There are some things you’d just never imagine would make a good family outing. Horseracing, for example, seems like a non-starter. Surely that’s for trainers in tweeds or touts in badly fitting jackets, not mums and kids. But spurred on by Folkestone Racecourse hosting a Family Fun Day, we decided to rein in our reservations, remove our blinkers and give it a go.
Being novices, we arrived ill equipped. We wandered among families spread out on blankets, sitting in fold-up director’s chairs and surrounded by piles of plastic containers containing chicken wings and sausage rolls.
The 11-year-old twins looked on in envy. We perched at the fence ringing the course, waiting for our horses to pound pass, looking forward to an excuse to scream.
Betting wasn’t important – all that mattered was that we had someone to cheer on. Picking our favourites was the best bit. We chose in a way that guaranteed our favourite rarely finished first. Our priority was the jockeys’ costumes – stripes, diamonds and dots in such bright colours you couldn’t paint them in your colouring book and be believed. Savanna plumped for anything purple; River liked big bold dots the best. Once we’d chosen our rider by the colourfulness of his cap or shirt, we could easily spot him in the Parade Ring or as he galloped past us up to the starting line. The horse’s name was also important. Being a fan of Greek myths, Savanna picked Hesperides. When a horse called Kitten won the fifth race, an enormous cheer erupted from all the blankets spread about us. Kitten was definitely a favourite amongst families.
We had a stab at being seasoned race-goers. The twins enjoyed reading out comments about the horses from the racing card, as if they were experts on the flat.
‘He’s not been consistent since 2011,’ said Savanna, shaking her head.
‘What’s that mean?’ I asked.
‘No idea,’ she answered.
All this built up to the best moment, when the horses sped past us just feet away. It was the dull thud of their hooves pounding the earth that took the twins’ breath away. You could hear and smell the horses’
steamy breath. After the race, stripped of all their kits, you could see the warm saddle shape of sweat on their backs. As it was Family Fun Day (most of Britain’s 60 racecourses have similar days, and children are free), there were plenty of other attractions - a Wii Entertainment tent, balloon modelling, face painting and a Bucking Bronco. But the real horses were the main attraction. Rarely have the kids been so close to such powerful animals.
It was a surprisingly wonderful day. Only the going was bad - we didn’t want to leave. The twins are chomping at the bit to go again.