Archive for the ‘Horseracing’ Category

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

June 12, 2015

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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.

Concourse.

Concourse.

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

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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

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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

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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.

Busan Horseracing, Sunday 3rd February 2013, 12.50pm

February 18, 2013

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After completing my visits to all of the top-flight basketball venues the previous day, it was time to tick off my third and final Korean racecourse. I’d been to Seoul races a few times and also had a great afternoon at Jeju a couple of years ago watching grown men ride tiny horses that would have looked more at home giving kids a ride at the seaside. That just left Busan.

After the basketball I met up with my mate Alan for a curry and a few beers in the area around Sasang Bus Station. It was a lot busier than I’d anticipated and there seemed to be far more options for eating and drinking than the Texas Street area next to the KTX station where I usually find myself.

I stayed in a motel across the road from the bus station. There were lots of them and I picked the V Motel, one street back from the main road. As Jen wasn’t with me I was looking forward to being able to turn the room temperature to something colder than the sauna setting that we usually have. Unfortunately the combination of all-day drinking and my lack of technical skills meant that it remained a constant twenty nine degrees Centigrade all night. If that wasn’t bad enough, I’d somehow managed to activate some flashing disco lights in the bathroom that I couldn’t turn off. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep that I’ve ever had.

The V Motel, Busan. Nice and warm.

The V Motel, Busan. Nice and warm.

The racecourse in Busan is over to the west of the city. I could probably have taken a taxi but I’d forgotten how to say it in Korean. There isn’t a subway at the track so it was a case of taking a bus from Jurye subway station on Line 2.

There's the racecourse, over to the left.

There’s the racecourse, over to the left.

There are a few free shuttle buses ferrying people to and from the races. The one I got left from Exit 8 of Jurye Station. I was quite fortunate really as I’d only been there for a couple of minutes when it arrived. I’m not sure how frequently they run although I think they are on a constant loop so perhaps it just depends upon the traffic. It was mainly old people on the bus, the odd one or two with what I presumed was a grandchild in tow. Once settled into their seats most of them got straight on with studying the form and working out their bets.

Shuttle bus to Busan Races.

Shuttle bus to Busan Races.

It was only a fifteen minute drive to the track and then a thousand won to get in once there. It was quite similar to Seoul with a main stand that was more like an airport terminal building and then a variety of family activities towards the middle of the track.

There were six races on the card, interspersed with that day’s racing from Seoul being shown on big screens. In reality there wasn’t a lot of difference between watching the Seoul and Busan racing until the horses got into the final hundred metres or so, prior to that everyone watched the big screen anyway.

Mind you, it did strike me as a slightly strange that I’d travelled three hundred miles to watch a race on a big screen that I could have watched live twenty minutes away from my flat in Seoul.

"C'mon Dobbin"

“C’mon Dobbin”

I suppose for the Busan races you do get the opportunity to observe the horses in the flesh as they make their way around the parade ring. In the first race of the day I thought I’d make my selection based on how well they clip-clopped around before the start. It’s what all the pro-gamblers do I’m told.

Four legs good.

Four legs good.

Having picked the likely winner I went to put my bet on. They don’t have proper bookies here, just the tote, and having chosen your horse you fill in a lottery style slip to indicate which racecourse, race, your selection, win or a place and your stake. I got everything right apart from the stake and after handing over the slip and ten thousand won I was given my betting ticket and nine thousand won change.

So, instead of the modest six quid I’d planned to risk, I’d actually bet sixty pence. Even worse when I checked the odds the horse was trading at 1.3. If it were to win then I’d make three hundred won profit. That’s about twenty pence.

I went outside to watch the race in the fresh air, or not so fresh air actually as everyone seemed to be smoking, and of course it won. When I collected my winnings the woman behind the counter seemed very pleased for me. Unfortunately I don’t know the Korean for “Don’t spend it all at once” but I’d like to think that was the gist of her comment.

The seats outside.

The seats outside.

A couple of races later I took the opportunity to nip under the home straight and see what was going on in the middle of the track. There’s a kiddies play area and further along a park with seating for picnics, a lake and the odd bit of artwork to distract you from the horses. Whilst there were plenty of families in the first area I was the only person wandering around the inner track further away. If you like to avoid the crowds and aren’t too bothered about seeing one of the big screens then that would be a quiet place to watch the races unfold.

The view over the lake towards the grandstand.

The view over the lake towards the grandstand.

I’m not sure how many people were at the track but it had to be a good few thousand. All the levels of the main grandstand were packed and there were plenty of people outside despite the cold. I’m surprised that more cities don’t have a racetrack. Every small town seems to feel the need to have a football/athletics stadium, sometimes more than one, despite not necessarily having an actual football team. Perhaps there aren’t enough horses to support more courses as I’m sure that there would be enough punters.

More studying of form.

More studying of form.

My initial success was the only one that I had all day and every subsequent bet I made went down. Perhaps I need a better selection technique than peering over people’s shoulders at racing papers in a language that I can’t understand.

I think mine was the one at the back.

I think mine was the one at the back.

I called it a day straight after the penultimate race just in case there were long queues for the shuttle buses. There weren’t though and I just hopped onto the first one I saw regardless of its destination. My gamble that it would stop at a subway station paid off, although it did take about an hour from wherever it stopped for me to reach Busan KTX Station. Despite my losses it was a good day, trips to the races invariably are.

SK Knights v LG Sakers, Friday 6th January 2012, 7pm

January 7, 2012

It’s been a while since my last sporting event in Korea, over a month in fact since I watched Jeonbuk clinch the K-League Championship. I haven’t really had much of an opportunity to see anything else as not long after that game I had to go to Oman for a few days and then went straight on from there to England for a couple of weeks holiday over Christmas and New Year.

I didn’t get up to much in Oman, I rarely do. My favourite activity was probably feeding the dog that hangs around the site with a few pieces of Spam from the Korean breakfast. I think it’s a more appropriate food for dogs than for people.

He overcomes his timidness when there is tinned chopped pork shoulder.

The highlight of the trip was seeing a few wild camels wandering by the side of the road on the way to the construction site. Unfortunately one of them hadn’t been observing his kerb drill and so had ended up as what is undoubtedly the biggest item of roadkill that I’ve ever seen. I didn’t take a photo, but if there is anything left of the carcass when I go back I’ll try and get a snap next time.

Back in England it was a case of catching up with family and friends that I hadn’t seen since August. My son and my grandson both had birthdays, with the elder of the two putting a bit more effort into his celebration. I did pretty well for gigs, seeing Withered Hand, Paul McCartney and Cattle & Cane over a four day period. As I’ve only seen two bands in Korea this entire year, I was quite pleased with the scheduling.

He's less keen on Spam.

The Boro fixtures fell nicely for me as well. Tom and  I took the bus down to Cardiff where a half past seven in the morning start to the drinking meant that I remember little of our away win. We later took four points from six in the home games against Hull and Peterborough. I even managed to squeeze in a Boxing Day visit to Central Avenue for the Billingham derby between Synners and Town.

Now that's a backdrop.

Tom and I spent an afternoon at Sedgefield Races too. I suppose a meeting a few days before Christmas isn’t going to be the best attended fixture of the year, but I was surprised by how small the crowd was. I wasn’t surprised by how much money I lost though, the knack of picking a winner is something that I seem to struggle with these days.

I think the entire crowd was in this photo.

A couple of days walking in The Lakes either side of a night in Coniston got me a bit of fresh air as well as a battering in a hailstorm on the hills above Hardknott Pass. It was nice to get outside though, despite the weather.

That was taken just before the hailstorm.

So, that’s the ‘what I did on my holidays’ update out of the way. Jen is still in America visiting her folks and so after work I got the subway on my own to the Jamsil Students Gymnasium to see SK Knights play LG Sakers. I bought a ticket from a tout in the subway for eight thousand won and got myself a roll of gimbap and a bag of chestnuts for my tea. I tend not to eat quite so well when I’m by myself.

 I hadn’t seen SK Knights this season yet, but I’d watched LG Sakers at Samsung Thunders a few weeks back and had been impressed with the way they had gradually clawed back an early deficit to win 81-74.

The Nigerian centre for the Sakers in that game, Olumide Oyedeji, was no longer playing in Korea and had been replaced with the somewhat pacier American  Aaron Haynes. I noticed that he was wearing headphones as he warmed up. Sensible bloke. Maybe I’m getting old but I found the noise from the speaker system in the arena to be just below my pain threshold. I saw Mogwai in Seoul just before Christmas and fortunately I had been warned in advance to wear earplugs for their performance. Next time I’ll bring them to the basketball too.

I'm tempted to wear a pair of those at work too.

SK Knights seemed to have been through a few foreign players themselves and tonight’s starter was an American called Amal McCaskill. If Google has given me the right fella then he’s knocking on a bit at thirty-eight, but has turned out for a few NBA teams over the years.

Amal McCaskill takes on SK Knights by himself.

As the game started the place was probably about a quarter full, although with people continuing to arrive throughout the game it was probably near to half its capacity by the end.

SK looked quite effective early on with some swift passing and had six points on the board before Sakers got their first basket. It wasn’t to last though and by the end of the first quarter the visitors led by 16-12. LG continued their good form in the second quarter, increasing their advantage to 41-33 at half time.

I had been wondering which K-Popstars would be ‘entertaining’ us at half time, having been subjected to Sistar, Shinee and that old biddy who looks a bit like Tina Turner’s Mam at previous games. SK must have a smaller budget though as all we got were a few obstacle course type games, cheerleaders dishing out pizzas and a dance routine from the seven mascots. Yes, seven. We had a bloke dressed up as a hamburger, another one as an orange, one who was either a tub of ice cream or a dumpling and one who I think was meant to be a pork chop. They were joined by a giant can of Pocari Sweat, a two legged horse and someone who I presume from his hat was supposed to be a knight. Maybe Sistar might have been a better option after all.

Horse, Hamburger, Orange and Pork Chop.

SK fought back after the interval and by the end of the third quarter had turned an eight point deficit into a four point lead. They stayed ahead until a couple of minutes from the end, setting up what would be a tense finish. As the match entered its final thirty seconds SK were two up and had possession. If they scored they would win, if they missed then LG would have maybe six or seven seconds to score themselves. SK did miss their shot but the lad was fouled in the process and he put one of the free-throws away to increase the lead to 77-74. LG had six seconds to score a three-pointer to tie the game.

There's just enough space for the obligatory cheerleaders photo.

We had to sit through an incredibly long time-out before play restarted. So long in fact that the mascots put the crowd through their paces with some exercise routines. Most of the Koreans joined in, but just as I do when I’m at work and all that nonsense starts, I left them to it.

When play did get underway again LG were able to work the position for the three point shot. Aaron Haynes took it but it rolled around the rim and came back out again. SK got the rebound and it was game over. It was definitely the closest game that I’ve watched whilst being over here and the win might just have moved SK back ahead of the Sakers into seventh place.

Jeju Horseracing, Saturday 22nd January 2011

February 27, 2011

I’d planned to take a trip to Jeju during the last football season, even going as far as booking flights to coincide with the play-off final. Unfortunately Jeju United faltered in the run in and the match that had seemed likely to coincide with our visit ended up being played in Seoul. Turning up in Jeju for a game that was being played three hundred miles away didn’t seem the most sensible thing to do and so I changed the flights and Jen and I went in January instead.

Getting there was quite easy. We flew Korean Air from Gimpo airport and it took about an hour. There are quite a few airlines covering the route but a lot of them will only accept online bookings and their websites are in Korean. They tend to sell out quite quickly too whereas Korean Air usually has seats available up until a few weeks before. Our flight was late on Friday evening so Gimpo was deserted. So was Jeju come to think of it and for a while it looked as if we might have been stuck there as the taxis seemed to have given up for a night.

We got one eventually though and it dropped us outside of a hotel near the harbour in Jeju City. Next morning we had been planning a walk on the Jeju Olle Trail. It’s a route that skirts around most of the island, following the coast for a lot of the way. As we were at the seaside already though we just followed the first path alongside the beach that we came too.

I thought that this photo might make a nice jigsaw

We passed quite a famous rock that is supposed to resemble a dragon‘s head. There’s a lot of this type of nonsense in Korea. It was just a rock with a few jagged bits. Not that any lack of realism was stopping it being lit up with floodlights and being photographed by every visitor to the island. Almost every visitor anyway, I didn’t bother unfortunately so unless you want to google ‘Jeju rock that looks nothing like a dragon‘ you will have to take my word for it.

We did see one of those Jeju diving women though. They are pretty famous, or at least they get a mention in all of the guide books. Apparently it all started off as a bit of a tax dodge about a hundred years ago. The women dived for shellfish whilst their husbands stayed at home and discussed which rocks best resembled mythical creatures. This time I did get a photo.

It's probably more fun in the summer.

They used to dive wearing just a flimsy cotton dress according to the guidebook, but it seemed a bit chilly for that. Anyway,  the remaining divers are all approaching pensionable age so it’s probably for the best that they dress a bit more modestly these days.

Definitely more fun in summer.

After lunch we’d seem enough of the seaside and we got a taxi to the racetrack. The racing had already started by the time we got there but there is usually a lengthy card in Korea so that’s not such a big deal. There are only three racetracks in the country, Seoul, Busan and Jeju. In addition to the live racing a few races from one of the other tracks are generally shown on the big screen to fill in the odd gap.

It was eight hundred Won to get in and we were just in time for the fourth race. The best thing about Jeju racing is that they don’t use real racehorses. They have some special inter-bred Jeju horses that either, depending upon the legend you read, are descended from horses imported by Genghis Khan, were discovered at the bottom of a well by a long dead King or are the result of letting an over-enthusiastic Shetland pony loose at the stud farm.

Whatever their background, it just looks wrong. The jockeys here are amongst the smallest I’ve seen anywhere outside of YouTube clips of monkeys riding greyhounds and yet they still towered over their mounts. I reckon that when the jockeys wanted to slow their horses down they wouldn’t need to pull on the reins, it would be easier for them just to put their boots to the floor.

Maybe the bloke is a giant.

I can‘t actually remember now how long the races were, but I’m pretty sure they were over a kilometre. That seems mean to me. Donkeys on Blackpool beach do about fifty yards at a fairly sedate pace. If you galloped them full tilt the entire length of the seafront then I doubt they would stay out of the glue factory for very long.

At least it's not far to fall.

Being foreigners, all we had to do was look a bit lost and we were soon escorted to a special lounge where a couple of girls found us a table and took our bets. There isn‘t much of a market in Korea for backing horses to win, almost all of the money goes on reverse forecasts. We were betting less than a tenner a race between us but it still accounted for about ten percent of the Tote receipts for some of the races.

Twenty minutes and ten thousand strides later..

As the afternoon went on the horses in each race seemed to get bigger. I did wonder if by the time of the final race we would get to see something that the Trojans would have been proud of, but they didn’t ever quite reach full-size. We got a taxi back to Jeju City and on the way back to our hotel had a wander around the local market where amongst other stuff I bought some cactus flavoured chocolate and some pheasant toffee. Yes really.

Much better than a pie.

I’d recommend Jeju. It was a fair bit warmer than the sub-zero Seoul and there‘s enough to fill a couple of days even without any hiking. The next day we popped into a natural history museum where some of the exhibits looked like they had been stuffed by a kid on a field trip, we visited Loveland where you can pose for photos with statues of naked people or copulating dogs and we called into a large underground cave that I reckon would be a perfect place to cool down in the summer. We’ll probably go back for a football game later in the season and maybe some of the Olle Trail as well.

Seoul Horseracing, Sunday 12th December 2010

January 28, 2011

With Christmas approaching I decided it was about time for another visit to the horseracing at Seoul Racetrack. It had been about seven months since I’d last attended a meeting there and in the absence of any football I thought it would give me something to do. I wasn’t in any kind of rush to arrive as the racing goes on for about seven hours and my boredom threshold is more in tune with the English system of horseracing where you get six or seven races spread over about three and a half hours rather than a dozen or so taking up twice the time.

With that in mind I got there just after half past twelve, with the first three races on the card having already been completed. It was free to get in again and although a lot of people were still arriving there seemed to be quite a sizeable crowd already inside.

View towards the Grandstand

I’ve already explained how it all works at Seoul races in earlier posts, so I’ll just tell you the stuff that was different on this occasion. I’ll start with the temperature. It was bloody freezing, well below zero. I watched each of the races from outside, but I popped back into the Grandstand to warm up as soon as the horses passed the winning post.

Main Grandstand

Something I did notice during this visit that I hadn’t spotted before was a classroom where a couple of women explain how betting works to any racegoers who weren’t sure of the best way to get rid of their wages. I was surprised by how full the room was for the fifteen minute sessions as everyone at the track looked as if they had been calculating the return on an each-way treble since they were at primary school. It was cold outside though, so I could only assume that a few of them were in there purely because they fancied a sit-down in the warm.

"Back the horse that's just had a dump."

There was also what appeared to be a bit of a protest, although I’m not sure what it was against. A handful of young people were carrying banners and wearing horses heads. Maybe handful is the wrong term. Would the wearing of the horses heads make them a herd? Anyway, they were protesting about something, waving their banners in the parade ring and by the trackside railings. They did it all very politely though.

It was all a little bit odd.

I got to watch a couple of races under floodlights too. It gets dark at about five-ish this time of year and although I hadn’t planned to stay until the end, the prospect of the floodlights kept me there a bit longer than I would have stayed if it had been light. I did ok with the betting too, with five wins from the eight races that I watched live and the three from Busan that were shown on the big screen.

Night racing.

As I made my way out I passed the blokes who were picking up discarded betting tickets from the floor in the hope that they might just mitigate their losses. There is that much hawking up of phlegm in Korea, particularly somewhere like the races, that the throat clearing and spitting becomes a constant background noise. I don’t think I’d want to pick up a discarded ticket from the floor even if I could see at a glance that it was a winner. Further on at the subway, there was some sort of find the lady game taking place on a mat spread onto the floor. I watched it for a bit before catching my train and saw plenty of people stopping and making a pretty good effort to get rid of their remaining cash.

So, that was the races, but as this is quite a short write-up I’m going to tell you what I had for my tea a couple of days later. They have a dish over here called Sannakji and I’d been keen to try it for a while. It is sometimes described as live octopus but I think that’s pushing it a bit, although I’ve no medical training and wouldn’t really know what the form is for determining the exact time of death in cephalopods.

Anyway, what happens is, you go to a restaurant that serves Sannakji and immediately before your plate is set on the table an octopus is taken from the tank and cut up with a pair of scissors. When the plate arrives moments later the sections of leg, and lets be honest, an octopus is pretty much all leg, are still wriggling. They kept on wriggling when we ate them for the full three-quarters of an hour that it took us to clear the plate.

I didn’t take any photos but there are plenty on the internet, like the one below, although I suppose video would have been the best way to record the wriggling.

We got a bit more salad with our Sannakji.

It was a bit weird to be honest, as if the bits of leg knew what they were doing. Occasionally one of them would make a run for the edge of the plate, whilst others were quietly trying to sneak under the salad. When I put them in my mouth the suction cups would latch on to my tongue, the roof of my mouth or even the backs of my teeth. We were warned to chew them thoroughly to prevent them blocking an airway or organising a rave in your large intestine.

It was certainly an unusual sensation when they were wriggling inside my mouth. I don’t think I ever ate earthworms as a kid, but I imagine it would be quite similar. Worms would probably be a bit grittier though and you wouldn’t have the fun of the suction cups.  Anyway, if you like your seafood raw and you were partial to the odd packet of Space Dust as a kid, then I’d recommend having Sannakji for your tea.