Miners' grandstand protest races to a photo-call finish: Jonathan Foster reports on the day the sport of kings served the campaign against pit closures

Metaphor went through the card at Southwell races yesterday. Racing for the Mines Day featured an on-course bishop, a right-wing tipster berating the Government, and six fields of uneconomic horses competing on a level, but artificial, playing field.

It needed only packed grandstands to fulfil the hopes of organisers for a carnival of protest. But, despite distributing thousands of free tickets in the coalfields, only about 1,000 miners and their families dug deep for the bookmakers at the Nottinghamshire track. Dedicating the day's racing to the campaign against 31 pit closures was as prudent a move by Ron Muddle, the course owner, as it was generous. Tracks like Southwell, Doncaster, Sedgefield and Pontefract fear attendances will shrink if nearby colliery closures are confirmed.

Government energy policies - or their lack of any policy bred to stay the distance - led the Bishop of Sherwood, the Right Rev Alan Morgan, to a racecourse for the first time. 'After the lull of Christmas and new year, this is a good way of getting the campaign back on track,' he said.

As publicity, it was almost a classic, with more television camera crews than runners in the Clipstone and Thoresby Claiming Stakes, named like all the races after Nottinghamshire pits.

Most attention was focused on Richard Caborn, chairman of the Commons select committee on trade and industry, whose investigation into the closure programme the Government would dearly love to nobble.

Mr Caborn had never before wandered into the free market of racecourse bookmakers. But he enthusiastically assumed the role of professional punter in which BBC Television's The Money Programme cast him.

'I want a racing certainty,' Mr Caborn said to Leslie R Steele, genial bookmaker of Leeds. It needed three takes to synchronise Mr Steele, Mr Caborn, a pounds 5 note and a betting ticket.

Miners took a supporting role. Demoralisation has affected the workforce: only three banners made it to the course, Vane Tempest pit could not fill a coach from Sunderland, and two men from Rufford colliery, near Mansfield, said most colliers had chosen to work rather than take a day off.

Eddie Sheldon, from Vane Tempest, said he had come just for the day out. 'The campaign has definitely dropped off, but that's probably because of the holiday period.'

John McCririck, racing journalist and right-wing eccentric, injected some anti-Government vitriol, posing for the cameras with Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman. 'If you can unite us two, there is nothing remaining on either side of the political spectrum,' Mr Cook said before lampooning the 'bad form . . . pulled up in the last debate' of Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade.

Mr Caborn was by now filming by the winning post, the political paddock betting 6-4 that the committee would recommend saving 21 pits, 4-1 saving the lot, and any price against them saying anything complimentary about the management of British Coal.

Three regular Southwell racegoers - large Londoners in camel coats - thought it 'a grand idea' to give over the day to miners. 'I feel a lot of sympathy for them, John. Let's face it, we're all punters ain't we?'

Mr Caborn's horse lost.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral