November. This meeting though, was just a run of the mill autumn fixture with a smaller crowd hopefully making it easier to get in and then get around.

We managed to find the track by using the blue dot on the phone, but we had to do an entire circuit before we spotted a gate that was open. It wasn’t clear where we should park and so we followed the cars in front of us and ended up on the grass in front of the grandstand.

Ours is the silver Corolla.

Ours is the silver Corolla.

I think that by parking where we did, we somehow skipped the turnstiles and whatever admission fee was being charged. We still had to pass through a scanner, just in case we’d forgotten to leave our rocket launchers at home, but that done we were soon inside.

Turffontein dates back to the arse end of the nineteenth century and some of the buildings near to the turnstiles that we didn‘t go through looked reasonably original. The main grandstand is much newer though and is pretty impressive.

The grandstand.

The grandstand.

We took an escalator up to the second floor and found ourselves a table in an outdoor restaurant overlooking the track. Whilst it seemed quite posh, I had pie, chips and gravy for less than two quid.

The view from the restaurant.

The view from the restaurant.

We’d missed the first race but by the time the second race went off, I’d estimate that there were around five or six hundred people in attendance. There were tables and benches down by the parade ring and rows of seats in the grandstand below the restaurants.

Down by the front.

Down by the front.

In contrast to the UK, there wasn’t a great deal of drinking going on. There was an indoor pub on the second level of the grandstand, but apart from the people drinking at their open-air tables in the restaurants, I didn’t see anyone drinking outside.

Toothpicks seem popular.

Toothpicks seem popular.

There were no bookies either, with all of the betting being done on the Tote. I’m not a big fan of that as I think a lot of the fun comes from finding the best price for the horse you want to back, rather than hoping that a late flurry of cash for your selection won’t reduce your potential pay-out.

The parade ring

The parade ring

Whilst there was a dirt track towards the inside of the circuit, the nine races on the card were on grass. All on the flat, they started off at 1200m and progressed through to 1600m and then on to 1800m.

The finishing line.

The finishing line.

We got a couple of winners including one from Jen at 14/1 before picking up some mutton samosas from a stall on the way out.

Whilst I think that the day was enhanced by the low crowd and the ease of finding a table in the restaurant or a seat in the grandstand, I’m tempted to make a return visit for the big race in November.


Doosan Bears v SK Wyverns, Wednesday 3rd April 2013, 6.30pm

April 10, 2013

0 - opening shot doosan bears

The baseball started up again a few days ago and so on Wednesday night I got myself along to Jamsil for my first game of the season. Or rather, my first Korean baseball game of the season.

I’ve been out of the country for the past couple of weeks, although this time it was for a holiday to America rather than the usual business trip to Oman. As you might have expected Jen and I went to a few sporting events including baseball games at LSU and New Orleans Zephyrs plus an NBA basketball game at New Orleans Hornets. We even managed a trip to the races.

As well as watching stuff we also had a couple of days hiking around the Grand Canyon and another at Red Rocks. We called into Las Vegas too where we got married at a drive-thru chapel. We didn’t even have to get out of the car, just wind the window down, exchange vows and then drive off. Whilst it’s probably not everyone’s dream to be married in a Toyota Corolla hire car, it suited us fine.

So, since it’s my blog I’ll do the now familiar ‘What I did on my holidays’ digression from the subject of the post and then eventually get back to the Bears v Wyverns. I’ll start with the hiking first, partly because it was so good, but mainly because it’s what we did first.

It’s not far from Vegas to Red Rocks and so we spent half a day just wandering around inside whatever National Park it is. The place was virtually empty and we were able to just saunter around, clambering on rocks that I felt guilty about standing on and then follow a trail through areas where I couldn’t stop grinning at the beauty of it all.

Not sure what it is, probably a big wasp's nest or something.

Not sure what it is, probably a big wasp’s nest or something.

Good as Red Rocks was though, it wasn’t a match for the Grand Canyon. We got there late in the evening and walked eastwards along the South Rim for an hour or so, before getting up before dawn the next day to see the sunrise and then hike ten miles in the other direction.

Upon arriving at a suitable vantage point for the sunrise we found we’d been beaten to it by a busload of Korean tourists. There’s a surprise. It was quiet enough fifty yards further along though. We didn’t manage to hike down into the canyon but it’s on the list and we’ll be back.

It's just as well that my Mam doesn't read this blog.

It’s just as well that my Mam doesn’t read this blog.

It was no surprise that the NBA fixture between New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies was a step up in quality from the games I’ve been watching at Jamsil. The home side fell behind early on but rallied in the second quarter to take a lead which they managed to hang on to until the end.

We had VIP seats courtesy of Jen’s brother Jeff who is a bigwig with the New Orleans baseball team and we had a very good time with him and his missus. The evening was rounded off by free peanut butter sandwiches, a nightly tradition at the hotel we were staying at. As ever, I’ve made a mental note for the day when I end up as a tramp.

Hornets v Grizzlies.

Hornets v Grizzlies.

The horse racing at the New Orleans Fairgrounds track was good fun too. With a mixture of dirt and turf races we just about broke even due to Jen picking a few winners. I’d been to Santa Anita in Los Angeles a few years ago but this was a much smaller set up. The crowd was pretty small too despite it being free admission. Perhaps most people were waiting until the Louisiana Derby the following weekend.

And they're off!!

And they’re off!!

So, the baseball. We saw two games, the first a University game between LSU and Auburn at the Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge. I couldn’t get over how popular college sport is in America, with most people supporting a University team rather than one in the professional ranks.

LSU are having an excellent season and they extended their winning run with an 8-2 victory in sunny but windy conditions.

Bloody students.

Bloody students.

The second baseball game was back in New Orleans where the Triple –A Zephyrs were taking on Miami Marlins of the Major League. This was the event of the season for Jen’s brother Jeff and he was pleased to be able to report a sell-out.

We had tickets for behind the plate but soon moved close to first base to avoid having to look through a net. The protective nets are much smaller than the ones at the Korean baseball stadiums which tend to stretch the full length of the field. A lot of fans in Korea tend not to follow the game too closely, preferring to focus on the eating and drinking with their friends. I can empathise with that. However, the number of people getting sparked out cold whilst pouring soju must have been sufficient to make the full netting a must.

Zephyrs v Marlins.

Zephyrs v Marlins.

The Zephyrs didn’t do particularly well against their MLB opponents and the Marlins soon built up a big lead. It looked as if the visitors weren’t keen on hanging around either as they rattled through their innings in quick time. One of the pleasures of a day at the baseball is drinking in the sunshine and so I rattled through a few pints in just as quick a time. It was fortunate that I did really, as in a little under two hours it was all over. I can’t remember the final score but it wasn’t close.

We joined Jeff afterwards at a bar across the road from the stadium to drink daiquiris, another first for me. I’m not sure what was in them but they went down every bit as well as the beer had.

I think their gallons are slightly smaller than ours.

I think their gallons are slightly smaller than ours.

That’s it for the American sporting stuff, back to the Korean baseball. Doosan Bears against SK Wyverns. The Wyverns are usually there or thereabouts at the end of the season and in the three years that I’ve been watching baseball they’ve won the Korean Series once and finished runners-up on the other two occasions. Doosan aren’t anything like as good and if they can make the four-team play-off at the end of the season then they will have done well.

SK starting pitcher Yeo Gun Wook

SK starting pitcher Yeo Gun Wook

The early table didn’t reflect the historical success of each team though with Doosan at the top with three wins from three games and SK at the bottom having lost every time they’d played. I was hoping for a decent crowd in response to Doosan’s good start but it didn’t work out that way. The outfield was virtually empty and the Wyverns fans, perhaps less than impressed by their team’s early showing, hadn’t really bothered turning up either.

Oddly, you don't get these at American baseball.

Oddly, you don’t get these at American baseball.

It was nil-nil when I arrived early in the first and still that way an hour later in the fourth when I called it a day. The combination of cold weather and jet-lag made me decide that I needed to be in bed despite it only being eight in the evening.

I had a look at the results the next day and SK had won to kick-start their season. I’ll be back at Jamsil once I’m capable of staying up later than a six year old.