Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

If you were to draw a near-equilateral triangle with Hereford, Ludlow and Worcester at each point - and I'm sure you can think of hardly anything better to do with your time - then we live almost splat-bang in the middle. The significance of this is that they all have racecourses. Indeed, Ludlow has the added distinction of being one of only four courses in England that shares no letters with the word "race", the others being Goodwood, Huntingdon and Plumpton.

Whoever found time to work that one out would probably enjoy drawing my triangle as well.

Anyway, the point is that we are spoilt for choice as far as horse-racing is concerned, or would be if we were regular racegoers, which we're not. But I enjoy the occasional day at the races as much as the next person, in fact I probably have a stronger race-going pedigree than the next person, because my late father - a dedicated racing man who even had a betting-shop for a while, at least until he realised that there was no truth in the old adage about there being no such thing as a poor bookie - used to take me with him to race tracks all over England.

In February it will be 30 years since my dad rather abruptly opened an account with the Great Bookmaker in the sky, and the Robin Cook Memorial Gold Cup at Cheltenham last Saturday got me wondering whether I could sponsor a less exalted race in his memory; the Allen Viner Memorial Plastic Beaker, perhaps.

I therefore phoned Hereford, Ludlow and Worcester racecourses, which was a pleasure, because I had steeled myself to hear, "Dial one for details of forthcoming meetings, dial two for corporate hospitality packages, dial three for lost property, dial four for Edna behind the bar, dial five if you'd like to listen to a short passage of Vivaldi's Four Seasons on a loop for the next 20 minutes." Instead, in each glorious instance, I got a cheery human hello.

The chap at Ludlow told me that it costs around £250 to sponsor a race, and that the price includes a "memento" to present to the winning owner, as well as "a best turned-out award for the stable lad or lass". Just as I was picturing walking along a line of youths marking them down for having rather too much mud on their jodhpurs, or for badly needing a haircut, he usefully added: "That means the lad or lass who has the best turned-out horse."

At Worcester a woman told me that sponsoring the day's feature race costs £1,500, but that the "bumper", the least significant race on the card, costs only £300. That includes up to six entrance badges, a full page in the racecard to convey a message, a nice warm room from which to watch the race, along with several glasses of champagne, and a photograph of the presentation ceremony.

The race sponsor would also be expected to provide a small cash prize of £25 or so, for the lad or lass with the smartest horse, and a memento for the owner of the winning horse.

The story at Hereford was much the same, prices ranging from £400 to £2,500. The woman there told me that most privately sponsored races are memorials rather than birthday or anniversary celebrations. But even if the idea lacks originality, I'm tempted. I could make it an even more appropriate memorial to my dad by backing at 20 to one, as the antediluvian joke goes, the horse that comes in at a quarter past four.

A slightly more expensive way of marking the 30th anniversary of his death would be to buy a 12th share in a racehorse for a year, which you can get from the Newmarket trainer Mark Tompkins for £600 plus £140 per month stabling and training costs.

I know this because I looked into it last week, and was told by the fellow who runs the Tompkins multiple-ownership operation that it's a good way for the average Joe to mingle with billionaires. Apparently, several of his syndicate members found themselves alongside Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum in the paddock at Newbury recently. "There's an old saying," the man told me. "On the turf, and under it, everyone is equal."

'Tales from the Country' by Brian Viner is on sale now. £12.99 (Simon & Schuster)

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