July 2019. My whole family came to London to be with our youngest for her college graduation. From here we were to travel to Copenhagen for an additional five days. Alas, the person (who will not be mentioned) responsible for arranging our transportation to the Stansted Airport (way northeast of London), cut it too close to our take-off time and the gate was closed when we arrived.
We regrouped and found another flight we could all get on – at the Gatwick Airport on the south side of London and two days hence. So we used Marriott points to book a hotel near Gatwick, a 1.5 hour taxi ride away. We could have taken a one hour coach ride to Victoria Station and then a one hour train to Gatwick and then a taxi to the hotel, but with six pieces of luggage and four backpacks, that would have been difficult. We had so much luggage because our new graduate was completely vacating England and returning her belongings to the US.
There was no point in being distraught at losing two days, so we made the best of our time. The hotel had a lovely pool, so we indulged, stretching out tired muscles in the cool water and then in the hot tub.
We noticed that the hotel was unusually busy, especially the bar. It turned out, that the Lingfield Park Marriott was also a horse racetrack (the busiest racecourse in Europe!) with races that weekend, and the horsey set of the area were all there in their fine regalia. What luck!
From our room we could see trainers leading horses around and riding them near stalls. The view of the racetrack itself was obstructed by the hotel building so we could not view it.
But then we went down to supper, and saw that the track ran right past the dining room windows. We requested a table next to the windows and had a front row seat to the activities outside.
When we asked about the races, our waiter wearily explained that there were six races all together, the first starting in the late afternoon (about when we checked in) and the last around 9 pm. Then a DJ, a famous fashion guru, Gok Wan, would be playing for the happy crowd, extending the merry-making long into the night. He assured us that we would probably be able to hear the music from our room.
British ladies in fancy dresses and fascinators strolled past with Champagne in their hands – sometimes whole bottles! Most wore high heels that sunk into the grass unless they walked on tiptoe. Given how much drinking was going on, it was a wonder they could walk at all.
We could see a betting booth that was doing a fine business. (Betting is legal in England.) Two large screens showed close-ups of what was happening on the track. In the first race we witnessed, the horses ran past so fast we didn’t have time to snap photos.
We marveled at the strength the jockeys must have in their legs to stay still, poised above the saddle, as the horse galloped beneath them.
There was a private party immediately in front of the windows, with security guards posted to keep the riff-raff (us) out. This group seemed to be focused on the partying, as they only jumped out of their chairs just as the horses raced past. Then we all watched the replays and slow-motion action on the big screen, just like with American football.
Given that there were only six short races in the span of four hours or so, the crowd had to make their own fun between the spurts of action on the track. I felt a bit sorry for the ladies in their summer finery as the evening wore on and the temperature dropped into the low 60’s. But most of them were drinking ample anti-freeze.
After the fifth race, the ladies assembled for the contest for best dressed. They made a large circle (as seen from the big screen), some holding the others up for balance. Our favorite (or least favorite, depending on who among us you asked) won, in a lacy tea-length dress with matching fascinator. She cried, as would I have: the prize was a holiday in the Caribbean!
Finally the last race began, and this time I was ready with my camera. I have proof that I was there, witness to one of Britain’s favorite sports. If you have to miss a plane connection, this is a great way to spend the time.
For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:
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