Hoppegarten is a beautiful old race course just outside Berlin, somewhat past its glory days (owing to the vicissitudes of German twentieth-century history) but still charming. I’ve been going there for years, and though there have been little indicators of fresh investment (smart new signs, posh ladies’ loos) the essential character remains the same. The course is surrounded by woodland and dilapidated old villas and farm buildings, and in the centre of the field there’s an overgrown set of steeplechase fences being slowly reclaimed by nature. The stands are at least a hundred years old, and the commentators’ tower has the rickety-modern look of a DDR construction.
I had a last-minute trip out there with friends on Easter Sunday, and we were all given paper Union Jacks for the Royal Wedding, which everyone waved as the runners sped into the final furlong. The sun shone, the horses were beautiful and our favourite jockey, the Panamanian Eduardo Pedroza was as swaggering and brilliant as usual, keeping up his course record of winning one in three of his races.
What caught my eye was the children’s entertainment. There are usually pony rides, but this Easter Hoppegarten went one better, and provided four very patient white ponies for painting.
As we left I passed what looked like a craft activity table, with children clustered round, shuffling pieces of paper. When I looked more closely I realised that they were all poring over copies of the race card. This then, was ‘Kinderwetten’ or ‘Children’s Betting’, complete with special betting slips and, I suppose, prizes. Start ’em young!
And guess what? Lester Piggott was there too.