It is a little known fact that, wherever you are in the British Isles, you are exactly three and a half hours away from Great Yarmouth, writes David Massey. It matters not whether you live in St Neots, Norwich or, in my case, Nottingham, it will take you 210 minutes to arrive on Yarmouth's golden seafront. Fact.
Yarmouth's Eastern Festival, which takes place mid-September each year, is something of a bookmakers' jolly. There's something for everyone - low grade handicaps, maidens where you'll find a good chunk of 3yo handicap winners for next year and, occasionally, you might well see a Group horse in the making: we may have seen one of those this year. More on that later.
I always travel on the Monday before racing on the Tuesday. This is inevitably a good decision as it means I can meander down early afternoon, miss the worst of the traffic, and relax Monday evening. I set off at half one and arrived at my B&B (Sandcastles, I use them every year, highly recommended) at exactly five. See, told you.
As you might remember from last time, I've agreed to work the Tuesday this time as Rob, aka S&D Bookmakers, is short of a worker on the day. Rob, who has a bungalow in the area, is also travelling down on the Monday and we're meeting for a carvery at half six. What neither of us realised is there's a pub quiz on. It's been ages since I took part in one, but I do like a quiz. (I was virtually a pub quiz semi-professional in my late teens and early twenties, either compiling or taking part three or four times a week. I have an excellent story about how that all started, but that's for another day.)
We stay for the quiz, and despite the massive disadvantage we have of just being a two against teams of five, we aren't here to win, just have a bit of fun. After a moderate opening round on questions about our recently passed-on monarch, round 2 is about Marvel Films.
I look at Rob hopefully here, as he's a massive sci-fi nut and I know he likes the Marvel stuff. Expecting a full house, I take a back seat and let Rob drive.
It is at this point I discover another disadvantage; Rob has a memory like a sieve. Every question goes like this.
"I must have seen this film [that the question relates to] ten times."
"Great, what's the answer then?"
"I've no idea."
We score one out of ten. We will eventually finish joint-ninth out of twelve teams on the evening, a round on sport helping us haul ourselves off the bottom. Still, it was fun...
Day one at Yarmouth. Towcester used to be the place where east met west, north met south, but since its sad demise (I still hope against hope it will return one day) Yarmouth has taken on that mantle. There are plenty of familiar East Midlands faces around, and a good mix of books from various compass points. Rob has stuck me on the grass, right at the back; a good pick, as there are plenty sat down around me.
It would be fair to say Yarmouth's crowd is not a young one. Many are there for an end-of-season holiday themselves and given the place is still somewhat camped in the 1980s, the crowd follows suit. We're not going to take any big bets, and there's no danger of us running out of pound coins either. Indeed, one woman has two £2.50 ew bets every race, and pays with five £2 coins each time. She explains she saves them up all year and then uses them as her betting kitty over the three days. Those are the sort of punters you are dealing with here.
There are a couple of well-known bigger punters around the ring, in fairness, but they have their favourites to bet with and I don't expect to see them come my way.
The maiden on the card produces some lively betting. Plenty want to be with the favourite, Proverb, but the paddock judges are telling me that Zoology is the nicest horse in the parade ring. However, he's doing a lot wrong too, shouting and is very green, so he may be one for another day.
They're wrong. Zoology goes down to post well, and isn't the slightest bit green in the race, leading early and powering away from what looked a decent field to win a ready four lengths. It's easy to get carried away with these first-time performances but it's clear from post-race interviews connections feel they have something very special.
Dance Havana at 40-1 is a good result, although that is the third winner on the card for one old dear who is having a quid each-way each race. Her husband, also having similar bets with less success, is not happy. "I'm giving you my money and you're just giving it back to her!" he exclaims. She backs winner Cumulonimbus in the next, too.
From nowhere, one of the big punters rocks up, and asks what I'll take on the next favourite. I'm happy to lay him a monkey - as we've got four pitches on the track, there's every chance he will try and get more on with another one - but it duly wins, and it makes a dent in the float. Still a winning day, though.
Wednesday, and I'm free, to do what I want, any old time. I was keen on Hot Chesnut running a big race in the first but the drying ground has put me off somewhat. However, after seeing how fit she is pre-race, I can't resist, and go in anyway. Others think the same, as she's going off a lot shorter than was predicted. With good reason too, it turns out, as she flies home and is only narrowly beaten. I've won enough for an ice-cream, with a Flake.
Next up, I see one of the biggest 2yos I've ever seen in my life in the shape of Blindedbythelights, trained by Sir Mark Prescott. It is unsurprising he doesn't have the pace for 7f on debut but the way the penny drops late on suggests 10f nurseries at the back end of the season might be the plan. Don't say I didn't tell you!
The listed John Musker is the highlight of the three days, often attracting good horses. I remember Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber turning up by helicopter to watch So Mi Dar win back in 2016. I don't think he had an ice-cream, though. His loss. This year, Shaara wins for the Gosdens again - she's not in front before the line, and she's not in front after it, but she has her head down at the right time which is good news for me, as I had a few quid on.
Sadly, the rest of the card falls away, with few runners for the final three races (one is a match) but no matter because it's now time for the greyhounds.
Another highlight of this holiday is a trip to the dogs to watch the East Anglian Derby on the Wednesday night, but recent events mean that we are watching the semi-finals tonight instead. There are six other opens on the card, too, so it's a quality night regardless. We've booked a party of twelve in the restaurant earlier in the year (seats soon sell out) and the food we are served is excellent, it must be said. After the meal, we all go down to watch the semi-finals and are delighted when the six, Carole's Legacy, wins the second of them, as we are all on to a man and woman. The oi oiiii's go up late, as she's not in front until the final few strides, but she's paid for the night. Rob, generous as ever, picks up the drinks tab for the evening before we all go our separate ways.
I've time to kill Thursday morning so go for a stroll down the seafront after breakfast. It is noticeable the arcades and seafront shops open later than has been the norm when I've been here before. Saving on the leccy, maybe? That theory is backed up by the fact a few of the arcades don't have their frontage lighting on when they do get going for the day. Seems the cost of living crisis is biting everywhere, even when you've got the odds stacked very much in your favour.
Alongside the racing, the crown green Festival Of Bowls tournaments have been on all week, and after picking a 'paper and a coffee up, I plonk myself down on a seat to watch for a while. It's a very relaxing backdrop, but it isn't helping me find any winners today. I've already made the decision I'll only stop for the first four races, as I want to take the maidens in, and I'd like to get home for a reasonable hour.
The biggest crowd of the week turn up for Ladies Day. Remarkably, I'm in need of the sun cream, as the rays are strong when big yellow does appear. Bigger crowds do not always mean better, though, and the books are complaining business is not strong. To be fair, some would still find complaint if they were taking ten grand a race, but it is clear from the lack of queues that there's some merit in what they say.
The few bets I have on the day go west in the main and, when the 80-1 shot Premiere Beauty wins, you know it's time to go home. Martyn Of Leicester has won a chunk on the race and is giving it plenty as I walk out the track - I suspect the next three winning jollies might have quietened him somewhat - and set off back for Nottingham. I have the best result of the week on the way back, filling the car for £1.51 a litre near Sleaford. This must be what winning the lottery feels like. Home for half seven, it's been a great week.
Jumps season is just around the corner now, boys and girls...