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Book Review

From Aintree to York: Racing Around Britain
by Stephen Cartmell
Bantam Books, May 2006, 496 pages paperback

Every racing fan who has traveled to other venues outside his or her own circuit will tell you that each track is unique. The scenery, the people, the layout of the physical plant and racing surfaces, and the food all combine to create an environment unlike any other track you may have been to. Unfortunately, many American tracks do have some degree of "sameness" to them, but this cannot be said of British facilities. In his book From Aintree to York, travel writer and university lecturer Stephen Cartmell visits each of the 59 racecourses in Great Britain to tell the reader about his experiences at each.

Far from just a travel guide, Cartmell gives each racecourse its own chapter, but rather than simply give the basics like admission prices, directions, and race dates, he gives an entertaining yet painstakingly detailed first-hand account of the day he actually visited. Using a typical example, he'll talk about how difficult a course was to find, how bad the traffic jam was on the way to the track, how long a walk it was from the parking lot, what weird promotions the track might have been offering that day (giveaways, sideshow entertainment, etc), and then ultimately, talk about the building and his impressions of it, how the courses are laid out (English courses are not all left-hand ovals like in America), the quality of the racing product, and finally, how difficult it was to leave. He'll often chat up fellow race-goers or racecourse staff to get their opinions which he also quotes in the book. Interestingly, he saves his most scathing remarks for racecourses which conduct all-weather races on Polytrack, lamenting this "Americanization" of British racing. To him, racing is not legitimate unless it is on turf and preferably over jumps.

The reader not only learns about British racing and their racecourses, but also a lot about British culture in general, as racing crowds there like here really are a microcosm of society, with people from all walks of life in attendance to enjoy a day at the races. Thanks to Cartmell's irreverent critique of British racing and British society, the book is a very entertaining read indeed, as he gently pokes fun at the very things and people that make British racing the colorful spectacle it is.

This book is recommended to anyone who already frequents British racecourses or is contemplating a racing trip "across the pond". But even those who don't fit these two categories will enjoy Cartmell's writing style, very fitting for a satirical exploration of quintessential British life, and having read what he has to say, may suddenly feel the urge to make travel plans to the many places he both compliments and insults in the same breath.

From Aintree to York has a list price of 7.99 and is available for 6.39 (about $12 US) from Amazon.co.uk or $16.68 (about $15 US) from Amazon.ca.

Rating:     4.5/5

For travelling to race tracks in North America, try Horse Racing Coast to Coast by Michael Walmsley and Marlene Smith-Baranzini

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