Worm und Drang: Forget your Linford Christies, your dogs, your horses: thoroughbred maggots are the new kings of racing. Emma Cook looks on in wonder

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The Independent Culture
When it comes to the buzz of adrenalin it's hard to imagine a creature less likely to produce one. Yet the humble maggot, one centimetre long, blind as a bat and painfully slow, is the latest gambling novelty to sweep the pubs of East Anglia.

Dovercourt Haven Holiday Park, Harwich, regularly plays host to these velocity-challenged racers who are owned and bred by holiday camp entertainers Paul Harmon and Peter Eden. The maggots have proved a valuable asset to their act - mainly as the focus of endless innuendo: 'Little ones can beat big ones - we always say it's not size that matters,' Eden chuckles.

In the distinctly unsexy surroundings of the holiday park bar, the maggots are under starter's orders. Six of them are curled up at their starting posts. Harmon prods them frequently with a small paintbrush in an effort to precipitate action.

The course (a scaled-down model of The Derby's final furlongs, according to Eden) is about 2ft long with six narrow lanes. 'You could introduce jumps but it would slow things down even more. We're aiming for sheer speed,' Eden says. The maggots are trained before the race, ('we show them which way to go up the track,') and interlopers are forbidden - 'some people bring their own but you can't mix them - these ones are thoroughbreds.'

Microphone in hand, Eden peers over the track and commentates, managing to deliver a lively account of their limited movements. 'Number three, Amber, is coming out of the gate . . . no, he's curled up. Number five is slightly shy but it looks like he's off.' Some time passes before one crawls out in front. 'It's Topaz, Topaz', he shouts elatedly. 'He's going free and easy. He's hugging the rails - he's crossed the line]'

About 20 people are gathered round the table, jostling to see Topaz squirm across the finish line before rolling into a ball - many maggots often pupate before completing the race and Topaz is showing all the signs.

A couple of punters wave their maggot betting slips jubilantly. There's a minimum bet of 20p and the odds on each maggot is based on 'computerised statistical analysis of winners over the past 20 races'. As with horses and greyhounds there are, believes Eden, certain traits to look out for. 'You can gauge the pros and cons: most importantly, is it a good mover and does it travel in a straight line?'

Some maggots make natural racers, like Daisy, who is, or rather was (they only live for an average of 3 days), the record holder. She covered 2ft in just 53 seconds earlier this summer. For sheer velocity, Peter recommends outdoor races. 'Like normal athletics it's always faster,' he says. 'And there's the advantage of it being slightly wind-assisted.'

So what exactly is the appeal for the maggot race spectator? Brian, 62, is an avid supporter. 'I don't really mind what sort of animal it is - as long as it moves,' he says, downing his second whisky chaser. Bruce, 40, a keen greyhound racer, has attended four maggot meetings so far this season, albeit unintentionally. 'I'm often here anyway - I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to watch these things'.

For the inveterate gambler who can't be bothered to stagger further than his local, it seems that maggot racing has cornered a captive market. But Eden has a more ambitious vision: 'I'd love this to go on live television. Give it another two years and the world will be ready for us.'

To book or watch Maggot Race meetings contact Paul Harmon on 0394 277295