The Winners 2004 Under 19 Winner

The problem is I love cricket.

My summers are, for me, just cricket. So imagine my despair when, on camp this summer, I was told that the day's match at the Cheltenham festival had been cancelled. I was told it was the bad weather that had prevented me from watching the likes of Alan Donald, Ricky Ponting and Darren Gough. So, as I stood there in the rain, soaked to the skin at Bath race course, I was feeling rather upset and let down.

As others around me hotly debated whether Mad as a Hatter or Irish Dream would come out on top, my mind was elsewhere. As I was just recollecting the third Ashes Test of the previous summer, another boy in the party, whom I had never met before, turned round.

"Who do you think will win then?" he said, "Mad as a Hatter or Irish dream?"
"I really don't know," I confessed, "Who do you think will win?"
"Well, I think it's obviously Irish Dream, he's in great form and Richard Griffiths is a great jockey."
"Yeah," I murmured, "Irish Cream. Definitely."
"Irish Dream," he corrected.

We were told that the race would soon be starting so everyone hurried towards the stands. I hurried too, but only to stick with the people I'd come with, who had my packed lunch. We found a part high up in the main stand that was free and duly waited for the race to begin. Far off, I could just about see the horses being led to their stalls. Suddenly, the gates flew open and the horses sped out. Immediately, two horses took a slight lead ahead of the pack.

"Is one of them Irish Dream then?" I asked the boy who had spoken to me earlier.
"No," he replied, "That's Blue Moon and Mad as a Hatter."
"What about -"
"You wait, he'll come through the field yet."

Two thirds of the way through, however, there was no sign of Irish Dream.

"Which one is Irish Dream?" I asked.
"The one in the green with orange rings."

Then, as I looked, I noticed a horse coming through the field from the back. Its rider was wearing green and - yes - orange rings. He passed one horse, then another and another. He surely could not catch the top two - there were only three furlongs left. He was catching them, though. Three lengths…two-and-a-half…one-and-a-half. They entered the final furlong. It was surely all over, I thought. Yet, almost in reaction to my thought, it seemed, the horse found yet another gear. He closed down on the leaders one length…half a length…level - and suddenly they raced past the finishing post in a flash. My guess was as good as anybody's as to who had won.

I never found out who did win that race but little did it matter. For suddenly, in the space of a few minutes, I had been flung headlong into the wonders of the world of racing. No longer was I dreaming of Lords, Headingley and the Oval, their perfectly mown outfields and tirelessly rolled wickets. Now it was of Newmarket, Aintree and Ascot, their temporary stables and oval paddocks.

I was immediately speaking another language. Jockeys could not be out for a duck. There are no googlies, square legs, and there were no prizes for being third man. It was no longer about runs, wickets and dodgy LBW rulings. Now everything was measured in furlongs, lengths and necks. Nobody knocked up a total; instead they came through on the rails.

The day did not start with the toss of a coin, but with a horse parade in the paddock. Wickets didn't favour batsmen or bowlers, but the soft going favoured some horses, the hard going others. You could hear the bookies calling out their odds-on favourite and each-way bets, each accompanied by their own hand signals. The jockeys came out wearing the owners' colours, brightly arrayed on their silk. No whites or "pyjamas" here.

For wicketkeepers, spinners and umpires, there were now trainers, owners and stewards. And this incredible show was not regulated by the MCC in their fire brigade ties and panama hats, but by the Jockey Club.

Here, no-one was looking forward to the Ashes, the B&H final or the Cheltenham festival. Now it was Ascot, the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

I spent the rest of the day running from the stands to the finish-line. I backed three winners and two losers, and ended up like a drowned rat. I met people who talked to me about this new world and even found the bookies' calls vaguely comprehensible.

Having arrived that morning an unhappy and disgruntled cricketer, I left as reluctantly as I had arrived, stimulated by this new arena of turf and rails.

Since then I've never seen horse-racing in the same light. I have watched horse-racing on Channel 4 and have keenly followed the fortunes of Tony McCoy, Rock of Gibraltar, and even the Queen's horses.

In short, the problem is I love horse-racing.