First-timers learn the lingo and how to lose

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The Independent Online
Clare Balding stepped up to the microphone to address a crowd of first- time racegoers.

"The purpose of today", she announced, "is to make it fun, and to make it very easy to win and to lose money." The crowd giggled. The bookmakers, massed in ranks on their pitches in front of the grandstand, beamed. Sunday racing had come to Kempton Park.

All the branches of racing's eccentric family united to welcome punters to the Surrey track's first day of racing on the sabbath. Clare Balding, a BBC Radio broadcaster, was the jolly Mistress of Ceremonies. She introduced jockeys and trainers and three different kinds of bookmaker to her attentive audience. All were on their best behaviour.

"Don't be intimidated," twinkled Joe Bates, standing next to his bookies' bag. "We're lovely guys, really." The crowd jeered, politely. "The only reason we use slang - bottle-and-a-half, nut, that kind of thing - is so that you lot don't know what we're talking about." How refreshingly honest.

Ms Balding tried her hardest to make the arcane business of racing accessible to the first-timers. She likened a horse wearing blinkers to Linford Christie's "tunnel vision" in the 100 metres, and she compared the process of stopping a horse after the finishing line to Damon Hill "coming down through the gears". But still she was besieged by the curious. "Why do they carry different weights?" "How does the saddle stay on?" And of course, "What's going to win?"

"There are a lot of newcomers," Ms Balding said during a brief break from her duties. "There are many, many more women than you would normally see on a racecourse. It is usually just me and a few trainers' wives."

Kempton Park set out to attract a new audience to yesterday's meeting. The course distributed thousands of leaflets to local homes, billing the event as "learn to race" day. It wanted families - all children under 16 got in free - and made sure they were entertained. There was a bouncy castle, roundabouts, a jazz band, Punch and Judy and a ventriloquist with his puppet, Hugo the dog. " Do you like horse racing, Hugo?" "Nah, I like greyhound racing. Arf arf!"

Sunday racing is not new; the first meetings - at which betting was not allowed - were held at Doncaster and Cheltenham in 1992. Since cash betting on a Sunday was legalised last year, the idea has taken off; yesterday's meeting at Kempton was one of a dozen to be held in Britain this year, and Chester racecourse recently had a crowd of 38,000 on a Sunday.

Yesterday's attendance at Kempton Park was well short of that figure ("low" grunted an official when asked the attendance), but competition from the Charity Shield and the Test match probably kept many potential punters glued to their televisions at home.

Those who did make the effort were a multi-generational bunch; grandparents escorting grandchildren were a common sight.

Mr and Mrs Applegate from Bracknell, Berkshire, had brought along Robert, Rebecca, Victoria and their friend Vicky. Rebecca picked three winners in the Children's Choice competition. "I ain't won nothing," six-year- old Robert said. But would he come racing again? "Yeah!"