When W.B. Yeats imagined his ideal society, an aristocratic world where poets would be celebrated, and surrounded by ‘hearers and hearteners of the work’, the one place where it could be glimpsed was the racecourse: ‘There, where the course is,’ he wrote in ‘At Galway Races’, ‘delight makes all of the one mind.’ A peculiarly Irish vision maybe, with a racecourse seemingly around every bend in Ireland, but it holds true to an extent in this country, too. Here the racecourse is still the place of entertainment and work for all classes, although the extent to which they are all of the one mind is questionable. Certainly a sizeable chunk of the crowd, the gentlemen with the big satchels, and all their attendant helpers, are intent on relieving the rest of as much of their disposable income as they can. The punters are just as determined to make the cash flow in the other direction, but the odds are, literally, against them.
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[*] Portway, 470 pp., £26, 17 October 1996, 0 900599 89 8.