High Life, High Life, Racing,

How A Blue Bikini Made My Day

Jeff Randall relives a day at Taunton when everything clicked for him.

In his soulful ballad Days Like This, the great Van Morrison sings of those rare but glorious times “when everything falls into place like the flick of a switch”. Regular race-goers, long-suffering owners and battle-hardened punters know through bitter experience that it’s unwise to bank on such an outcome at the racetrack.

Racing’s gods, like their sporting relatives, golf’s deities, enjoy punishing presumption. They toy with our emotions in many ways: the last-fence faller, the disqualified winner, the hapless jockey who takes the wrong course. Most of us who love horse racing beyond rational explanation have been there in one way or another and, in my case, still wake up in a sweat over the agonising photo finish that blew out leg four of a stonking yankee.

That said, if you have been in this game long enough (I first went racing in the late 1960s), you know also that, once in a while, perhaps when you are least expecting it, the Turf’s celestial forces relent and grant devotees a brief encounter with delicious good fortune. This happened to me a few months ago on an otherwise unremarkable day at an unfashionable venue.

It was a cold but sunny February morning when I stepped off the train at Taunton and caught a taxi to the local racecourse. The last time I had been there, Paul Kelleway, Gay’s father, was riding for Fred Winter. About 50 years had passed since then. En route I wondered what had changed: the answer, not much. Opened in 1927, Taunton’s appeal is its warm welcome in a traditional, unpretentious, rural setting.

I often go racing on my own. It allows me to concentrate on devising a betting strategy, including a stake plan and then watch all the action undistracted by idle chitchat. Over a glass or two of Rhône red before lunch, I decided to follow a trio of “hot trainers”, those with at least three winners and a strike rate of 20 per cent or better in the past month: Fergal O’Brien, Paul Nicholls and Gary Moore. I prefer to bet online, well before racing starts, to benefit from bookmakers’ best-odds-guaranteed. This also prevents last-minute changes of mind, which almost always work out badly. But I’m when at the racecourse I invariably indulge in a Tote placepot and a few exactas.

The main restaurant at Taunton is small but cosy. By the time the appetiser arrived, I was “fully invested” and about to drain glass number three. My confidence grew when I heard that Richard Hoiles, a friend, was calling them home. What could possibly go wrong?

Race one, a novices’ hurdle, went to plan. Holetown Hero, trained by Nicholls, pinged out like a one-bend greyhound, pinched six lengths at the start and was never headed. I was on at 6/4; time for a vin rouge top-up.

Race two, a handicap hurdle, looked fiendishly difficult; I left it alone and was right to do so. It was won by a 40/1 “no-hoper”, but Robert Walford’s Amelia’s Dance finished second and kept me in the placepot.

Nicholls had one in the third, Milan Bridge, but it seemed too short. I passed again and was rewarded. The Ditcheat chaser jumped poorly and was nowhere. Thanks to David Pipe’s Neon Moon, my placepot stayed alive.

Race four, a mares’ novices hurdle, brought my banker of the day, Hidden Beauty, a Fergal O’Brien hotpot. I was on at evens for double stakes and put it in a reverse exacta with Gary Moore’s Parikarma, a 13/2 shot. I was disappointed when Parikarma beat Hidden Beauty by one length, but my irritation soon turned to delight when the exacta paid 14/1. This produced another tidy profit and the placepot marched on.

By now I was feeling pleased with myself. At the races this is a dangerous condition. Behind hubris lurks nemesis. However, resisting the temptation to steam in to race five, I ordered one more glass of château average and cheered as my placepot selection finished second.

Race six was set up as if with me mind. O’Brien had a 20/1 shot, Blue Bikini. Playing with the layers’ money, I doubled down on my earlier bet and paired it in a reverse exacta with the 7/4 favourite, Nicholls’ Pleasant Man. Bosh! They came home in that order. What’s more, I landed the placepot. The exacta returned freakishly good odds, 96/1, and the placepot dividend was £256.

When the Tote assistant told me I would have to wait because her desk did not have enough cash to pay me, I asked her to say it again, so good did it sound. I skipped the last for an early train home, occasionally checking my pocket-filling bankroll and bulging online account to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

That evening, over a peaty whisky and several replays of the Taunton card on Racing TV, I thanked my lucky stars. Everything had fallen into place like the flick of a switch. If only all trips to the races could be Days Like This.

Jeff Randall is chairman of Woburn Partners, a public-relations company. His fee for this article was donated to the Injured Jockeys Fund.

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