Unseen Britain - Northallerton to York
By Alan Russell
The big racing festivals held at courses like Ascot, Aintree and Epsom always attract big crowds and amongst the crowds there will always be ‘characters’ and ‘rogues’. Racing without them would lose some of its Brighton Rock raffish qualities. The Bor Festival at York in the third week of August is no exception.
The last day of this festival is on the Saturday and that was the day I was travelling from Northallerton to home via York and the whole of Yorkshire seemed to be on the move at the same time as me.
At Northallerton station the small ticket office was bursting at the seams with people buying tickets. Outside there was a queue forming to collect prepaid tickets or just to buy tickets for the day at the machine. It was easy to see that most of these rail users were going racing. The racegoers were dressed up for the day. Men looking uncomfortable in suits on a Saturday morning. Women looking uncomfortable in dresses with short hemlines constantly trying to lengthen them as they walked or grasping at billowing floral skirts as passing trains filled them with rushing air.
Those who looked the most uncomfortable looked for comfort in cans of beer for the men and glasses of wine for the women.
Trains pulled into the station packed like the London underground trains during rush hour. All the seats were taken. All the aisles were full of standing passengers and the areas at the doors were so full it seemed people were curved to meet the rounded contours of the interior to make more room for extra passengers. Those holding glasses of wine or tins of beer didn’t lose a drop. Despite all of this crowding more people crammed into the trains. As soon as the platform was clear of one crowd another would gather find their way into the next train.
My train arrived. I was able to dump my suitcase in the luggage area and unlike Jeremy Corbin, find a seat that I had pre-booked. My journey home had begun.
All around the talk was of racing. ‘That jockey always does well here’. ‘Good choice, good odds and just coming right, I’d go for that’. ‘No, not that one, that’s a real donkey, how could you?’
The whole atmosphere was developing an accumulating frisson of excitement about having a good time and maybe, just maybe, backing a few winners.
‘Tickets, tickets’ a male voice called out from the end of the carriage.
A lot of us thought it must be the guard coming to check our tickets and instinctively reached for our wallets or wherever the tickets were kept.
‘Tickets, me old Mum bought these for her two sisters. Paid twenty nine pounds each but they can’t come. Both taken ill overnight…..such a shame to see them wasted. Twenty pounds each if anyone wants them’.
He was a big man wearing a dark suit, dark shirt and fancy tie. He was tanned as well. His ‘Mum’ did not look that old and was wearing an ill-fitting two piece beige suit. She was constantly chewing something and looked a bit like a bulldog chewing a wasp.
‘Terrible to waste them. Twenty quid for whoever wants them. They are genuine’ the man continued.
A man stood up from the seat in front of me.
‘I’ll take them’.
‘Forty quid mate’ the vendor said as money and tickets changed hands ‘Thanks mate, I’ve got a winner this lots goin on’.
‘That’s my money now hand it over’ Mum demanded.
The money changed hands again.
‘Where’s that bloke that gave those two horses to back, you know the ones you said were dead certs that you can’t remember?’ his Mum asked.
‘There he is Mum, down there, the one in the grey suit’ the son answered.
Mum pushed her way through the standing passengers like a bulldozer and came back a couple of minutes later.
‘I got the names. Shaaor in the two fifty and She Is No Lady in the four o’clock. Reckons they are really good uns. How comes he knows they’re so good?’ Mum asked.
‘He knows the head lad at the yard. Used to go to school with him. Keeps in touch regular like. Says that he rides both out every morning at Newmarket and they’ve both been got ready to run big races today. Dead certs he reckons’ the son replied.
In less time than it takes for a horse to cross the finish line mother and son had disappeared from the carriage. Around me I could hear murmurings referring to the two horses. I looked them both up on my iPad. Yes, they were both running that day and at the times Mum had said. Both of them were very short priced favourites so to actually select them as ‘dead certs’ did not take much effort as the entire betting industry reflected this status in their odds being quoted. What was possible was that the head lad must have been a real gossip by just telling ‘the secret’ to one person at a time. What the ‘head lad’ would have found impossible was to be able to ride both horses out every day on the gallops at Newmarket, unless he was moonlighting, as both horses were trained at different yards run by two different trainers. Later in the afternoon I checked the results, purely out of interest for the story and not because I placed a bet on both horses, and Shaaor finished in fifth place while She’s Not a Lady finished in fourteenth.
At York all the racegoers left the train. Men still holding their cans of beer but looking more comfortable in their suits. Women still trying to lengthen hemlines or hold down billowing skirts while holding on to a glass of wine. They were taking the party with them. The train pulled out of York and the carriage I was in was less crowded and the party atmosphere had been left at York station on platform two.
I just hope that the tickets the Mum and son had sold were more genuine than the horses they were tipped.