Racecourses are hot-spots of superstition. Everywhere people are seeking signs, portents and omens to steer them in the direction of a winner.
The earnest student of racing form, often scornful of fellow racegoers who back horses because they like the names, or dreamt the numbers, will probably be secretly wearing a “lucky hat” or making sure he doesn’t have any inauspicious R50 notes in his wallet.
Even the great South African trainer of yore Terrance Millard, winner of six Durban Julys and a man who meticulously and scientifically prepared horses for the optimum run, confessed to employing a finishing touch of wearing his lucky socks on race days.
Former trainer Dylan Cunha firmly believes his 2007 Summer Cup victory with Strategic News was thanks to his talismanic underpants – which by then were a tad ragged after years of bringing him good fortune.
Perhaps the most common superstition in racing is the colour green – a no-no for millions of fans around the world. They won’t wear a fleck of green and are unlikely to back a horse carrying green silks.
A few years ago, a horse owner in Johannesburg moved his horses away from a trainer when the latter bought himself a smart new green SUV.
However, someone once looked into the 180-year history of the Grand National, the UK’s famous jumps race, and found that 40% of the winners had jockeys wearing jackets of green or blue (also a jinx for some).
In racing-mad Hong Kong, red is very auspicious, which is why it features in so many owners’ colours. The number eight is the Chinese lucky number, but on UK and US tracks it tends to be seven. Who got the sums wrong?
Anywhere in the world, whatever you do, do not wish fellow racegoers “good luck”. Even in jest – they won’t see the funny side of it.
If an acquaintance seems to be avoiding you on course, let him or her be, they are probably on a winning streak, “in the zone”, and don’t want to break the spell by engaging in small talk.
Keeping a routine is human nature, but it’s ridiculously heightened at the races. Always buy a card from the same vendor, sit in the same seat, bet with a particular bookmaker, don’t go near the bar, etc.
However, when tried-and-tested items of faith don’t seem to be working the time arrives for “slump busters” – chuck out the careful, form-based wagering systems; back horses because of funny names, and hit the pub.
Betting tickets get a lot of attention. They must be bought from tote windows with even numbers, or perhaps female operators with red hair. Until that clever strategy proves a losing one and the plan must change – odd numbers and male operators with glasses.
Where one puts tickets for safekeeping is of magical significance. Some punters tuck them into their banknotes, because money attracts money. Others give a particular pocket a try – until it proves unfruitful and another one gets a chance to show its worth. Never, ever put a newly bought or “live” ticket anywhere near an old losing one. Are you crazy?
Many racing enthusiasts say they must stare intently at runners in the parade ring in order to assess fitness and mental preparedness. But often they are just seeking out the one with one white sock, which is certain to win. One with four white socks, of course, must not be touched with a barge pole.
Scrutiny in the ring might even uncover a runner with a “Prophet’s Thumbprint” – an indentation on the neck that legend says is a blessing. Trouble is, many horses with this strange birthmark are not very good at galloping.
Nonetheless, it is well worth having a good look at horses pre-race. For if one lifts its tail and drops a hefty, steaming turd, you’re strongly advised to make a bee-line for the bookies and lay a hefty, steaming wager.
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