I was sitting on the grandstand at Hawkesbury Races on Saturday when it struck me that I have been going to the races at irregular intervals for more than 40 years.
That's a very scary thought. I don't feel 40. I certainly don't feel 50, which, according to my birth certificate, I am.
I was ten when Mum finally bowed to my ceaseless pleas and took me to Rosehill to see Gunsynd, the Goondiwindi Grey, in action.
Back then the races were about betting and horses. People shuffled en masse from the parade ring to the betting ring then up to the stand or down to the rails to watch the race.
Now it seems the races are, for many, strictly about the social scene. About drinking a LOT, and for young women, wearing bum freezer skirts and ridiculous shoes. Fashion has always played a part at the races, but now for many of the younger racegoing set the races are about being seen rather than having a punt.
I watched several groups of young women down bottles of bubbly on Saturday. One group just in front of me on the stand didn't move all day aside from replenishing the bubbly supplies. I never saw them have a bet or brandish a tote or bookie ticket. I suppose that's a good thing; gambling can ruin your life if you get in over your head or spend more than you earn.
I'm a small punter - $5 each way is about my limit. But I know that when I'm betting with a bookie or the tote, a percentage of my bet is being fed back into the racing industry. I think the TAB gives 10% back to Racing NSW. So betting is like making a charitable donation but with the chance of winning it back several times over. :-) (And a big thank you here to Mouro, who won at 8/1 for me!)
But, as usual, I digress.
Back to the girls. Racewear has evolved, for those under 25 - and scarily for some women near my age - to dresses which barely cover your bum and which hug every curve on your body. If you are very young and slim this is fine, but leaves you a little exposed when you climb the stairs on the grandstand. (And do remember girls about how to sit like a lady with your knees together. Please.) If you are, like some of the girls, bigger than a size 12 you look bloody ridiculous. All the fake tan in the world - and there were orange legs galore on Saturday - can't disguise cellulite, and thighs which wobble when you walk are much better covered up with fabric.
As for the platform shoes... girls clunked along on their platforms like giraffes taking their first steps, stiff legged, descending the stairs with a death grip on the handrails, their head plumage - the inevitable fascinator - bobbing with each careful tread. By the end of the day girls were kicking off the heels and walking barefoot through the car park - another look which just doesn't cut the mustard. I'm so glad I've grown out of following fashion with the slavish neediness of a late teen (I was wearing a charcoal grey knit dress that sits just above the knee, with knee high flat boots; practical for galloping to and from the bookies' ring).
Another thing that doesn't really suit delicate party frocks is tattoos. Big ones. Little delicate ones... yeah, they look cool for the most part. But imagine a pretty girl in a strappy short dress with a massive tatt on her back and on one thigh too. It looks incongruous. Cheap.
Young guys have started affecting the racing trilby, a hat almost doomed to extinction in recent years and previously only the territory of the aged male racegoer or horse trainer. They don't wear it like the old guys do though; it's teamed with a colourful shirt and co-respondent shoes. And trilbies are available in more interesting colours now. It's nice to a see a guy wear a hat instead of a baseball cap.
A few years ago race clubs were bemoaning the lack of spectators and visitors to the races; they started marketing to the under 35s and so the races have become party territory. Now the race clubs are bemoaning drunken behaviour. It's often the gaggles of bubble-fuelled girls that are the trouble-makers.
Maybe they'll grow out of it; maybe they'll learn a bit about following form, have the odd bet and help the industry. Maybe those with good jobs will become part of a syndicate and own their own racehorse own day.
I am relishing being a Grumpy Old Woman; a curmudgeon. It's not that I don't want to see people having fun. I do! Nobody likes a bottle of bubbly more than I. But the races are the races, not just a party.
Dressing up is fun, and the races are an opportunity to wear clothes and accessories you wouldn't wear to the office. But the races aren't someone's 18th or 21st, held at night until the small hours. I would love to see racewear change and evolve into daywear more stylish than uber-skimpy skirts. All it takes is a couple of racing fashionistas like Kate Waterhouse to start wearing mid-thigh or above the knee skirts instead of bum freezers. Hope you're reading this, Kate.