Runaway to the races

Merrick Haydon tells a childhood story of fond memories, family traditions and winning big!

Dad always liked a bet and living in Arundel, West Sussex, we were close to the great trainer John Dunlop and Guy Harwood too, with Fontwell and Goodwood racecourses on our doorstep.
I looked forward to the last week in July each year as that meant it was Glorious Goodwood.
Picnic lunches at home with family and friends for five-days running. Then rushing to pack up and jump in the car to make it into the car park before the first race at 2pm. 
It was Dad’s single mission to be the last car out of the car park, always stopping for fish and chips on the way home! As racing was free for Under 16’s I got to go as long as there was room in the car – the boot would always do too.
I didn’t know it at the time, but July 1981 had a special significance in my first experience and passion for racing.
Early on the morning of Saturday 25 July 1981, aged 10, I cycled the three miles from our farm to Arundel railway station without saying a word to anyone (it was different in those days). Taking the train via Clapham, I eventually made my way to Ascot Racecourse.
Somehow ducking through the turnstiles along with a friendly looking group of racegoers I had made it to the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes raceday.
A horse called Shergar won as the 2/5 favourite in a seven-horse race (John Dunlop’s Fingal’s Cave was third at 40-1).
I remember calling home on a pay phone moments after the race to explain where I was, and that I had placed a £1 straight forecast bet on the TOTE on Shergar to win and second-placed Madam Gay at 40-1; I was the proud owner of over £15 – a fortune!
Roll forward nearly 30 years and my passion for racing is as strong as it was then. 
I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and see racing in Dubai, USA and Australia, but a day at Goodwood or any of our 59 racecourses is still a great day out. The actors on the stage produce a different show every time.
History and innovation are great partners in racing and this is embodied in the new Racing League, which brings a unique new team dynamic and energy to racing in 2021.
I’d definitely have run away to see it 30 years ago too.
Merrick Haydon is Managing Director of sports marketing agency rEvolution, based in London but headquartered in Chicago, IL, USA

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