Neigh-sayers

Life It's 4:15 on Saturday afternoon and I'm standing what looks to be about twenty feet away from the finishing post of the Grand National 2007 and the crowd is booing. The race is supposed to start but some of the horses and standing with their back to the back to the starting tape which isn't really conducive to a great run. There's already been one false start already and people are getting impatient, clutching their betting slips, hoping for a win. And booing. I hadn't expected that - having been watching the race almost every year since childhood.

I'm feeling an adrenalin rush, a burst of excitement, which is good because I've been awake since a quarter to six. As a way of pulling in some funds, I've worked during the National this year selling race cards, which for the uninitiated are list of the competitions happening at a horse race meet. Since it is the National, these were special, a glossy booklet, filled with adverts and editorial along with the all important information. Over the following three days I notice that some do treat them as a souvenir of their trip to the races, and others as a functional item, something to be discarded.

Standing beside me is Annie, my friend for the day, who I met just that morning, and she looks really tired, about as tired as I feel. It's been really hard work. Although in sales terms its really simple - one type of merchandise, one price I wasn't quite prepared for the sheer number of people and the speed of the transactions as punters said how many they needed, proffered the cash and waited for the change which I would have to calculate and produce from the pocket strapped about my waist.

Just before the race, I'd glanced over at the race card of the man standing next to me trying to find out the number of the horse I'd bet on 'Le Duc' (which I'd picked because it sounded a bit French). He'd noticed me and lets me have a better look. I need to watch out for number forty. I tell Annie that the closest I've otherwise been to a horse race is Seabiscuit but some niggle deep down suggests this isn't true. Mum tells me later that when I was baby I attended York Races which I don't remember - but I can't remember half of anything that happened to me before the age of five so I'm not surprised.

The easiest day was Thursday - much calmer, with the customers somewhat more relaxed - because it was amateur day perhaps. That was good as we needed time to get used to the processes, of how best to sort the money and keep track of accurate selling. I was part of what would be called the Sefton team working by the Ormskirk Road entrance. Marufa, Chris, Antonia and me, plus Jimmy, our supervisor who would work like a demon throughout the three days replenishing our stock when needed and giving us words of encouragement and just being nice which goes a long way. Annie joined us on this final day providing much needed support.

It's one of those occasions when four random strangers instantly bond into a team and even though as usual I contracted a touch of the verbals, we got on well which really helped as the days pushed on. I was sorry at the end of the final day that I wasn't able to say goodbye properly. They went to look for ice cream, I didn't because, well, I'm not sure why, and I never saw them again. But Annie was still around and we kept each other company as we physically flagged, knowing that it would be a shame to leave the course and miss the race once we were there even though that's exactly what we felt like doing.

The race is underway and the crowd are apoplectic - the in-course commentators are excitedly trying to cover the race as best they can but all eyes are fixed on the giant screen beaming pictures of the end of the course that can't otherwise be seen by people in the main stands. I look backwards as I always do at these kinds of events and see a wave of expectant faces and I understand why people gambling on these larger horse races. There's the possibility of winning some money, certainly, but I bet there's also the subliminal chance to believe passionately in something even for these brief moments, all of your hopes resting on four legs.

Ladies Day, Friday 13th was much busier and as predicted by a range of people I spoke to attended mostly by men. This gave a hint as to what it would be like on the day of the main race and in our corner of the course there was farewell anarchy as people massed about our little stands almost throwing money at us. The sales began at ten o'clock and I literally didn't look up until five to two when I had the chance to ask someone for the time - which is why when everyone I spoke to afterwards said - 'I bet you saw some sights' I could honestly say that I hadn't. Although the 1970s seem to be back in fashion, possibly thanks in part to Life On Mars.

Back at the race, the horses reach the home straight for the first time and the crowd stretches upwards for a better view; I can't see a thing, not even the screen but I don't care, I'm just happy to be here. My horse has pulled up near the beginning of the race but I remember I've bet on a second - Joes Edge and there's still a chance. Earlier in the day we'd shared an each way punt in an earlier race so that we could put a bet on at one of the bookies on the edge of the course. That nag had cantered in last but at least it gave me a chance to rip up the voucher in disgust, something I'd always wanted to do. It's a shame though because it would have made a nice souvenir.

As promised, Grand National Day was even busier, but I was more mobile, weaving through the crowds which I found easier because I could focus my attention on one customer at a time and there was less likelihood of a queue. I generally carried a pile of the cards under my arm holding one in the air, 'Race cards' I shouted, 'Three pounds' I was reminded of the scene in Jean-Luc Godard's À bout de souffle were Jean Seberg does something similar with the New York Herald Tribune. By half past one we sell out and on the Jimmy's radio can be heard a range of voices saying - 'Has anyone got any more boxes?' We pack up and head back to the base office, the crowds gathering instead around our once rivals, the Racing Post and TimeForm card sellers.

Joes Edge Falls.

I really enjoyed working at the Grand National finally and I'd do it again. There's a real sense of occasion and you get to see the event from a different perspective. With our staff passes, with the exception of the horse and trainer related buildings we had the run of the course and went through the stands and VIP areas taking in the sights and sounds. It was amazing to hear how much people had paid for the experience and we were receiving a fraction of it for free. There were seething, intimidating masses of people around food stands and bar areas. Our own apparent hard work was put into perspective on seeing the mobile Fosters lager sellers, people with five gallon barrels strapped to their backs, plastic cup holders on their sides, literally serving pints to people out in the open, also, like us having to take money and provide change from a waist pouch.

The horses reach the winning stretch and exactly like the film, the crowd are shouting out the name of the horse they're hoping will win. I look up to the sky and it's a shade of deep blue - I've never been to one of the tropical climates and this looks as close as I'll ever be, the sun as bright as I remember it being through those long hot summers of childhood. In April. Throughout the three days, my pale skin has turned maroon. It might look healthier but it doesn't seem right to me and I can't wait to return to my usual pasty faced self.

Annie reaches up on her tiptoe to get a better view - I try that too but it doesn't help me either. I can't see a thing as the horses dash across the finishing post. We decide to leave very soon afterwards to try and beat the queue to the exit. As we run into the crowds we realise we've hit the main route for the horse to leave the course. But then Annie spots that a viewing gallery reaches across and we can run up and over. At the centre, at the top we stop. Below us, the winning horse is striding through, the jockey smiles and shakes the hands of passersby. It's an extraordinary sight. I feel privileged to have seen that and everything else at close range for once in my life.

Next year -- the boat race.

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