Every time the packed sky train would stop at Rajadamri station, I’d find myself wistfully staring at a wide swath of manicured lawns and fountains curiously located right in the middle of Bangkok’s downtown of concrete and glass. Strangely, I never saw any people enjoying this veritable oasis. No parents pushing prams. No lovers strolling hand in hand.
I soon discovered that it was a race track, or more accurately, the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. It was only fitting that in my own homestretch of a three month job in Bangkok that I was invited to dinner at the venerable club which has hosted horse racing for more than a century.
I found it interesting how much horse racing has crept into the vernacular. Aside from the common race-related expressions like “home stretch”, “win by a nose” and to be “off and running”, there’s also to win “hands down”, the practice in which a jockey drops his hands and relaxes the reins when victory is certain, and “across the board”, referring to a bet where an equal amount of money is placed on a horse to finish in any top winning position.
Now, I’ve never been a gambling man. And the total sum of my knowledge of horse racing has been gleaned from movies like Seabiscuit and that Disney movie about the racing zebra. But, always interested in experiencing new things, I made it a point to arrive an hour early to catch the races. My semi-delusional, Hollywood-inspired vision of ascots, polka dots and oversized hats very soon gave way to a much more pedestrian scene of mostly middle-aged men poring over racing forms, passing the 20 minutes or so between races, followed by 10 seconds of very loud cheering.
While the masses sat in the concrete stadium littered with lost betting slips and cigarette butts, members sipped drinks under a striped awning right by the greens, only really showing animation when the ponies thundered down the track.
After a dinner that included scrumptious duck laab salad, the lazy Sunday afternoon at the races seemed a fitting way to end my stay here in Bangkok, a city that is desperately exciting in frenzied bursts, polished and shiny for a privileged few, but in the end, leaves you watching and waiting with few walking away as winners and the gap between the haves and have-nots as clear as a striped green awning on a bright sunny afternoon.