Number Of Visits: 59
In those days Leicester staged quite a few Monday and Tuesday afternoon meetings which were integrated into my student life. Initially I had mixed emotions as the awe of my close proximity to the racing action was offset to some extent by guilt over missed lectures. In the end racing beat lectures by a distance, not least because the visits were such good value. I would enter the silver ring for £3 including a basic racecard. The old blue stand, part of which still exists (see above) was supported by good facilities up to about the half furlong pole. I also enjoyed the option to wander down to the one an a half furlong point near the final fence/hurdle which was an excellent vantage point. I also soon cottoned on to the enclosure transfer turnstile being opened up prior to the last race, which gave cheapskates like myself the opportunity to enjoy the better facilities in the Tattersalls enclosure. I was not on my own much to the consternation of the silver ring bookmakers who often saw reduced action on the days get out stakes. At the many Autumn/Winter meetings the weather was often bleak and windy and I recall one particular day when the bookmakers set up half way up the silver ring grandstand to ply their trade. There were more bookies than punters that day. I often ended the meetings helping myself to the published photo finish images which along with losing betting tickets became part of my student decor.
The occasional Saturday meetings in April and June were the highlight of my Leicester student racing days. In fact Saturday 26th April 1990, my 19th birthday is one of my favourite days ever at the races as I was attending with a big group of friends on a sunny spring afternoon. This is still Leicester's big meeting of the year featuring the Listed Leicestershire Stakes which is now a Group 3 contest. A big crowd was treated to competitive racing, with representatives from many of the big stables and top jockeys such as Steve Cauthen and Paul Eddery. Both would ride winners that day for Henry Cecil and Michael Stoute respectively. My group was boosted by backing many of the days winners including Se-Aq, J Brand, Angel Train and big race winner Monsagem. Approaching the final race we grouped some funds together to have a decent collective bet on my selection. The horse in question, Kartajana was making her racecourse debut and would go on to much, much better things. She romped home and between us we had £35 on at what seemed a generous 4-5 as she was backed off the boards. A fantastic day.
About six months later Leicester, at one of its obscure Monday meetings would become the focus of the racing world. I was there when the headline in the Racing Post read simply Leicester Piggott. Indeed this was such a big story that it became part of the mainstream news. Lestor, now fifty six, had two rides following his unexpected return to the saddle. His original retirement was five years earlier. Could his first ride be a fairytale return? I was next to the rail about 100 yards from the finish line. Lestor and his mount were locked together in a tremendous battle with a horse ridden by Gary Carter, another favourite jockey of mine from that period. I was literally right there witnessing something very special. Unfortunately Gary had not read the script and held on to win by a head. Lestor's other ride disappointed and he would have to wait until the following day at Chepstow to ride his first winner back in the saddle. Exactly one year later I attended the same Leicester meeting and this time Lestor made no mistake on the Dick Hern trained Claret. This was incredibly his 102nd winner since his return, with the Breeders Cup win of Royal Academy the undoubted highlight.
I have so many fond memories of my visits to Leicester through this period, attending roughly fifty meetings between 1989 and 1995. I witnessed some dramatic finishes and last fence tumbles. I watched some national hunt greats like Stearsby and Terao. One day following a must attend lecture I turned up for just one race to see future Derby contender Muhtarram. Racing all year round, flat and jumps was such a bonus. I celebrated some great wins (Milton Bryan) and suffered some big losses (Fly To The Stars). I even managed to get myself on the front page of the Sporting Life, stood next to the last fence. Sometimes attending alone, often with friends and later with my future wife Claire this was truly a golden period in by racing experience. Whilst attending Leicester University I doubled the number of racecourses I had visited from fourteen to twenty-eight. From this point there was never any doubt that I would ultimately visit them all.