No matter where in the world you go racing, you’ll always see style. Derby day in Budapest was certainly no different. What was missing was the crowd.
The Curragh, home to the Irish Derby, is guaranteed to be packed to the seams on Derby day. The city of Louisville in Kentucky has been hosting the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs racecourse for 135 years. The city itself takes on a carnival atmosphere during Derby week. As for the whole of Australia… when Melbourne Cup day comes around, the country comes to a standstill and for a few glorious minutes, the nation is united in one loud cheer. (Billed as the ‘race that stops the nation’, I was reminded of this recently when I saw an old episode of Inspector Morse when Morse and Lewis visit a small town in the outback only to find it deserted – everyone is in the pub watching the race!)
In Budapest last Sunday, everyone was somewhere else, too. KIncsem Park was practically empty. Okay, so maybe the weather had a part to play. Fantastic thunder and lightning storms started the day and torrential downpours took us into early afternoon. At mass that morning, a massive lightning strike through the stained glass window lit up the priest as he lifted the Host for consecration. Amazing stuff. Still though, it did brighten up and the day was fine – but the people were missing.
KP can hold about 10,000 people so you can imagine how it looked with about a tenth of that. It’s a strange place that apparently makes a sizeable loss year on year and yet stays open. Wonder what business model they’re using! There is no entrance fee (contrast that to the €25 you pay to get in the gate to the Curragh on Derby day) and the minimum bet is just 200 HUF (less than €1). It’s tote betting only; there are no bookies, so in this respect it does lack a certain atmosphere. Half the fun for me at home was finding the right chap offering the right odds for the right horse in the right race. Still, mastering the Hungarian tote system was a challenge.
Tét – win (your horse comes first)
Hely – place (your horse comes first, second or third)
Befutó – exacta (you pick the first two horses past the post in the right order – no messing around here!)
Hármas befutó – trifecta (you pick the first three horses in the right order – the money spinner)
I had a blast. I had treated myself to a corporate day out (ironic really, as I am the corporation) with the Irish Hungarian Business Circle so had a VIP pass, lunch, wine, perfect vantage point, great seat and 10 races on the card. Did I mention the wine??? The highlight of my day was when the cup was awarded. The whole place stood to attention for the Hungarian National Anthem and you could have heard a pin drop. It was particularly poignant because Garabonciás (the Derby winner) has an Irish Dad – Black Sam Bellamy, and an Irish mother – Green Seed. Somehow it seemed rather fitting. Mind you, for all that, I hadn’t backed him. When I was down at the parade ring, No. 8, Lord Darsy, looked straight at me and winked… enough said!