But what is the point?: Racing isn't entirely the province of professionals. Serena Mackesy dons her Barbour and braves the mud of the shires

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The Independent Culture
Before I discovered more adult forms of sleaze, one thing that made life worthwhile was the fast food sold at horsey events. Especially the hot dogs. They came in those rolls you could also buy with a wipe of white stuff on top as 'iced buns', accompanied by the type of frankfurter that appears in childcare books under 'hyperactivity' and - deep joy - charred, watery onions hoisted with tongs from a stainless steel vat. They were the kind of food that makes foreigners think us a sick nation. I would ride a dozen cross-country courses for that taste.

The catering at outdoor hoolies like point-to-points is more sophisticated now, with vile interlopers like pizza slices and crepes in those steamy caravans. Other things, mercifully, remain virtually unchanged since the advent of the motor car.

Point-to-points are amateur horse-races, held in fields for the benefit of lunatics who want to risk their necks for paltry potential financial gain: total prize money in the Open at the Old Berkshire hunt's races at Lockinge this Monday is pounds 250; hardly enough to cover vets' bills. Lockinge will host seven races featuring 140 horses. Punters can bet with a hunt-run tote staffed by volunteers, or with 20 or so real bookies with blackboards.

Although horses and riders are fit to a level that most people only ever see on telly, comparing point-to-pointers and steeplechasers is a bit like comparing someone who can finish a marathon with Ingrid Kristiansen. Still, the courses are demanding: thick brush fences and ditches scattered over land more generally used for farming, with all its undulations, tractor tracks and undrained patches. A happy nag that has bounced shiny-eyed around the paddock 10 minutes earlier can often be seen lolloping like a labrador that has done too much courting by the end of the second circuit. Sometimes they fall over. Sometimes their riders drop off. Either way, the odds, even on favourites, rarely drop below the 10-1 mark.

Amateur they may be, but these meetings are by no means small potatoes. Sheila Pilkington, the organiser of Lockinge, anticipates that several thousand people will flood through the gates on Monday: a nightmare of mud and debauchery for which Morland's brewery is supplying over 7,000 pints of beer alone. Drinking, of course, is a major part of the whole thing, and the public beer tents a spectator sport in themselves: those massed wellington boots will have churned up the ground so thoroughly by the time the first race kicks off at 2pm that there will be more falls in the crowd than on the course. At Oxford University's races a few years ago, a young man drank so much he had a heart attack and had to be carted off in an ambulance. Young people today don't know they're born.

(Photograph omitted)

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