I used to love going horse racing. I never knew anything about horses. I would have tried to avoid being in close proximity with a horse. I have numerous allergies and horses make me sneeze, my eyes run if I approach closer than a few yards, but I nevertheless loved going horse racing. Well, what I really loved was the Downpatrick races.
The Co Down track was a real switchback course. The horses that ran in the races were rarely well-known. The jockeys would not often have been the people appearing on the race cards for the top races, but the Downpatrick races were always great craic.
I could meet half my parish there. There would be opportunities for conversation and for laughter. There would be £1 bets on the Tote and delight if you won a fiver, and if you didn’t you had only lost a pound.
The Downpatrick races were a gathering of the community and created a great sense of community. They were a great leveller of class (there were no boxes or exclusive enclosures) and a great uniter of people of different creeds. The Downpatrick races were a great occasion; my favourite meeting was always the meeting on a Friday evening in May – it was a wonderful way to mark the beginning of summer.
The sight of a race at race track always recalls those happy memories.
Thus it was when I walked over Worcester’s Sabrina Bridge on the way to return a book to the library, I paused and looked across the race track. The course is a flat and regular track when compared with the drumlin landscape of Downpatrick.
A big crowd had gathered in the afternoon sun. There would have been conversations and laughter. The field were rounding the final bend of a race and coming into the home straight. The leader among the five horses was running strongly.
The final fence was reached and the leader fell heavily. The remaining four horses ran on, an outsider winning the race.
I stood and stared. The fallen horse had not risen. Course staff ran from behind the rails. A screen was erected around the faller.
Most of the crowd would probably not have noticed. The afternoon’s enjoyment would have continued.
Steeplechasing is said to have originated in Co Cork when church towers provided landmarks as starting and finishing points for a cross country race. Perhaps, like many sporting activities that are no longer acceptable, it is time for steeplechasing to come to an end.
Flat racing is much safer, and has all the colour and excitement.