Perfect timing, chump.
The train(s) back to London from Newmarket got me into town shortly after 3:00pm, a short but successful search turned up the underground station nearest King's Cross, and within a few minutes I was emerging into daylight again outside Victoria Station and hurrying back to the St. James Place. Sprint to the room, change of clothes, sprint to the lobby and ta da! another masterpiece of split second timing by The McChump Tour, as the Mudders and Turfers were just then filing out of the lobby to get on the bus that was to take us to Kempton Park Racecourse for the evening.
Now I must say, when one travels by coach on these Mudders and Turfers tours, one travels in style. Even when there's only like 20 of us, it'll be a big ol' bus that shows up, big and comfy. Tonight's bus was no exception, with big cushy seats and tables, even, all the better to spread out the Racing Posts and do some last minute handicapping on the way to the track. Stuart and I sprinted for the back of the bus and laid claim to the coveted back row, and the members of the group who'd been on last year's Arc trip also took up seats in the rear. The Back of the Bus Gang was back in business and we were goin' racin'. The conversation inevitably turned to speculation as to whether or not there would be jellied eels at Kempton, as conversation often does.
Kempton Park is located pretty close to London, kind of west and south, and even bills itself as "London's Racecourse" because it is so close, so it didn't take real long to get there. Upon arrival we got our "members" badges and were escorted in and upstairs to a hoity toity room overlooking the finish line where we were served a tasty three course meal which I don't remember what it was but it was tasty. Probably some English food. With that out of the way, the kids of the party sprinted out and headed downstairs, while the adults remained in the private room.
Upon arriving downstairs, I was finally able to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of Kempton Park.
The grandstand at Kempton Park is one of the oddest ducks I have yet encountered, with a huge convex overhanging roof that flips up like the front brim of the Flying Nun's bonnet, and the whole thing is braced up or suspended by a set of huge white steel support poles and cross pieces that kind of remind one of a giant swingset. Unique, to say the least. The grandstand itself is a red brick construction with lots of rows of open seating out front under that giant awning, and then the enclosed rooms like the one we had eaten dinner in up at the top of that. There's also a newer looking clubhouse building down off the left end with a bunch of skyboxes and such, and then a small, plain, kind of lonely looking set of open air, covered stands down at the right end for that lowliest of creatures, the Silver Ring patron (recall the strict class system for patrons at English courses: Members, grandstand, and Silver Ring).
Out front there's an asphalt apron with some grassy areas that have picnic tables, and out back of the main stand is the combination parade ring and winner's enclosure. This is a pretty plain and functional parade ring and winner's enclosure, nothing too fancy, but there is a nice statue of a horse named Desert Orchid who I have no idea did what to deserve a statue.
Tons and tons of concessions available here at the back of the stands, ranging from your basic hamburger (£2.70), through hog roast and southern fried chicken and Malaysian noodles (all prices unrecorded), right up to the highlight of the concessions offerings at Kempton Park in my personal opinion, Barrie Cope's Seafood Specialist stand, featuring Fresh Shell-Fish, which offered such delicacies as prawns, lobsters, oysters, smoked salmon, whole crab, cockles, whelks, and yes, even jellied eels. I felt a pang of regret to have eaten that entire three course dinner upstairs (and thus was already full) when I found jellied eels and whelks for sale. But the stuffed tummy told me that jellied eels would have to await another day (dang! Two years in a row now I've been unable to partake of that delicacy). Bottled Beck's beer was £2.20, and it was good and cold.
The racecourse itself, a turf one, out front of the stands is once again a triangular one, and is described thusly in the program:
"Kempton Park is a right handed triangular course about thirteen furlongs long with a three and a half furlong straight run in.
The Jubilee Course starts on a tangential extension on the Round Course.
The five and six furlong sprint course runs diagonally across the main circuit and is wide and perfectly level."
Which all basically boils down to is it's a triangular course with a couple of chutes, and then a separate sprint course bisecting the triangle. The winning post is down on the left end of the stretch in front of the clubhouse. This is (or was on that evening) a beautiful and well-manicured green, green racecourse, surrounded by trees in the background. Very nice indeed. A small diamonvision screen (a portable one - they drive these things around from track to track) and some tents on the inside rail completed the scene.
The live card on the night consisted of six races, up maybe one class from the day before, with five grade D events for purses from £5000 to £6000, mostly £5250, and one grade A event, the £20000 Mowlem Gala Stakes (listed). Field sizes were very respectable, from eight to sixteen runners, with most races up in the 11-12 range. More name jockies on the night, with Frankie Dettori actually showing up, Gary Stevens riding more than one horse, and Kieron Fallon with mounts in several races. But mostly I didn't know them. Some decent horses, too, or at least expensively bred, with a couple of Hamdan al Maktoum runners and one Ahmed al Maktoum.
The betting on the night was somewhat less successful than the day before, with a dual forecast (quinella) score in the first but then a long string of losers till the 6th, when a 6-1 shot named, incongruously, Two Socks, came in to recoup a good portion of the night's losses and bring the bankroll back to a final tally of just -£9.90. One good thing about six race cards is you can't get in too much trouble when things are going bad.
However, the racing wasn't really the star on the night, as this was Gala Evening at Kempton Park, and a huge crowd had turned out for the after race festivities. And on this night, these were some festive festivities, with performances by the pipe band of the Scots Guard Association (kilts and the whole nine yards), a rendition of "Rule Britannia" by "the celebrated soprano, Leoni Page" (quite resplendent in a stunning sequined number that looked like a British flag - or maybe she had a British flag draped over her back [it was getting late and those Beck's really were tasty]), and a floodlight performance by the Band of the Welsh Guards, all dressed up in classic British Redcoat outfits with the traditional bearskin chapeaus. The grand finale was the 1812 Overture with a couple of cannons out on the track booming away and quite a respectable fireworks display in the background, and yes, this chump left feeling that he really had got his money's worth of entertainment on the evening.
But wait, chump! The excitement wasn't quite over. For you see, the bus driver had parked the luxury bus on the opposite side of a very busy street filled with departing motor vehicles moving at a substantial rate of speed, and try as they might, the Mudders and Turfers could not find a break in the traffic to dash across the street to access their motor coach. Could not, that is, until Lee Tomlinson took it upon himself to step out into traffic to stop it and provide the needed break. Unfortunately, the driver of the expensive motor car into whose path Lee had chosen to step did not see things exactly the same as Lee did and bore down upon him at frightening speed, and an alternative future devoid of Mudders and Turfers handbooks briefly manifested itself until the driver mercifully applied the brakes and came to a stop with the bumper of his car resting against Lee's knee and an evil scowl upon his face. A really, really evil scowl.
We all ran across the street and got in the bus.
The ride back to the hotel proceeded without notable incident, and then just a bit later several Mudders and Turfers could be observed patronizing the hotel bar, perhaps sipping on one last Guinness before going to bed. Just for strength.