Famous (horse) race meetings
The Grand National: at Aintree, near Liverpool, in March or April It is England's main steeplechase (race over fences). The course is over seven kilometres and includes thirty jumps, of which fourteen are jumped twice. It is a dangerous race Jockeys have been hurt and horses have been killed.
The Derby: at Epsom, south of London, in May or June. It is England's leading flat race (not over fences).
Ascot: near Windsor in June. Very fashionable. The Queen always attends.
As I have mentioned horse-racing, I think it will be good to draw attention to racing in hole.
There are all kinds of racing in England - horse-racing, motorcar racing, boat-racing, dog-racing, and even races for donkeys. On sports days at school boys and girls run races, and even train for them. There is usually a mile race for older boys, and the one who wins it is certainly a good runner.
Usually those who run a race go as fast as possible, but there are some races in which everybody has to go very carefully in order to avoid falling.
There is the "three-legged" race, for example, in which a pair of runners have the right leg of one tied to the left leg of the other. If they try to go too fast they are certain to fall. And there is the egg-and-spoon race, in which each runner must carry an egg in a spoon without letting it drop. If the egg does fall, it must be picked up with the spoon, not the fingers.
Naturally animals don't race unless they are made to run in some way, though it often seems as if little lambs are running races with each other in the fields in spring.
Horses are ridden, of course. Dogs won't race unless they have something to chase, and so they are given a hare to go after, either a real one or an imitation one.
The most famous boat-race in England is between Oxford and Cambridge. It is rowed over a course on the River Thames, and thousands of people go to watch it. The eight rowers in each boat have great struggle, and at the end there is usually only a short distance between the winners and the losers.
The University boat-race started in 1820 and has been rowed on the Thames almost every spring since 1836. At the Henly Regatta in Oxfordshire, founded in 1839, crews from all over the world compete each July in various kinds of race over a straight course of 1 mile 550 yards (about 2.1 km).
Horse racing is big business, along with the betting which sustains it. Every day of the year, except Sundays, there is a race meeting at least one of Britain's several dozen racecourses. Nine-tenths of the betting is done by people all over the country, by post or at local betting shops, and it is estimated that a tenth of all British men bet regularly on horse races, many of them never going to a race course.
Horse racing accounts for about half of all gambling, dog racing for a quarter (after increasing by 27 per cent in 1987-88). The total gambling expenditure is estimated at over three billion pounds a year, or nearly 1 per cent of the gross domestic product - though those who bet get about three-quarters of their stake back in winnings. There is no national lottery, though premium bonds are a form of national savings, with monthly prizes instead of interest. About half of all households bet regularly on the football pools, although half of the money staked is divided between the state, through taxes, and the operators. People are attracted by the hope of winning huge prizes, but some winners become miserable with their sudden unaccustomed wealth. Bingo sessions, often in old cinemas, are attractive mainly to women, and have a good social element. More popular are the slot machines in establishments described as 'amusement arcades'. There has been some worry about the addiction of young people to this form of gambling, which can lead to theft.
Even if they are not taking part or watching, British people like to be involved in sport. They can do this by placing bets on future results. Gambling is widespread throughout all social classes. It is so basic to sport that the word 'sportsman' used to be a synonym for 'gambler'.
When, in 1993, the starting procedure for the Grand National did not work properly, so that the race could not take place, it was widely regarded as a national disaster. The ?70 million which had been gambled on the result (that's more than a pound for each man, woman and child in the country!) all had to be given back.
Every year, billions of pounds are bet on horse races. So well-known is this activity that everybody in the country, even those with no interest in horse-racing, would understand the meaning of a question such as 'who won the 2.30 at Chester?' (Which horse won the race that was scheduled to take place at half past two today at the Chester racecourse? The questioner probably wants to know because he or she has gambled some money on the result.) The central role of horse-racing in gambling is also shown by one of the names used to denote companies and individuals whose business it is to take bets. Although these are generally known as 'bookmakers', they sometimes call themselves 'turf accountants' ('turf is a word for ground where grass grows);
Apart from the horses and the dogs, the most popular form of gambling connected with sports is the football pools. Every week, more than ten million people stake a small sum on the results of Saturday's professional matches. Another popular type of gambling, stereotypically for middle-aged working class women, is bingo.
Nonconformist religious groups traditionally frown upon gambling and their disapproval has had some influence. Perhaps this is why Britain did not have a national lottery until 1994. But if people want to gamble, then they will. For instance, before the national lottery started, the British gambled ?250,000 on which company would begiven the licence to run it! The country's big bookmakers are willing to offer odds on almost anything at all if asked. Who will be the next Labour party leader? Will it rain during the Wimbledon tennis tournament? Will it snow on Christmas Day? All of these offer opportunities for 'a flutter'.
Apropos of the Wimbledon