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Sizzling stakes

YOU win some, you lose some.

It is the mantra that anyone who likes a bet must adopt, especially if horse racing is your chosen avocation. It takes money to be involved but it is not an ends to a means and a way to get rich quickly, the old adage that you will never see a poor bookie is well-versed for a reason.

The winning is nice, of course, but racing is a game that everyone can play and enjoy. You don't have to be an avid studier of the form and carry a Racing Post under your arm to have a flutter, or even pick a winner. From the punter who hands over a wad of well fingered notes to the first-timer having a couple of quid on their chosen runner, selected by name, number or the colour of silks, the excitement, the elation or disappointment is all the same.

The action may only last a couple of hours from the first mount-up to the final burst for the line but a day at the races really can be an entire day at the races. Having taken to my local track, Hamilton Park, on several occasions, and sampled the quaint surroundings of Musselburgh, I recently completed my hat-trick at Ayr. It was billed as the Summer Sizzler race day but it was a poncho and welly boots the sun had on rather than a hat, with the weather more boo hoo than hip-hip-hip hooray.

It became obvious fairly early on during the drive to Ayrshire that conditions would be far from sizzling but that did not dampen the spirits of me or my Uncle Russell, my fellow punter for the afternoon. Our first stop was not the betting ring, however.

Instead, we were treated to lunch, of both the liquid and solid variety, at the Western House Hotel. We arrived just minutes before our hosts for the day, Craig and Claire, and, after handshakes and hellos all round, the doors to the dining room were opened and the first glasses of wine of the afternoon picked up.

We were seated just a couple of furlongs from the finishing line, overlooking the pristine garden area where wedding ceremonies are conducted in the heart of Burns country. None of the thoroughbreds would suffer the same fate as dear old Maggie in Tam o' Shanter, thankfully.

With a couple of hours until the off, there was plenty of time to sample the fine food on offer. The buffet was plentiful, each of us making the most of the time we had in the plush surroundings to delve through the cold starters, carvery mains and tempting desserts that got the day off to a more than satisfying start.

Before we knew it, it was time to leave the comfort of the dining room, brave the wind and rain, and make the short journey to the track. The climatic conditions would cause different headaches for different types of race-goers. While some were left to ponder the effect the deluge would have on the going, officially declared as good and then changed from good to soft after the first race, others were more concerned about how to keep dresses dry, shoes out of puddles and hair-dos in the condition they were before they left the house.

I am normally one for watching the action unfold in the flesh rather than on a television but exceptions can be made, with a table and drinks inside the main stand providing the ideal shelter and vantage point to watch the action unfold after taking to the stands to see the first race of the meeting. The crowds kept well back to the rear of the grandstand but one gentlemen, looking like he was out on a one-man stag do, beer in hand, sunglasses on and complete with a green-wig, braved Mother Nature as Chadic eased to victory in the 2.30 to get my afternoon off to a flyer.

Thereafter, we remained ensconced in the suite inside. A quick gallop outside to the betting ring to part with some of my hard-earned cash was followed by return trips to collect my winnings, Dark Crystal and Maracuja completing a hat-trick for jockey Joe Fanning and myself in the next two races. I should have known that all good things come to an end, however.

The hot streak was halted shortly after 4pm as Jinky failed to show the same turn of foot as his Celtic namesake and Scottish trainer Jim Goldie got off the mark with Goninodaethat. The name could not have been more apt.

From then on, it was all downhill, in terms of taking a few quid from the bookies, as Tadalavil, Escape to Glory and Eilean Mor, none of which carried the added weight of my hopes and stake, were first past the post. Ears pricked and tails flailing, they received a pat on the neck for their efforts and their respective riders a memento to mark their success. Time for celebration is short, however, with the next silks to be put on and ride to be mounted quickly after, as those fleeting moments of joy are chased in a bid to make the early morning rise, constant battle with their weight and thousands of miles on the road all seem worthwhile.

While we return to the hotel bar to wait for our lift home, the jockeys head for their next meeting, the horses are ushered into their boxes and their owners and trainers ponder where it all went wrong or are left satisfied with a job well done.

We will do it all again. Hopefully some sunny day.

FIVE OTHER HORSEY ACTIVITIES

Showjumping

A favourite of the royals, this is an event for beginners or budding Olympic champions, such as Zara Phillips, who claimed silver at London 2012. British Showjumping organise around 4200 events each year, many of these north of the border, with the most prestigious - the Royal International Horse Show, Horse of the Year Show and Olympia - gaining increased coverage in recent years. http://www.britishshowjumping.co.uk/region/scotland/news

Dressage

Another event that saw medal success in the Olympics two years ago, dressage showcases horsemanship on a far different scale to the hustle and bustle of a race day. There are a number of clubs across the country that allow beginners to take their first ride in the saddle, with horses and people of all abilities given the chance to participate all year round. http://www.scottishdressagegroup.org.uk

Pony trekking

From wanders through the glens to blasts along the beach, this is one of the more unusual ways of discovering Scotland's stunning landscape. Treks can last from an afternoon to a several day excursion. Unsurprisingly, it is to the Highlands were most people head, with centres in Newtonmore and Gairloch two of the most popular for those intent on exploring Scotland on horseback. http://www.visitscotland.com/see-do/activities/horse-riding/trails-pony-...

Riders of the Storm

One of the more extravagant events, Riders of the Storm is Scotland's equestrian stunt team. Instead of using cars or motorcycles, this is a different type of horse power, with riders performing, jumps, tricks, flips and an array of stunts on their faithful and well-trained animals. http://www.ridersofthestorm.co.uk/trick_riding_shows_scotland

Scottish Horse Show

Held over two days at Ingliston, this show attracts many of the top names and horses from the equestrian world. Prizes are handed out in an array of categories for horses and handlers young and old. It is an event that showcases the best in the business on our doorstep. http://www.scottishhorseshow.com

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