#OffTheBridle with J.T McCoy - J.T drinks in the atmosphere at Wimbledon
Tennis: J.T McCoy staggers us through his day at The All England Club
Last Friday seems a long time ago. I vaguely recall UAE King steaming home at Sandown to give a welcome boost to the coffers ahead of Coral Eclipse day – hope everyone followed me in on that one.
The feature itself on the Saturday proved to be an absolute belter with Barney Roy and Ulysses fighting out one of the most thrilling finishes you will ever see, the latter prevailing by a neck. If you have read my first ever article on TSB, you will know that I absolutely love a strong traveller, and looking at the Eclipse field 2 furlongs from home, you would have seen them all flat to the boards apart from Jim Crowley, motionless on Ulysses. An incredible sight, and it looked as though he would go on to win comfortably, but he did not bank on Barney Roy showing the kind of spirit and determination that will surely lead to more top flight success to add to his Royal Ascot win last month. My pick for the race, Decorated Knight, looked to hold every chance turning in for home but was hampered – his challenge had probably gone though as Ulysses cantered past.
More horse-racing to follow in the next few days as we look ahead to the July meeting at Newmarket and what could be, in the July Cup, the race of the year.
Wimbledon : A Grand day out
With a bit of cash left over from UAE King’s romp, I headed to Wimbledon on Monday for my annual fix of the gentile and charming atmosphere of the All England Club. I had half an eye on comparing the experience to the Cheltenham Festival, although they are two very different beasts.
My partner in crime for the day was my oldest friend, a cracking bloke with a seemingly unquenchable thirst. It’s always a decent session when he’s around.
Here’s how the day went…timings become less reliable as the days wears on. If you are venturing to SW19, don’t feel you need to use this itinerary as a template….
11.30am – Quick livener in the Old Fields pub in Southfields.
11.45am – Quick livener in some ridiculous tennis-themed pop up bar in Southfields. It had a caviar menu, FFS.
12 noon – Arrived at grounds, waited 10 minutes in queue for bag search, a security measure I am more than happy to undergo given that the world has gone mad. Early discussion on how odd it is that Boris Becker has been declared bankrupt.
12.15 – Took up position on Court 3 – cracked open obligatory bottle of bubbly. Had to drink it quickly, before it went warm.
13.30 – Met up with friend who works for the Beeb, manage to coerce him into allowing us into his ‘office’ on Centre Court to watch the first set of Andy Murray v Benoit Paire later.
14.30 - Lament Murray’s seemingly poor form but spot David Haye and Carl Froch in the Royal Box.
15.30 – To the Long Bar (opposite the tea lawn, darling) for a couple of Nelson Mandelas, then back to Court 3. Watched some excellent tennis between Dominic Thiem and Thomas Berdych. Discussed irrational hatred of Berdych, on a par with Lewis Hamilton, John Torode and Darren from Hollyoaks.
16.00 – Cried with laughter at being able to shout “Come on Thiem” as if it were our very own Tiger Tim on court. Everyone else around us definitely found that hilarious, even after the 18th time, definitely.
17.00 – Food, much needed food. No queue in food court underneath Centre – almost went for the Chicken Phad Thai but had a last-minute panic that it might give me food poisoning (no idea why) and went for a burger instead, which wasn’t too bad at all.
17.30 – Started to flag, laid heavy by the rapid intake of fatty food. Decided that a lie down was in order. Headed for Henman Hill / Murray Mount / Konta Canyon (just made that one up, but it could work).
Found a nice little spot with a partial view of the big screen which was showing what would end up being a Wimbledon classic – Rafael Nadal v Giles Muller. Nodded off successfully, only to be awoken by my mate who’d purchased a couple more Uri Gellers. Time to power on through
Sometime between 19.00 and 20.00 – Left the grounds and walked back to Southfields (where my mate handily happens to live). Quick stop in the Old Fields to top and tail the day and to sample something a bit less premium. Couple of Amstels – no-one get hurts there.
Around 20.00 – 21.00 possibly – Headed to the Earl Spencer for a final beverage and discussed potential dinner options. McDonalds delivery through UberEats wins – classy. Caught an Uber home as the five minute walk felt like a marathon.
22.00 ish – Ate aforementioned junk food (the fries don’t travel). Large scale confusion as to why ‘Today at Wimbledon’ wasn’t on. Turned out to be a fairly simple explanation – it had finished. Still difficult to compute.
Game, Set and Match – Wimbledon.
In summary – a cracking day, but how does it rate to a day at the Cheltenham Festival? Tennis v Horse Racing. Who wins? I decide.
Here’s a useful-ish comparison:
Wimbledon: Tricky, very tricky. Tickets are available through ballots (run by the LTA and the AELTC). Plenty of corporate tickets available also if you happen to move in those circles. Helps if you know, or are married to, people who work(ed) in tennis.
Some people enjoy camping overnight in Wimbledon park and joining ‘the queue’. Very odd, but an option nonetheless. Limited number of show court tickets available through queueing.
If you are lucky enough to win tickets to Centre Court, you’re looking at over £200 a pair. If you’re lucky with the scheduling, that could seem like a bargain.
Cheltenham: Plenty of tickets available and if you purchase well in advance, a healthy discount to be had. Prices are steep if you go for enclosures with better views and facilities, but again, if you’re lucky and you happen to be there on a day history is made, or a particular race turns out to be a classic, it’s well worth it.
Wimbledon: Easy. Well connected by train, underground and buses. It’s a well-oiled machine is Wimbledon. Parking available, but not so much to the great unwashed. One must have a permit and who knows where you get those from.
Cheltenham: Fairly easy. Bit more chaotic than SW19 as almost everyone comes from the same direction, making Cheltenham Spa station and the buses from there to the track, rather busy at times. Plenty of parking for those that want to drive.
Wimbledon: Unique – laid back, relaxing, entertaining.
Cheltenham: Unique – nothing beats that roar at the start of the Supreme Novices Hurdle on Day 1.
Wimbledon: A generally well-healed set mixed with Joe Public, who might or might not be tennis fans and who might just want to experience what they have seen on the Beeb for the past 90 years. Quite a few corporates (the empty seats on Centre Court!).
Cheltenham: Predominantly people who love horse-racing. Not too many ‘neutrals’. Plenty of Irish folk, and they really make the difference.
Food and drink:
Wimbledon: Expensive. Plenty of choice, good quality and favourable queues while matches are taking place on Centre and Court 1. You can take drinks and food onto courts with you.
Cheltenham: Expensive, but slightly more reasonable than Wimbers. Great selection of food available. Long queues most of the day, especially as soon as each race finished. No drinks allowed onto the actual track itself, which is rather frustrating as no other race meeting in the UK, that I’m aware of, enforces such a rule.
It has to be a draw. Predictable I know, but both are events that define their respective sports and both are a fantastic day out, whether you’re a hardcore fan of the sport or just fancy experiencing a very special sporting atmosphere.
I’ve been going to both for over 15 years and still get the same buzz from watching a five set thriller as watching two horses jumping the last together and fighting it out up the hill.
One thing is for sure – we are incredibly lucky to have these world-renowned sporting events taking place every year in our country. Not even Brexit can change that!