What else was I going to do on a blisteringly hot evening in early July? After my day job had finished, I headed up to Surrey for my first visit to one of the UK’s most iconic tracks: Epsom, the home of The Derby.
It’s Monday evening and I am busy organising my diary for the next few weeks. I’ve got hardly any race meetings booked in and I’m conscious that my racing coverage is starting to be limited by all the T20 cricket that I have been reporting on.
I take a look online at the Jockey Club meetings that are coming up and I’m delighted to discover a meeting at Epsom Downs is on next Wednesday. I don’t have to move anything around at home to attend this one as my wife and two daughters are heading off to Mallorca for a few days in the sun next week. Some of us have to stay at home and work! I’m not bitter at all.
The wonderful people in the communications department at The Jockey Club organise my media pass and I start planning. I’ll have to leave quite promptly and go straight to the racecourse from work. Doing this saves me half an hour journey time and I figure that I can get to Epsom an hour before the first race.
I’ve started putting horse racing tips on this site and I’m doing quite well with it. Next I’ve got plans to publish a selection of my on-course notes and I make a decision that my first published set of notes will be from Epsom next week.
By Wednesday I have everything that I need. I’ve done my research on each race and I’m looking forward to launching the new ‘Notes from the track’ feature.
The journey up to Epsom is smooth. What little traffic there is on the road is running well and I make good time. I even have time to stop at Fleet Services and wolf down a ‘mighty bucket for one’ on the way. Feeling a little bloated (it probably serves me right for eating so quickly) I take the M25 South for a couple of junctions before following my Satnav blindly the rest of the way.
At first sight of the Queen Elizabeth II Stand, I get a tingle and I sense my breathing getting a little shallower. This is the excitement of coming racing and I think it’s a shame that attendances are down again this year.
Once I am parked, I make my way to the main entrance. I bump in to one of the photographers from Getty Images that I recognise and we have a little chat as we walk round. He remembers me from The Ageas Bowl media centre and we chat about the cricket as we walk.
Once inside, I follow my email instructions about how to access the press room. To get there I have to take the lift up to the top floor and then walk up another flight of steps up to the roof. There are a row of tiny boxes labelled for a variety of media organisations and I make my way along to the press box at the end. The view is amazing from inside and I venture out on to the balcony before setting up my laptop inside. I’m ready to do some work.
There are only four runners in the first race, so I decide to make track notes on all four of the runners. Caius Chorister is a convincing winner by 19 lengths. He runs far better than his rating and is never fully ridden. I make a note to increase his rating to 77 (in my book). I add that he is one to consider backing in the future – if the penalty for tonight’s performance is not too severe.
I make my way down to the parade ring ahead of the third race. I like to get a good look at the horses but it’s difficult to be in two places at once. I make a mental note to give this issue some proper thought going forward.
In the parade ring I notice that the well-backed horse, Essme, is a little out of sorts leaving the ring. I act quickly on this information by laying the John Bridger trained filly on the exchanges. The 10-3 co-favourite duly trails in last and tonight’s overheads are paid for.
Back up in the press box, which I now have to myself, I make myself a coffee. I’m enjoying the racing, which is competitive, and compiling my notes. By the time the last race comes around, I have hardly noticed how quickly the time has gone.
One of the Jockey Club catering team comes in to clear up the press room and we get chatting. She tells me that she works mostly at Sandown and mostly in the hotel that they have there. We discuss the differences between the two venues and how the catering differs. I let her know that I’m planning on heading over to Sandown Park in a couple of weeks and she says that she thinks that I will enjoy it. She takes great pride in her work and making sure that people are well looked after at both venues.
With my leather satchel strap hanging over my right shoulder, I make my way down to the concourse where Martin Kemp (once of Spandau Ballet) is playing a DJ set of 80s tunes. The crowd are loving it but I have no desire to stay and listen. I loved the 80’s, they were my teenage years, but this is not my scene.
Somewhat ironically, Kemp cues up ‘The Only Way is Up’ (Yazz) on the turntable and I smile to myself. Who am I to judge?
By the time I climb in to my car, ‘It Must be Love’ (Madness) is transcending the late evening Surrey skyline and I can’t help joining in with the chorus.
Love? Yes, I think. It must be.