Sunday, June 17, 2007

BOSWELL AND JOHNSON GO TO THE DOGS


Sun going down over Wimbledon Stadium

Well, the 'Journey' didn't take us to the Western Isles of Scotland this time, but plunged us into the dark depths of Wimbledon to visit the dog track and watch the first heats being run for the Greyhound Derby which is on the 7th July. 'You are going WHERE?' said my mother when I told we were going to the dogs, and I must admit dog racing does conjure up visions of shady guys in spivvy suits, jellied eels and off the rail betting.

G and I only had two days in London before going down to the country, so we tried to cram in as much as possible, and an evening of dog racing is great fun! I am a horse racing enthusiast myself and have only once been dog racing and that was in Florida many years ago. I know nothing about greyhound racing whatsoever and suspect that G knew little more than me ... so off we go on a bus from Victoria out to the wilds of Wimbledon. It seemed to take for ever - I didn't know London buses went so far! Arrive just after seven to meet up with a friend of G, who had actually rung during the day to ask if the rendez-vous was serious and as we were a little late, I think he was starting to have doubts!

We had pre-booked tickets as the stadium was doing a special e-mail offer; for the princely sum of £15 we had entry, dinner in the 'posh' restaurant, and race card. The entry fee is normally about £6 I think, so the mind boggles at the three course menu! In past the gorillas on the doorway and then greated by George who was Master of Ceremonies, Maitre d'Hotel and general jollier along of the diners, at which he was most successful.

Up in the lift to top of grandstand and restaurant overlooking the course. The tables are all in lines and everyone sits facing the track. Linen tableclothes and napkins, sparkling glasses - things started off well. The waitresses of course were efficient and friendly (and not English!) and the menu was astounding! The choice of 5 starters, 5 main courses and 5 puddings and a long, long way from Prawn cocktail or half a grapefruit. The order was taken swiftly, wine appeared and a bread basket that would put a Michelin restaurant almost to shame! Six different types of bread, beautifully fresh and nicely presented.


Dogs being loaded into traps just before start of race

The first race started at 7.30 - 12 races in all, the last one at 10.30, so it is pretty fast and furious. Being up in the restaurant there is no rushing to place bets; five minutes before the race a girl from the Tote appears at your table and takes your bets from you and if you are fortunate enough to back the right dog, she appears immediately after the race to pay out the winnings. The minimum bet is £2 and I'm afraid I just chose dogs because of their name or the colour of their eyes! D did the same thing and G got into deep discussion with the girl from the Tote, hoping she would give him tips and actually being rather secretive about the whole thing, as well as showing off a bit doing each way bets and various complicated combinations which I don't think worked all that well, as he did start to get rather grumpy when I won! D's betting was totally disastrous and he only won one race and ended up begging the Tote girl to take his house and I won on six of the twelve races, so didn't lose very much. We were visited during the evening by George, who gave D a tip and told him to bet on Dusty Carpet. D was delighted and was already spending the millions that were to come his way, until George said 'Never been beaten' (Ho!Ho!). This is probably the joke he turns out every night, but after a couple of bottles of wine, we all found it very funny!


'Our' Tote girl, whose name I don't remember but she said I could use her photo in my blog!

G did film one of the races on his camera, so if I am feeling techie during the day I will try and publish on YouTube and then post the link here. I must just point out though that in the background commentary there might be a remark about 'horses' - for some reason (and it might have been the wine!) we kept on referring to the dogs as horses!

So an evening to be recommended, even if you nothing about dog racing. Good fun, great atmosphere as the lights go off inside the grandstand and the track floodlights come on just before the race and the buses are still running after the evening, so you can get back to Victoria!



PS I put up a rapid blog on MyTelegraph about this, so there are also a couple of comments posted there
http://my.telegraph.co.uk under my blog name of More Swiss Choc

8 comments:

ColinB said...

For me, greyhound racing will never be the same again, and not because I'm a soppy sentimental animal lover, but because 10,000 greyhounds end up buried on that guy's allotment in County Durham, and he's apparently committed no crime, at least not against the animals. All disposed of humanely, you see, with a bolt gun, having outlived their usefulness to the betting industry.

There was a similar case in Alabama, again involving thousands of young healthy animals, so there's a worldwide taint on this "sport". What a seedy cynical business. And to think we have dozens of charities placing ads in the paper that denounce foreigners who mistreat dogs/bears/donkeys/seals etc etc. Pass the sick bucket please.

Louise said...

This is definitely the unsavoury side to racing, Colin. I know the problem exists as I had a friend who used to rescue retired or injured dogs - her dogs were spoilt rotten, but they never adapted to 'civilian' life after being born and bred in a kennel and trained to race.
One thing I will say for the Stadium is that in the programme they suggest you adopt a dog no longer fit for racing, they do announce it over loud-speakers and there is a lot of mention on their web site.
And of course greyhounds are not the most 'adoptable' of dogs ... if labrador racing existed all those who retired would be adopted in a flash! And Scotty racing - well I would adopt every one, but I don't think Scotties would make for fun sport with their little legs!

ColinB said...

Scope here methinks for a little imaginative (albeit realistic) thinking. All greyhounds to be put down by a vet: if deemed prematurely, slap on a penalty, say £250, £200 of which goes to the WWF or similar. Whopping great fine for anyone who tries to use the man with boltgun/JCB.

Anonymous said...

Techie tip

Your link on MyT to this blog is not showing a hot-link in blue. I suspect that's because it's too close to the left hand margin. Use the Edit facility to slip in a few extra spaces. You may see it change to blue immediately.

Louise said...

Thanks for the info. anonymous. I moved the link a couple of spaces but for some reason the Telly doesn't allow me to create a link - there is probably a technical hitch their end.

Anonymous said...

Join the RSPCA and get an idea what greyhound racing is all about.
Whatsmore, look at their stories on the foie gras industry.

ColinB said...

Hello, anybody home ?

ColinB said...

It's gone mighty quiet in these parts of late.

What are they putting in Swiss chocolates these days ?