Dom Joly: You can bet everyone else is a winner

Weird World of Sport: If I arrive in a Rolls-Royce, there's always somebody landing in their helicopter
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The Independent Online

Living near Cheltenham as I do, there is never a shortage of invites to the races. I've been quite a few times and I'm only just starting to realise why it is not for me. It's not that I am an ignoramus of the sport – I even have a close relative who breeds racehorses. As a kid on expeditions deep into the Syrian Desert, we'd drive up the highest sand dune to try and get the BBC World Service coverage of the Grand National.

Working as a researcher on my first TV comedy programme, we put the entire last show's budget on a horse. The idea was that if we won, we'd do the show from Las Vegas. If we lost then the show would be from the performer's living room. Naturally, as poorly paid researchers, we were very keen to head off to Las Vegas and we felt that we had made a good choice of horse. Unfortunately, the star of the show (Mark Thomas) made a last-minute decision to back another horse on account of it being ridden by a jockey with the surname of Nutter. It came in last and, when the astonished jockey was told what we had bet on him, he sheepishly admitted that this was his very first race ever – we never got to Vegas.

I am also the proud bearer of the prize for having worn the biggest hat ever to grace Royal Ascot. Again, for a TV show – I had a two-person hat made that was about the size of a table-tennis table. My then girlfriend and I staggered around the stands until we were asked to leave by an unamused steward.

In Trigger Happy TV I pretended to be interested in what John McCririck had to say (I'm sure I wasn't the first) until fainting at the sight of a horse. I think my favourite horse race-related gag, however, was at a point-to-point in deepest, darkest Devon. I had a jockey outfit made over an enormous fat suit. I put on said suit and then wandered over to various picnicking Sloanes to give them a hot tip that my steed was a sure-fire winner in the 2.30.

In short, I have had a lot of fun in and around racecourses. My dislike of attending the places in a social context, however, is generally one of inadequacy. Even if I arrive at Cheltenham in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, I always feel trumped. There's always somebody landing in their helicopter which makes you feel like you might as well have arrived on a pedalo. Then there are the enclosures. Like rock festivals, there is always a better one than the one you have access to. If you manage to get into the Club enclosure, it's only a matter of moments before you realise that poncey people in private boxes whom you think you vaguely know are peering down upon you. Determined not to be outdone, you negotiate the labyrinth of unbelievably ugly corridors and stairs until you manage to enter one of said boxes. Having pinched a bit of free lunch off the buffet you wander out on to the balcony to lord it over the course only to spot a far more exciting group two balconies down, but your pass won't get you there.

Meanwhile, in between the relentless social gatecrashing, somewhere, some horses are racing. So, every 20 minutes or so you hand over 50 quid to a stranger, having chosen a horse because the name sounds "nice". At the end of the day, you are 300 quid down and resent paying for your Rolls-Royce as you are stuck in traffic and being buzzed by drunken friends in helicopters. This is my experience of racing – it might not be yours. Maybe you all have a lovely time. Maybe you all meet good friends, get wonderfully drunk, pick a winner and make a thousand pounds before pulling a leggy blonde and heading off for a night in a top hotel. Well, lucky you. I hate you... but lucky you.

For me, my horse racing exploits are going to stay with an annual punt on the Grand National that I can watch on my telly. I am not selfish – I always place bets for my wife and kids. If any of "their" choices come in, however, a quick hidden substitution occurs and hey presto... I'm a winner. I am not a nice man but there seems to be very little that I can do about it... except maybe buy a helicopter?

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