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Horses for Courses: Planning Your Trip to the Races

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Racing events UK 2013

Under Creative Commons License. Available: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vegaseddie/6798019444/

Nothing gets the blood pumping like a trip to the races. The tireless buzz of the bookmakers vying for bets, the thunder of hooves on turf, the breathless thrill you feel as the nag you’ve backed stampedes down the home straight… it’s a cracking experience. And that’s not to mention the opportunity a race meet gives you to grab a drink or two and unwind with your friends in the open air.

Some of the biggest meetings in UK racing are coming up over the next few months and many are just a quick train ride away. With the help of a couple of horse racing experts we’ve put together a guide to going to the races, along with a look at some of the UK’s biggest events. They are all great fun so have a look and decide where you’d like to go to experience the excitement that the sport of kings brings.

A short guide to your day at the races

Before you book your racing trip rail travel, you want to make sure you won’t look like an amateur when you’re standing by the track. To help you avoid any embarrassment we’ve written up a quick (but by no means comprehensive) guide to your day. First up are a few tips and things you should take into account before you go:

• Dress to impress: Big races have different enclosures and each will have its own dress code. The general rule is, the more expensive the ticket the more formal the dress. Top end enclosures can be more like fashion shows than race meets. But if you want to keep it casual, or go off the deep end with an outrageous outfit, the course or picnic enclosures will suit you.

• Remember the essentials: Cash, something to write with, an umbrella, binoculars and a picnic are all important things to bring with you to make the most of your trip.

• Use your common sense: The atmosphere of a race meet can be pretty intoxicating but keep your head. Don’t get carried away when you’re dealing with bookies. Both wins and losses can raise some pretty strong emotions but blowing your top, or getting drunk on success, isn’t the way to handle them.

Now to the essential business of betting…choosing the horse you want to back could be the most important decision you make during a race trip so you’d better be ready to take the process seriously. To get you started, here are a few of our favourite methods for picking a horse:

• You like the name: Some horses have great names. Case in point – Maythehorsebewithyou, a horse that won a race in Florida in 2006.

• The jockey is wearing nice colours: Could be your favourite colour, could be the colour of your favourite sports team.

• The horse has a friendly face: I can’t think of a better reason to put money on a horse.

• You’ve studied the form: Alright, maybe this is a better reason. See how horses have performed in the past to guide your bets.

• It’s the tipster’s choice: The easy way to look like you know what you’re talking about is to get some race tips before the meeting then pass them off as your own selections. Genius.

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be ready to have your day at the races, so what meets are coming up? Here are a few of the biggest and best.

Racing’s favourite fixture

Later this month the cream of the racing world will be making their way to Gloucestershire to take part in Britain’s flagship racing event, the Cheltenham Festival. There are loads of trains to Cheltenham ready to transport you to this top-notch event so if you want to join the crowds cheering on the races make sure you book your ticket soon.

To help you while you’re at the meet, we’ve linked up with Daily Star Sunday Racing Editor and proprietor of horseracingchat, Jason Heavey who’s given us some great tips for punters heading to the marquee event:

“The Champion Hurdle on the opening day is the highlight and it will take a seriously good horse to beat the favourite Hurricane Fly, although I have a strong fancy for Zarkandar.

“On the Wednesday the Queen Mother Champion Chase takes centre stage and this should prove to be a walk in the park for Sprinter Sacre, who could turn out to be the best two-mile chaser we have ever seen.

“The World Hurdle on the third day of the festival is wide open and so there will be plenty of value in the betting market for punters. Smad Place could reward your each-way money.

“And then the blue riband of chasing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, rounds off the meeting on the Friday. This year’s race is building up to be an absolute cracker with the likes of Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti taking on Long Run and possibly Flemenstar. But I think Irish eyes will be smiling as Sir Des Champs is my strong fancy to stay on up the famous Cheltenham hill and grab the glory.”

The Cheltenham Festival runs from 12th to 15th of March so pick your favourite horse, find a cheap train deal and get ready for the race – you could just be onto a winner!

When it comes to racing, the North’s got form

There are some great racetracks in the north of England, with scenic areas in Cumbria playing host to many excellent race meets. If you’d like to extend your race trip into a longer holiday you could jump on a train to Carlisle and use it as a base to explore the local area.

Racing expert Marten Julian has told us about some of his favourite spots:

“Visitors looking for a taste of Lakeland life at its best should pay a visit to Cartmel, just a few miles from Kendal. This picturesque village, with its towering Priory, plays host to a handful of race meetings each year. The main fixtures are held on May and August Bank Holidays, with a total annual attendance of around 40,000 people over the year’s programme.

“Further north, there are more regular meetings at Carlisle, both on the Flat and over jumps. Haydock, an hour down the M6 into Lancashire, holds fixtures on a much larger scale while a further half hour west gets you to Aintree, home of the world-famous Grand National.”

Everyone knows the Grand National. The grandstand event is the highest profile UK race, and one of the world’s truly great horse racing events.

Samantha Hobden, owner of equine social blogging network Haynet has fond memories of her Dad taking her to the Grand National for the first time. It seems she had a knack for spotting a winner from an early age: her chosen horse, Red Run, came in first and Samantha won herself £1 (a tidy sum in the 1970s). She’s had a love for horses and a soft spot for the Grand National ever since. Here’s what she shared with us:

‘My love for horses started back when Red Rum won. I sadly lost my dad a few years ago, but I have such happy memories watching the Grand National with him over the many years’.

This year’s Grand National meeting takes place from 4 to 6 April, with the marquee race taking place on the final day.

Get there: The Grand National welcomes over 150,000 visitors during the course of those three days and if you want to join these punters, the easiest way to get to Aintree is by booking a train to Liverpool and making your way to the track from there. Over 11 million viewers tune in to the BBC to watch the Grand National but there is no substitute for soaking up this atmosphere in the flesh.

Dress to the nines for Royal Ascot

No other race meet carries the same air of class and prestige as the Royal Ascot. Racing is known as the sport of kings, but it is the Queen and her family who’ve been gracing the Ascot racetrack with their presence in recent years.

The Royal Enclosure is the most prestigious at the track and a favourite with A-listers, high society and fashion photographers. If you want to hobnob with this upper crust you’ll need to put in the work. Access to the area is highly restricted, and getting a ticket may be difficult if you don’t know the right people.

You don’t need to get into this exclusive enclosure to make the most of your trip though. There’s plenty of fun to be had in the other areas – although wherever you go, your clothes will have to be up to scratch. After concerns over some of outfits being sported by some patrons, Ascot tightened up the dress standards last year.

Gents visiting the Grandstand Enclosure must wear a suit and tie while women aren’t allowed to wear strapless or sheer strap dresses or tops. For a really memorable trip why not really get into the spirit of the day and get your finest outfit on? And don’t forget a nice hat (fascinators don’t count) – Ascot is all about the hats!

Get there: The Royal Ascot runs from 18 to 22 June this year. To get to the track, find cheap train tickets to Reading or hop on a train to London Waterloo. While Royal Ascot is in full swing regular rail services run to the racecourse from both these stations. Leave about 28 minutes if you’re coming from Reading and 52 minutes if you’re travelling by train from London.

Every race meet makes its own stories and if you’d like to be part of one then choose the event that looks best for you and start planning your trip. And wherever you decide to go, remember to bet responsibly, drink sensibly and have a great time!

Do you enjoy a flutter on the nags? What’s your favourite race meet?

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