Kelso Racecourse is one of the most diverse venues in Britain – welcoming, as it does, visitors from Galashiels, Selkirk… and Hawick.
Normally, of course, people from the Border towns (or ‘toons’ as the local dialect terms them) wouldn’t spend much time associating with one another. Rivalry is intense and residents of Hawick have often been heard to argue that there’s only ever been one good thing to come out of Galashiels; it’s called the A7.
Except of course the word ‘one’ doesn’t appear within the local lexicon; it’s ‘yin’, as in: Yin, Twae, Three. And the people of Galashiels deploy exactly the same joke about Hawick.
A favourite saying among Teries (the collective noun for people originating from Hawick) is that, “A day away from Hawick is a day wasted.” It’s an easy sentiment with which to sympathise, such is the beauty of the place, although most Teries are so nuts about their horseracing that they turn out at Kelso Racecourse in their droves, despite having to leave the toon’s environs.
Hawick’s ancient equestrian traditions, including the annual Common Riding festival, have helped to produce several successful trainers including Iain Jardine (whose Nakeeta won last season’s Ebor) and the Hawick-born, former top jockey, Keith Dalgleish – who trains this week’s selection Sporting Press (in the Bumper at Ayr on Saturday). The Hawick production-line has forged the careers of dozens of top jockeys too, including Jason Hart (the Champion Apprentice of 2013) and Craig Nichol (Champion Conditional of 2015/16), to name just twae that immediately came tae ma heid.
Several of Kelso’s race sponsors also hail from Hawick including: the Office Bar (from where I enjoyed coverage of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup), the family of George Harrow, the Mayfield Restaurant and Johnstons of Elgin – whose cashmere mill-store (in the toon) sells high-end fashion as well as really good coffee. In fact the Johnston’s tea room, nestled amongst the mill buildings, is possibly one of the best kept secrets of the Borders, serving near-addictive Cajun chicken sandwiches to the husbands and bidie-ins of ladies lost in the labyrinth of cashmere.
Hawick is not alone in having its own language and cultural traditions. Every town in the Borders is unique – from Langholm to Lauder and Peebles to Duns. But while they may be fiercely competitive amongst one another, they are peculiarly placid about people from further afield. Which means that the proverbial one-legged-Lithuanian-line-dancer is less likely to experience discrimination in the Scottish Borders than someone from a neighbouring town.
Kelso Racecourse is one of those venues where all Borderers can share a drink side-by-side, demonstrating beyond doubt that everyone (Lithuanian-line-dancers included) will always be welcome. Which is probably why the track is commonly known as ‘Britain’s friendliest racecourse’.
Last year the British Horseracing Authority launched the Diversity in Racing Steering Group. “It is not only fair,” the BHA said, “but study after study has shown that organisations make better decisions and perform better with diverse teams. Tackling diversity has the potential to unlock huge amounts of potential and untapped talent.”
While ethnic minorities are conspicuously under-represented in the sparsely populated Scottish Borders region, I’d like to think that the diverse cultural identities of the Border towns create a solid base from which we can all gather strength. Old or young, male or female, from Hawick or from Galashiels, there is space for everyone in the sport of horseracing – and everyone is welcome at Kelso races.