25 Apr 2024

A Day at the Races

The flat racing season runs from April to October and takes place at a total of 59 racecourses throughout the UK. It starts this year, as is traditional, with the meeting at Haydock Park in Merseyside on Saturday 27th April.

As the name implies, flat racing involves a headlong dash along a level field, with no obstacles. It is the ultimate test of the speed and stamina of the horse, as well as the consummate skill of the jockey, who must ‘read’ the racecourse, constantly assess the competition, and make an accurate judgement about how to pace his horse throughout.

Races are run over distances from five furlongs (0.6 miles) to over two miles and are tailored to the age, gender or ability of the horse. The most famous flat races are the ‘Classics’, which are restricted to three-year-old colts and fillies and run over different distances: the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket; the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket; the Oaks at Epsom Downs; the Derby at Epsom Downs; the St Leger at Doncaster. When it comes to pomp and prestige, Royal Ascot, in June, is the pinnacle of the flat racing season.

You’ll enjoy your trip to the horse races all the more if you’re appropriately dressed, well-informed and know what to expect and how to behave. And remember, a hearty picnic will set up yourself and your guests for the long afternoon ahead.

Dress to Impress

In 2023 The Jockey Club announced that formal dress codes at its 15 racecourses would no longer be in place, in a bid to make racing more inclusive and accessible. Dress codes still apply at many racecourses, which means racegoers will be turned away if they’re inappropriately dressed, so it is wise to check guidance online before attending. Even when dress codes they are not compulsory most racegoers enjoy making an effort and see dressing up as an integral part of the day.

A day at the races is a special occasion and you should dress smartly. Men should wear a suit, or jacket, in both cases with a tie.
Ladies should choose a smart dress or suit (steer clear of miniskirts, halter necks and spaghetti straps). It’s fine to wear trouser suits (or a matching top and trousers). Remember there will be a lot of standing around, some of it on uneven ground, so toe-pinching stilettos might not be the best choice.

The flat racing season extends from spring to autumn so – given the vagaries of British weather – it is quite likely that racegoers will have to contend with torrential downpours and chilly, overcast days. Take the weather into consideration: there is nothing worse than shivering in a skimpy summer frock in a biting east wind. Plan for contingencies: bring a smart pashmina or jacket to avoid goose pimples and equip yourself with an umbrella (you can always leave it in the car).

Racing events provide an ideal opportunity to wear a stylish hat. Many gentleman race-goers opt for a panama hat, which sets off a light linen suit.

Ladies can indulge in more extravagant headwear – especially on ladies’ days (specially designated days at certain race meetings) when flights of fantasy are positively encouraged. Just remember that a huge cartwheel creation may look stunning but is a hazard to everyone around you: kissing other hat-wearers leads to disastrous collisions and you may irritate other racegoers by blocking their view.

Gambling Conduct

If you can’t afford to lose the money, don’t bet, and remember that being a sore loser will only spoil the day for your companions; many people will find your inability to mask your disappointment gauche and embarrassing. Try and accept both wins and losses with equanimity – gloating about your astonishing good fortune is never a good look.

If you do happen to have a lucky win, spread the good will and largesse around.  Buy drinks for your companions and revel in the opportunity to display your generosity. Quietly secreting your winnings and keeping a low profile will not endear you to your friends.

Raceday Host

Most racecourses offer a large range of restaurants and eating choices. It is also considered traditional to bring your own picnic.

Picnics are often taken at the car before the first race. If you’re in charge it’s best to keep it simple – salmon, ham, pâté and fresh bread, a classic Quiche Lorraine, potato salad (try adding capers, chopped mint and minced anchovies) with a bowl of salad (bring your vinaigrette in a screwtop jar). A coolbox of wine, beer and soft drinks will get your racing party going with a swing.

This hearty fare should set your guests up for a long afternoon of racing thrills and the inevitable visits to the bar.

Make sure that all your guests are well supplied with form guides and have every opportunity to sit down, relax and enjoy the refreshments on offer – an afternoon at the races can be very tiring.

Pace yourself and moderate alcohol intake with water, soft drinks and snacks.

Betting for Beginners

Backing one or two horses to place will, in the long run, not offer you the same returns as betting on three or four horses to win. Avoid outsiders, but if the going is heavy, form generally means nothing – an outsider can be worth a punt. Study the form guides and look for a horse that has improved gradually. Listen to betting shop and trackside chatter and keep an eye on any horse that is being well backed.
Most importantly, set yourself a betting limit and stick to it.

Familiarise yourself with betting jargon below and you’ll feel more confident about placing that all-important bet. Before the advent of mobile phones, bookmakers used to communicate the odds of certain horses each other using ‘tic-tac’, a complex sign language, which is fast disappearing. Even without the impenetrable hand gestures, bookies are quick-witted, knowledgeable fast-talkers, so it’s good to be prepared.


Accumulator Bet: a bet involving more than one horse/race. Each winning selection then goes on to the next horse (bet). All selections must be successful to win any money back.

Backed in: a horse on which lots of bets have been placed, the result being a decrease in the odds offered.

Banker: a safe bet; a strong favourite

Beeswax: Rhyming slang for tax.

Bismarck: a favourite that bookmakers expect to lose.

Book: a record of the bets made on a particular race or other sporting event.

Double: a bet on two selections, both of which must win.

Drifter: a horse whose odds get bigger just before the race due to a lack of support in the market. Often referred to as being ‘on the drift’.

Maiden: a horse that is yet to win a victory.

Monkey: £500

Each-way: a bet where half the total stake is for the selection to win, and half is for the selection to be placed (usually in the first three).

Evens/Even money: a price of 1-1 when your stake brings equal winnings e.g. £10 staked at evens wins £10 (total return £20).

Forecast: a bet where the aim is to select both the winner and runner-up in a race.

In-running betting: betting on the outcome of a race during the race itself, rather than beforehand.

On the nose: betting on a horse to win only, as opposed to backing it each way.

Pony: £25

Rock cake: a small bet.

Score: £20

Shortening odds: bookmaker’s reduction of the odds on a particular horse.

Short price: low odds, meaning a punter will get little return for their initial outlaSingle: the simplest and most popular bet, normally a win bet on one horse in one race.

Stake: the amount of the bet placed.

Starting price (SP): the final odds prevailing at the time the race starts.

Straight forecast: a bet where the aim is to select both the winner and runner-up
in the correct order.

Ton:  £100


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