It was that unusual Irish event, a gloriously hot summer’s day and The Curragh was on. Everyone at my house was ridiculously excited about an afternoon of racing. What were they going to wear? Was so-and-so going? Off we set, dressed in summer finery that only came out of the cupboard for a few fleeting moments every year. I was wearing jeans, a red polo shirt and a ski jacket. For I had no interest in betting, socialising or the horses. I was trying to see whether I could sneak the new Harry Potter book past my Dad’s watchful gaze. I don’t know to this day what tipped him off. Did my sister tell on me? Maybe my inability to walk could have done it. Anyway he found out, and confiscated said book and coat. My worst nightmare had been realised I was going to the races book-less!
What do you even do at the races without a book? Watch small people ride horses round a track again and again? And people actually pay money for this? The thought was too difficult for my ten-year-old brain to comprehend, so I abandoned myself to a sulk. This didn’t last long as I noticed that there was an ice-cream van. I still hated horseracing, but an ice cream would make it slightly more bearable. Frozen happiness in hand, I proceeded to survey my surroundings. What I saw did not impress. A stand, lots of people, and the track.
The first few races passed me by in a blur of sulking and generally being a nuisance. Things livened up after that as my cousins arrived. I had a lot in common with them, but a love of horseracing was not one of them. I trailed along with them and watched them make a bet.
In went a paper slip into the machine and then they touched the bet they wanted on the screen. A touch-screen! I must try it.
I asked my cousins how it worked and they told me I had to get a voucher. Oh no, social interaction! If there was one thing I hated more than horseracing, then it was talking to adults. Well, that and mushrooms.
Eventually I plucked up the courage to ask the woman at the counter for a voucher. She had been watching me the whole time as I mumbled to myself and she had the slip ready before I reached the counter. How I hated her kindness. If she could have just made it a bit more awkward, then I could have been suitably scarred for life and never have done it again.
Voucher in hand, I walked over to the machine. A list of options appeared on the screen when I pushed in the slip of paper. TOUCH EVENT it said. I had never heard of the others, so I picked The Curragh.
TOUCH RACE. That was a tricky one, but then I heard an announcement that there were five minutes to the off of the sixth race and looked at the screen. There, in large, friendly type, was the number 6.
TOUCH TYPE OF WAGER. What were these strange terms? E/W? PLACE? Then I saw WIN. I came to the very logical conclusion that if I pressed it, I would win. Made sense, so I pressed it.
CHOOSE AMOUNT. Quickly doing some complex mental calculations involving carrying the one, I realized that I only had five euro. Being the budding betting man that I was, I decided to risk it all, so I pressed 5 EURO.
CHOOSE NUMBER. With only two minutes before the off of the race, I entrusted myself to whatever racing gods were looking upon me and blindly stabbed at the screen. Number 3 it was then. That all done, I pressed FINISH; and, surprise, surprise, I was finished.
I rejoined my cousins in the stand just in time to see that the race had started and my horse was trailing in last. Wonderful. The perfect way to round off a really...but hey, my horse was catching up. It was in front. I was winning! I heard someone screaming very loudly. How stupid, I thought. Getting worked up over a horse race. Then I realised that it was me! In a flash of purple and white, my horse crossed the line, a winner. No, more importantly, I was a winner!
Running wildly through the crowds, I returned to the Tote stand and, with a flourish, presented my winning ticket, my very own golden ticket. With a smile, the same Tote lady (who was actually really nice once you got to know her) presented me with a huge stack of money. Ten whole euro! Triumphantly I returned to the car with my pockets bulging with new wealth and my head buzzing with the rush of it. “That”, I said, as I buckled my seatbelt (being the safety conscious boy that I was) “was the best day of my life.”
You should have seen their faces.