North, South, East or West. We like to think that the points of the compass are definitive, placing us in a distinct location. But it’s all relative – Kelso is south of Musselburgh, Cartmel is north of York and Ayr is west of Newton Abbot.
Comparisons between racecourses are relative too – so any racecourse which offers National Hunt racing is generally better than one that offers only Flat racing (obviously). A racecourse which offers Champagne at a reasonable price, is better than one that operates at a multiple of three-times the ordinary retail value. And a track which has a sweetie stand selling red liquorice is much better than one that has no sweetie stand at all.
You may feel that some of the above points are subjective. For example, you might disagree with my relative assessment of Jump racing versus Flat racing and you might not care for Champagne at all. Although I’m struggling to imagine that anyone could challenge the virtues associated with red liquorice and a decent sweetie stand.
On Tuesday of this week, I enjoyed one of the best experiences at a racecourse ever – and surprisingly there wasn’t even a racehorse in sight. The occasion was the 247th renewal of the Gimcrack Dinner, staged in honour of a small grey horse who won 27 of his 36 races during the eighteenth century, although apparently none of them at York – home of the Gimcrack Club and the venue for the prestigious dinner.
The dictionary definition of the word ‘gimcrack’ is: showy, but cheap or badly made. The Gimcrack Dinner is anything but.
Showy it may be: the dress code is Black Tie, although ostentatious it is not. The assembled audience includes too many earthy Yorkshiremen to allow pretentiousness of any sort and the room overflows with a welcoming bonhomie.
Cheap – I don’t think so. I’ve never heard of cheap Champagne or lobster, never mind all the other culinary treats served to the best part of 200 guests. I can’t be precise about the numbers because I didn’t count the seats, which arc across the huge room in a horse-shoe shape, so that all the participants share at one table.
And no way was this badly made. The regimental precision of the catering team, the friendly staff and the evident concern over the malfunctioning light-switch on my Landrover: all of them are indicative of a quality operation.
I’m sorry to bang on about it. Nothing could me more boring than someone else’s meal, especially if you weren’t in the room when it happened. But I’d say this: if you haven’t yet enjoyed a day at York Races, then make time for a trip during 2018.
Unlike Cheltenham, where I expect The New One to score an emotional victory in the International Hurdle this weekend, York doesn’t stage any racing over obstacles. Even so, it is a very good racecourse indeed – in fact I wouldn’t have much hesitation in saying that it is the very best in the country, south of Kelso and Cartmel.