A day at the races
- Credit: Archant
Photo journalist Julian Claxton takes his camera to Newmarket for his first race meeting and discovers all the best places to capture the excitment of the day
A day at the race course doesn’t get much better than this. The sun is shining in a deep blue sky with not a cloud in sight.
It’s the hottest day of the year and a perfect time to visit the home of horse racing and maybe have a flutter.
I’m at the Craven meeting in Newmarket for the start of the flat racing season. I am told by several well heeled gentlemen in the premier enclosure that this is a good opportunity to study the early season form from some of the trainers and jockeys.
It’s my first time at a Newmarket race meeting and I’m full of anticipation and excitement, ready to watch a fast race on the hallowed turf of the Rowley Mile racecourse. The mood is relaxed – some racegoers sipping wine, enjoying the hospitality, others sitting in the sun with pencil, note pad and form guide, clearly working out the favourites and those worth having a flutter on.
I’ve been given the privilege of access to the weighing room, somewhere photographers and journalists are not usually permitted. As I pull up a seat along the judge and clerk of the course I glance across at the complex spreadsheet where jockeys’ names, weights and details are updated for each race.
The next jockey wanders down the corridor and into the weighing room, his impeccable black leather riding boots gleaming in the spotlights as he steps onto the large metal floor pad. I recognise him as Frankie Dettori in his bright orange silks – in the zone, focusing on the first race of the day.
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All ten jockeys come into the weighing room at various times before the first race. Each is weighed before and after the race, and results are not confirmed until the clerk of the course has announced that all the jockeys have been weighed in.
Walking past the changing area and steam room, I pass one of the jockeys snacking on some food, while others prepare the buttons on their silks. Fifteen minutes before the first race, right on cue, the bell in the Jockey Club is sounded and the jockeys make their way into the parade ring. They chat with the owners and sponsors of their horses, and wait to mount their horses as the crowds assemble around the ring. Racegoers clutch their form guides, making ticks and crosses, watching as the horses are led around the ring. Some simply come to cheer their favourite jockey.
The brass bell hanging near the Jockey Club is rung, signalling it’s time to mount and head out to the course. A quick leg up and the jockeys take control, adjusting stirrups while the trainers offer some last minute words of advice.
There’s a flurry of last minute bets placed, with everything from small change to large notes handed over to the eagerly awaiting bookmakers, odds changing at the drop of the hat.
Then the commentator announces that all the horses are in the stalls.
“And they’re off!” comes the shout through the speakers. It seems to take forever for that distant spec that is jockey and horse to come clearly into view. Staring ahead it’s hard to see who is leading.
They come alongside the packed the stand and then suddenly gallop past at a ferocious speed.
Cheers fill the air and someone standing on a bench jumps for joy. Clearly he’s backed a winner. Less lucky spectators, consol themselves with a drink and walk back to the parade ring. There Ryan Clark celebrates his win on the 25/1 shot Carnival King.
Without even a moment to celebrate, the jockeys are back in the weighing room, watching replays of the race and heading to the changing rooms to get ready for their next ride.