This is a "miniblog" that's flying off on a bit of a tangent from my usual efforts (do please check out my other blog - nothing like a bit of shameless self promotion here!); it's just that for this week I'm doing work experience at Cheltenham Radio, the racecourse's radio station and I've decided to document how every day turns out.
So today I arrived at the racecourse at 9am feeling rather smug as my friends who are doing proper paid work had to show up at 7am! Of course my first job was collecting tea - I would have been shocked if it wasn't, while the full time guys got all the technical stuff set up for the 10 o'clock launch. The three hours on air before the first race were pretty hectic - lots of traffic updates and weather reports periodically having to be rushed out to the paddock and people having to be herded for interviews.
It was on the first of my interview quests that I very narrowly avoided making a pretty massive mess - up and learnt what I'm sure will be a very valuable lesson - do your research, know who you're talking to. You see when Simon the producer asked me to escort Sam Thomas to an interview I was thinking, I recognise that name but from where, I have no idea. So while I'm walking to the parade ring with this very well - spoken, rather dishy chap he's asking me questions all about me, but I couldn't think of a thing to ask him back because if I did I'd let on that I couldn't remember who he was - naturally we ended up talking about the weather. This episode put me totally out of my comfort zone as I love asking questions and finding out about people whilst deflecting enquiries about myself (And yes, I get the irony that this blog is essentially about my own experiences). Thankfully the walk was a short one. Watching him being interviewed I established to my horror that it was he who rode Denman to his emphatic Gold Cup victory in 2008, but that he wasn't riding at the meet this year because he had broken his neck in a training fall. These revelations made the walk back far more pleasant, and that was probably the moment I started to really enjoy myself.
When the racing started things slowed down in the studio as the coverage for each race follows pretty much the same formula. I spent the afternoon shadowing the course presenter, David - with the aid of the passes there's pretty much access all areas. For the first race we were stationed in front of the main grandstand, near to the finish line - I know everyone says the atmosphere is incredible, but you really don't know it til you're actually there - it is unbelievable and utterly addictive. After Dunguib lost a punter in London £20 000 we moved to one of the walkways to try to find notable people to interview, this endeavour was unsuccessful so we ended up with a mono-syballic "enthusiast" from Cheshire. Second lesson learnt - good interviewees should be sought at all costs.
After that slightly embarrassing discussion and having watched a couple more races from various locations, we went to the pre-parade ring to see the runners in the Champion Hurdle walking around before they went up to the main parade paddock. The pre-parade ring is where the hardcore purists assess the best tips away from the chaos of everywhere else on the site. So when our passes enabled us to actually go into it David kept saying, "Don't look to your left".....obviously I did, and was met with about 200 pairs of seasoned punters' eyes boring into me. To say it was an experience would be an understatement, it was terrifying and I felt like a fraud, but at the same time it was completely and absolutely fantastic.
My favourite race of the day was the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase - it is cross country style - pretty bizarre in the way it twists around a course of fences that are a mix of the classic hedges and then gates, ditches and banks which is far more my territory as an eventer, albeit here with a racing twist. After the runners have negotiated this eclectic mix of obstacles any riders still seated go hell for leather up the finishing straight, classic race style. If anyone gets to see one of these races I would highly recommend going to stand in the middle of the course under the big screen - it's crazy, every time you blink the horses are going in a different direction; amazing fun!
Anyway, I've certainly prattled on long enough for one day, all that remains to be said is that I can't wait for tomorrow - bring on St Paddy's day and do tune in to 87.7FM!