Why I Don’t Drink on a Racecourse

Do drinking and racing mix? Why I don’t drink on a racecourse…

Why I Don’t Drink on a Racecourse

By Michael Andrews (twitter.com/mytentoryours )


Here we go, in the space of seven words my future contract with Magners is dead in the water, I’ll never present from the Guinness Village at Cheltenham and a Bollinger-sponsored carpark picnic at Royal Ascot? No chance.

Making headlines in both racing and mainstream media, drink (and drugs) has dominated racecourse conversations all summer. For many, it was that horrific Goodwood footage that shocked and scared the industry. It was a case of curiosity killing the cat; we all immediately regretted watching it. Fortunately, and although the problems prevalent there have not been entirely eradicated, reports of on-course violence have decreased since. Whether that is actually a factand as a result of the preventative measures put in by the authority and the racecourses themselves – it’s hard to know.

Yet, no one wishes to dig up the roots of the problem. It’s an insecurity that racing has held for years, and something no one wishes to tackle head-on. Simply, why is alcohol needed?


Is it because the racing product isn’t good enough?


Do you need a bottle of wine before you sit down to watch the Bodyguard? Is it only ‘OK’ unless you’re tiddly? How about horse riding, is it vastly improved with a few gins in you? Is cycling, surfing, sightseeing and swimming only bearable once you’ve cracked open a Fosters? Surely not.

However, that’s the message we perceive to send. Alcohol and racing is as associable as seeking out the bottle when meeting that first date, talking to your partner’s boring friend or coping your way through that Great Aunt’s-cousin’s-daughter’s 21st. It’s a way to enjoy something that you don’t particularly enjoy. You drink to make it more interesting, bearable and ultimately pass quicker. Why do we need that in racing? ‘Come Racing! But as it’s not particularly captivating, check out our bar and it’ll seem better!’


That’s why I don’t drink on a racecourse; I don’t need to.


And there’s the crux of the problem, because if I see newbies on a racecourse drinking I can somewhat empathise, but when I see committed, hard-core racing fans lining up at the bar I ponder that exact question: is this not good enough? Because if it’s not enough to completely engage and enthral a passionate racing fan, it’s not got a hope in hell of reaching new fans.

Now call me a lightweight, a comment which is famously fair, but I inadvertently tested this out earlier this month. I spontaneously went to Sandown on Solario Stakes day and – though I was enjoying the racing just fine – I accepted the offer of a drink just after the big race.

Shortly after, when trying to study the form for the following race, I realised I’d lost my edge, my interest and my engagement. Yes, thank you – the lightweight remark is brutally confirmed here – but the point still stands. Instead of enjoying the challenge of finding the winner of race five, I was less engrossed in the cumbersome task. Instead of digging deep into the complicated formbook, I just read the summary. Instead of enjoying racing for what it is, I was distracted and somewhat disinterested. If he was running, I’d have lazily backed My Tent Or Yours in the win-only market at Cheltenham.

I don’t understand why – and how – a racing fan can drink on a racecourse. Drinking deadens the thrill, changes the focus and detracts from the sport. It prevents the viewer from understanding or engaging with the sport in anything more than that one-dimensional way. There’s so much more to racing than can be understood under the influence. It is counter-intuitive to converting an average joe into a Desert Joe, a Joe Lively or Joe Farrell fan.


If we want to convert the casual racegoer – who make up the bulk of attendance figures in the UK – we have to convert them to racing, without caveat. Football fans are fans of the game; they happily watch a seemingly dull mid-table nil-nil draw on a Wednesday evening without reaching for the vodka. For our sport to survive, we need to do the same.

And in a society where young people are drinking less, what position could we be in if most youngsters are apathetic to both the racing product and a pint?

That’s why I don’t drink on a racecourse. That’s why I don’t use it as a selling point to encourage my friends. Racing is awesome without alcohol; don’t demean it with drink. If it’s not good enough, change the product itself, don’t seek out the stop-gap plaster that is a cup of liquid cure.


Thanks, Michael.


What do we think to that? Are you a lightweight like Michael (I jest!), or is a drink or three essential to your day out/enjoyment?

What should the sport be doing to sell a day at the races?

Is our sport guilty of dumbing down (and hence more emphasis on the drinking side?) when in fact it needs to focus on the complexity and challenge of racing?

Why do you go racing? What would you change? 

As always, your thoughts are welcome…


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20 Responses

  1. Having taken people with no racing experience (and little drinking practice) to the races for their first visit, and with something of an antipathy to gambling, I can report that they said independently, afterwards, that it was a really interesting outing because I was knowledgeable and informative throughout the afternoon.
    In my view, you have to sell the history, the beauty of the beasts, the skills of all the personnel on the day and all of the preparation done in the yards. That’s the complexity – without any need to have a knowledge of class and form, but to allow people to bring an instinctive feeling for the sport, the race or a particular horse as part of that initial experience.
    Knowing the personalities helps, explaining the rules and giving time for people to do their own thing away from urban life so that they can be caught up in the thrill of a finish and admire the sweating victor.
    I think you know where I stand.

  2. for those who are regulars you might remember my comments after Wetherby last year when i pointed out the drink/drugs problem and how it detracted from my days enjoyment . I don’t drink at the races even when i’m not on the bike cuts down on the trip to the loo’s and i want my wits about me. I’m not against people having a few drinks if they want to as long as it doesn’t lead to bad behaviour.

  3. I find myself in total agreement Michael with your points about alcohol and sports viewing.

    Indeed it is not confined to Horse Racing, although recent issues have highlighted the problem particularly at high profile weekend and Festival meetings.

    I rarely drink alcohol these days, I used to, my decision is not influenced by addiction or health, more a lifestyle choice. However; I never did/do drink at sporting events and would often sit at the football every other Saturday and wonder what was the point of hard working not well off blokes spending several hundreds of pounds on season tickets, to then turn up drunk, pop to the toilet every 10 minutes and miss 90% of the action?

    Horse Racing is not different. I’ve been to a number of Corporate Events where the prime reason most have attended the RaceCourse is to drink and eat, very few actually go to watch the Racing, and the recent introduction of “Live Music” has added to that problem 10 fold. At my now local Track (Newton Abbot) they do have music occasionally but make a lot more by hiring out parts of the Course for Car Boots / Collectors Events and other Corporate activity; where either no drinks are available or the drink and hospitality is the main focus of the day.

    In trying to open up the sport to newcomers by using drink, readily and easily available as a means of enticement, they have opened up a can of worms that has to be closed quickly, or the hard core regulars will be driven away.

    I am finding in a totally different sport; but one based on racing with gaps between races; very similar issues of challenging the problem of bringing in new customers and support, and in that sport, whilst drink is available it is simply not an issue. What works in one sport does not work in another but by innovation, you can raise awareness and do it in a “family way”.

    So we invite FREE to one event as many kids as want to come from local football clubs/ Scouts etc, provided parents attend and they come in free too first time; and then have a “Family Ticket” option . Early days for the project; but the feedback is great, people then pay to come back to the next Fixture and dads (particularly) who may have had a drink too any at a sporting event they went to on their own in the past, don’t drink or are far less likely to drink, with the kids present; and actually enjoy the spectacle as they are stone cold sober.

    Horse Racing attracts people of all types, all ages, but like many sports; does have an “older generation” dynamic and may be that’s a way for some innovative RaceCourses to look at the future, get more “youngsters in” – get the parents to behave better as the children are present and open up horse racing to a whole new generation and to use our motto “get the kids to bring their parents to the racing”…

    Fundamentally; I believe that if you have to have a drink to enjoy any sport, or indeed any part of your life, you have a problem, and you need help and should seek it.

  4. Personally I like a drink at social events as it helps me to relax in a big crowd and I don’t think it detracts from the event in my eyes or makes me want to smash somebody else’s face in. I go to watch the racing and a couple of pints doesn’t distract me from that, if anything it enhances my enjoyment of a race. I do though agree studying a race once you’ve had a beer goes out of the window. That’s why i do my study the day/night before and take my list to go to war with. I do not trust my semi-drunk brain one iota.

    Unfortunately you do see a lot of people at the races just to get wasted who don’t have a clue or any interest about racing, usually wearing skinny trousers with no socks and the same haircut as the 10 look-a-likes they’re there with. Not sure they’ll ever stop coming along to a place with alcohol, gambling and scantily clad women. Maybe each racecourse could make a ‘tw@t zone’ where these types go and get trashed and smash each others face in and leave the rest of alone?!

  5. This problem is unfortunately symptomatic of society today where it seems acceptable or even obligatory to drink to excess at every opportunity. Having attended racing days for a very long time being 40 plus years and always enjoyed a drink when there I can honestly say that I never encountered any disturbance over that time although that’s not to say there may have been some that I didn’t witness but the scale of recent events does highlight the fact that some people are not there for the sport.

  6. I think you’re simplifying why people drink, and why people go to the races.

    I should say at the outset, I don’t drink alcohol at all, anywhere, but have lots of friends who do.

    While I have little time for those who drink only to get drunk, ie cannot operate in moderation, I have no problem with people enjoying a drink. And the majority of people do it to relax and because they enjoy it. So why shouldn’t they relax and enjoy a drink while they enjoy racing? People do drink wine while watching the bodyguard and football fans most definitely do enjoy a drink before, during and after a match. Because the enjoy drinking and it’s a sociable pastime – just like going to the races.

    Yes for some, it is all about the racing. In its purest form, you could argue that you should be able to enjoy racing without looking at the form and having a bet. Appreciating the beauty of top horses in full flight and the connection between jockey and horse. For some it is about the form, for some about winning bets, but for some it is the day out. And all sports now have to do that.

    There is huge and growing competition for people’s time and entertainment spending. Despite those of us who are diehards despising it, football matches have become about the ‘experience’, T20 cricket is about the crowd enjoyment, and the World Darts Championship wouldn’t be anything without the crowds. Racing has to compete with these to survive. Otherwise racecourses will have to close, trainers will shut down their yards and the sport will become (even more) the preserve of the rich.

    Racing needs to attract people for a variety of reasons – not just to all become students of the formbook.

  7. Given the summer we have just had, and given there is at least half n hour to kill between races, I thoroughly enjoyed the odd drink of Guinness between races. All form study done the night before so numbing of the brain whereby I would lose any edge.

  8. I think the real problem here with this opinion is that the author presumes to assume every racegoer is the same and the fact is they are not
    I never drink on the racecourse myself for the simple reason that drinking and gambling just do not mix and you should always choose between one or the other
    The example of the Football fan is totally inaccurate as most football fans will meet up for a pint before, after or both and would chew the fat about the merits of the team in the game but during the actual game your Football fan isnt staking money 6, 7 or 8 times unlike the racegoer i know people who attend races and spend all their time in the bar and never see a horse there are also punters who head straight to the on course bookies and spend the day in there never seeing a horse
    Racecourses positioned themselves firmly towards the Stag and Hen party brigade in their attempt to squeeze there portion of the racegoers disposable cash and they became so good at it that they made up more than 50% of the people on the racecourse and they where happy to sell them as much overpriced alcohol as they could get into them in a 4 hour period not only this but with a complete lack of security on racecourses the youngsters found a brilliant place to openly undertake their drug habit save in the knowledge that there wouldn’t be a copper in sight many a true racegoer predicted this problem but were ignored ans the profits rose for the racecourses the powers that be have lost their focus if they put as much effort into what i would deem proper race fans they would have a far more loyal customer base without the problems they have created for themselves
    The believe that they have brought in a whole new group of racegoers that they will be able to retain but the true fact is they have just brought in the stag and hen parties and the music festival crowds who see £30 for a concert ticket as good value for money and having to watch horse racing prior to this as acceptable because normally they would be standing around at a venue just as long waiting for it to start but they wouldn’t go to the next meeting held without the Band

  9. Many years ago, in the early 90s, I was a big fan of the dogs and used to go every now and again with the odd coach trip to the now sadly miss Dumpton Park, Ramsgate Kent.
    On one occasion I was happily at the bar waiting to be served and a bit worse for wear, as in those days a night out with the lads did entail some pretty heavy libations. I digress…..Whilst standing at the bar, waiting to be served, one of my mates came to me asking what I was backing in the next and did I realise that there were only a couple of minutes to the off time. I had already decided what my bet was going to be and gave him a tenner to put on trap 5 in the next which was about 3/1 at that time. Thought no more of it and carried on with getting the round in. 5 minutes later my friend returned with a fist full of cash and plonked around £185 and change in my hand and said thanks for the tip get in!!! I couldn’t understand why there was so much cash so asked him how a tenner could yield so much money…..His reply…..A tenner? No you dozy twonk, you gave ma a fifty and we took 11/4.

    Now this may have worked in our favour that night but in reality a stone cold sober reason for not drinking when your gambling….It could have been oh so much worse..

    Cheers Denis.

  10. I’ll confess, I’ll have a beer sometimes when i go racing or a gin and tonic. I’ll do my research beforehand but I’ll take in the atmosphere, go in the paddock etc

    The comment about football i’m not entirely sure about, plenty of fans have their pints before and after the game as a tradition, same with Rugby, one of the benefits of rugby is ability to have a beer while watching.

    To me, we make racing too complicated, its nature is predict which horse will finish first past the post. They are beautiful animals wonderfully prepared.

  11. I agree with so much that has been said alcohol by it’s self is not the real problem, this is an email i sent to Wetherby Racecourse.
    with all the press coverage about ascot and goodwood’s drunken behaviour you would think this is something new, well it’s not new it’s happening at courses every weekend up and down the country. i sent an email to you back in november about my experience at wetherby and received no reply.(copy of sent letter below)
    The phrase what a difference a day makes springs to mind after my 2 days at Wetherby, Friday racing not great but a lovely day out, nice people, good laugh, excellent staff. Saturday much better racing but packed to the seams with large groups of dickheads who all must have had colds the amount of sniffing going on in the toilets, rude aggressive drunken behaviour all around, even my son who is 30 said he wouldn’t want to do the saturday again unless we did the premier enclosure or the family bit in the middle.
    If you swabbed the temporary toilets the amount of traces of cocaine would be through the roof do you not know what’s going on or are you just turning a blind eye? the drug and alcohol fueled behaviour is deteriorating to such a level that a lot of your real racing enthusiast’s are going to be put off attending weekend meetings as the afternoon resembled more of a stag night than a sporting event.
    I admit i don’t know what the answer is to these problems but something has to be done.
    Yours Sincerely
    Martin Whittle
    perhaps drug sniffer dogs at the entrances and checking coaches before people were allowed in may help and the upholding of the law that you shouldn’t serve very intoxicated people more alcohol, but at the end of the day it’s money that talks and how any loss in revenue is viewed by racecourses.
    i have been back to your racecourse for a midweek fixture and had a very nice time but would not consider a saturday until measures are put in place to stop this behaviour, has anything been done? a reply would be nice with your opinions on this matter.
    Yours Sincerely
    Martin Whittle

  12. My grandfather made a lot of money ( enough to buy a large house for cash ) in the prewar era by following a simple system. He used to hang around the weighing room, and watch the jockeys on their way to the paddock. He always backed the jockey who looked most sober.
    Racing and drinking have always gone together, and long may it continue.

  13. I’m sure I will get my share of pelters here, but as a relatively casual gambler on horses and also a relatively infrequent visitor to race courses I detect a definite note of snobbery in some of the comments. I can, of course, only speak for myself and my friends; we travel to York once a year as an over 40s football team to enjoy a day out that involves copious amounts of drink and lots of semi serious betting. Most of us get well oiled, but not once have we seen or caused any trouble. We’re by nature a slightly older crowd, pretty much self policing and we thoroughly enjoy our days out. We have seen fights and confrontations in both York and Thirsk after race meetings, but couldn’t definitively say those involved were racegoers. By all means resist a drink, or maintain your zero drinking habit at the races but I’m not sure you can criticise those who choose to make a social occasion of it, but who can do so without spoiling other people’s enjoyment.

  14. I am going to a Beer (Real Ale) Festival at Ascot racecourse on Friday, I hope nobody is suggesting that I don’t drink! Incidentally, all my bets will be placed before I get there.

    1. I think we can assume you’ve long been converted to the sport of Kings Johnny haha.
      enjoy, i’d be drinking a few 🙂 Hopefully those who may just be there for the festival first and foremost get into the racing also, but I dare say most at such a drinks fare are probably converted. Have fun.

      1. Thanks Josh, this will be the sixth year that I have been, a cracking day out and only £10.50 entrance if you are a CAMRA member and book in advance. Normally a pretty decent quality card as well. There are of course one or two who overimbibe but I have never seen any fighting or drug abuse.

  15. Racing always talks about itself in isolation to other events. The reality is that there’s alcohol at all events both sporting and beyond (theatre, festivals, opera, tennis, bowls, e-sports). Its also nothing new. So really we should be asking, what’s changed?

    If the ‘younger’ crowd are drinking less then its probably just a generational thing; the 24-35s are still about getting hammered whereas the 18-24s less so. But why are the ones getting into fight’s coming racing whereas a Glastonbury has 10 times more people and virtually no violence?

    Sadly, I’ve no idea and I don’t think anybody does hence it continues. These people are smart, clearly have disposable income so should be considered a ‘good demographic’. Strange.

  16. An interesting debate for sure and a topic that should be discussed because as we have witnessed in recent times somebody is eventually going to be seriously maimed or killed whilst on a racecourse.

    Sadly it appears the Goodwood fracas is nothing but a distant memory of the summer to some people. An incident contributed to high jinx and a few too many ales they will say whilst kidding themselves there isn’t an issue with drug taking and binge drinking at some UK racecourses.

    The debate Michael raises is a very valid one. I’m surprised how many social drinkers have been quite defensive with their responses and intimating that Michael is a viewing snob. He like many just doesn’t want to get caught up in it and it needs racecourse management to be proactive. I thought York Races did a fantastic job in this regard over the summer when I visited. Alas, many do not and patrons do not feel entirely safe – this should never be the case.

    As for the silly bint at Doncaster with the stolen bookmakers brolly- what do we do with her?

  17. Doesn’t happen in Irish racecourses and they like a drink or two so it’s too many drunkin chavs ruining it for the majority of decent people who go racing.
    Lock them up for a month like they do in Dubai,that would nip it in the bud lol
    Concerts after racing exacerbate the problem with people getting drunk early in the day but proper policeing would sort this out imo..

  18. Ok I get the comments about getting the most enjoyment from the racing itself, keeping a level head about form study, ensuring you can make accurate judgements in the paddock etc. However, it is for me primarily about a social day out, often with some friends who aren’t horse racing specialists and,rightly or wrongly, drink is a part of that. I get most of my bets done online beforehand as the markets at the racecourse don’t offer the same value and then I enjoy the day, all aspects of it. Dare I suggest that the tone of the original post is just ever so slightly patronising?

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