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28th October 2023

Attending the horse races feels like a betrayal of my left-wing principles

A 20-minute drive home from the Cheltenham Festival races may seem like a dream for many Manchester students, but you will never see me present at my hometown’s annual event
Attending the horse races feels like a betrayal of my left-wing principles
Credit: Philippe Oursel @ Unsplash

I herald from near Cheltenham. More specifically, Cheltenham’s inherently more dilapidated and deprived sister city, Gloucester. Cheltenham is to me what Chris and Liam Hemsworth are to their third brother which I can’t remember the name of without doing a quick Google search. The Kevin Jonas of the county, if you will, despite it quite literally being named Gloucestershire.

Cheltenham itself is renowned for the event that the likes of Victoria and David Beckham get helicoptered in for. An event that welcomes the close blood relatives of King Charles, Queen consort Camilla, and their tweed-wearing entourage for one week and one week only to my neighbouring town.

I am, of course, referring to the Cheltenham Festival races.

Growing up in a city where most shop windows on the high street are boarded up, while our next-door neighbour also hosts the annual aristocratic pilgrimage, always felt a little alienating. At school, we were acutely aware of two varying camps of people. Those who would be skipping lessons for flat caps and Gold Cup Day and the rest of us, who simply couldn’t give a toss. Or otherwise, could not afford to.

Needless to say, when some of my friends at university tried to convince me to go to the student races at Aintree Racecourse, my preconceived notions of horseracing stirred me to face a bit of a moral dilemma.

If you’re a relatively left-wing individual (by which I mean you consume a lot of oat milk and love Jarvis Cocker), endorsing a sport that the likes of PETA and other animal rights groups condemn on a regular basis is a tough pill to swallow. To elaborate, back in 2020, PETA highlighted how racehorses “often sustain horrific injuries” and “may suffer heart attacks, bleed from their lungs, or develop painful ulcers and other health problems.” With this in mind, I would subsequently spend the entire event feeling like I was on one big boozy guilt trip. Which might somewhat detract from the event.

Although I am not a vegan, and undoubtedly not a saint, the thought of horses breaking their legs and being put down as a result is mildly agitating, to say the least. The fact that it is for my entertainment is even worse. If I want to be entertained by a “sport”, then I can just take myself off to Old Trafford football stadium. Alternatively, if I want to sink five Jaegerbombs and subsequently fall into some foliage, I can just go to Hidden on a Thursday. Simple.

Irrational as it may seem, something about the whole occasion makes me feel as if I am one bet away from chasing foxes with hounds and shooting pheasants out of the sky. The prospect makes me feel infinitely less Brian May protesting the badger cull and infinitely more Jeremy Clarkson in his Diddly Squat Farm Shop.

Back in 2022, a video of Rishi Sunak describing how he extracted money from deprived urban areas to redirect funds to wealthy rural neighbourhoods was obtained by the New Statesman. Around him, other Conservative Party members sat and guffawed over this widening wealth divide, stripping away youth services to fund the lavish, horse-riding lifestyles of the super-rich. Perhaps this is what the races represent to me. Inaccurate as it may be, I think attending the races would feel like a betrayal of my leftist principles.

A friend of mine who goes to Cardiff University recently confessed that she had caved and attended her student races. But she asserted that she would not be returning, feeling as if she had, in her own words, been “cosplaying a Tory” for the duration of the day.

While our protestations may seem a little excessive, the culture around horse racing can only be used as a justification for such objections. A perfect example of this culture is Georgia Toffolo of Made in Chelsea, who frequently produces TikToks and Instagram reels detailing what you should wear to the races. Lest we forget, this is of course the Georgia Toffolo who once described Jacob Rees Mogg, a Dickensian man who has umpteen children but has famously never changed a nappy, as a “sex god”. Need I say more?

If you happen to be reading this and you have attended the races or are in fact planning on attending them, this is not a criticism of you as an individual. It is definitely, for many students, merely an opportunity to get dolled up, get tipsy, and get up to no good with your friends for the day. As somebody who enjoys doing that as much as the next Fallowfield resident, I do understand to an extent. In fact, this was the very argument posed to me by the people trying to convince me to go.

In spite of this, I can’t shake the tweed-wearing, trust-funding stereotype attached to it. The culture surrounding it, mixed with the prospect of animals dying solely for my entertainment makes for a cocktail that I have a particular aversion to. I, for one, am both shaken and stirred by the whole ordeal.

So perhaps I am being a little pedantic. Perhaps my discomfort is merely symptomatic of the polarisation in our society and the ongoing culture wars that epitomise it. I could not tell you. What I can tell you, however, is that you’re not going to be witnessing me in a Barbour wax jacket, watching the Grand National anytime soon.

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