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Horses, Gambling, and Drinking; Review of a St Andrews Tradition

On the bucket list of events to attend before leaving St Andrews, horse races are near the top. Once a semester, the group Invades provides students at select Scottish Universities with the opportunity to attend races at the Musselburgh course for a small fee of £30 (or £18 without transportation). The day can be trusted to include cloudy skies, Pimms pitchers, gambling, a variety of flat caps and tweed, and of course, horse racing. The most recent race, however, had a few new elements added to the mix.

On Sunday, 17 September, students lined up outside Madras Rugby Club at 11am to board buses for the hour-and-a-half drive to the race course located just outside of Edinburgh. The line to simply enter the races looped around the fences for the boys, but there was a separate, shorter line for girls which only lasted a minute. The DJ booth was the first thing we saw in the middle of the empty field next to the race course. At most Invades events, the DJ is situated under a large white tent beyond the food and drink stands, this time, however, a different type of entertainment occupied the space, The Clip Clop Zone.

This fenced-in zone attracted a new demographic to the races: children. Inside was loud music and adults dressed up as Batman, Wonder Woman, a transformer, and Spiderman dancing for the families. Behind it was a carousel and another carnival ride reserved strictly for children and their parents. This element of youth and whimsy served as a stark contrast to the adults and students drinking and gambling next door.

This abundance of families, however, did not prevent students from enjoying their time to the fullest. People were seen holding £35 pitchers of Pimms (only £25 if the pitcher was returned) while waiting for the next race to begin. Students dressed in what Nicholas Nassuphis, the head representative for Invades in St Andrew’s, described as “hunting attire.” A horse race regular, Nassuphis described the unofficial dress code as consisting of tweed jackets, country caps, riding boots, heels, and blazers.

As the races began, crowds flocked to the fence for a glimpse of the horses running by. Betting was taken both seriously and unseriously by participants. Some people considered the odds shown on the betting screens or put money on multiple horses per race. Others simply picked the horse with the most appealing name such as ‘Eternal Sunshine’ or ‘Spanish Hustle.’ Afterwards, viewers would either collect their money from the betting booths or put down more for the next race. This cycle continued for a few hours before the buses were ready to take students back at 6 p.m. While most students waited eagerly for a bus to take them away from the cold to warm rooms and cosy pyjamas, some decided to stay for the DJ set.

Compared to other out-of-town events, the Invades races come at a reasonable price for a full-day excursion. Nassuphis reported that ‘437 tickets with transportation were sold,’ and he hopes to see that number grow next semester.’ For whatever reason you buy a ticket, horse races are a St Andrews tradition and a must-do at least once in your four years here.

Photo: Lizzie Rosenman

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