A day at Fakenham Races...

They're off!'... if you love horse-racing, and no matter how many times you hear them, the words never lose their special frisson. And even more so if you're on the course in person, with that betting slip clutched tightly in gloved hand, the growing murmur of the crowd and thunder of the hooves adding to the excitement.

Even on a soggy January Monday afternoon, when the going is soft and the back of your neck a little damp despite the umbrella clutched equally firmly in the other hand, that frisson is still there.

But then again, Fakenham racegoers aren't ever going to let a little bit of winter rain get in the way of their enjoyment, as our photographer Ian Burt discovered on Monday, January 17. He took time out from recording the races for the sports pages to capture the flavour of a day at the races.

Look up the bare facts about the Hempton course, just south of the town off the B1146, and you'll find that it's one of two race venues in the county (the other, of course, being 'on the flat' at Great Yarmouth).

In the pecking order of National Hunt courses, it's very much in the 'small country venues' category. But its tight, left-hand track causes its own tricky problems for horse and rider and woe betide those who take it for granted. Small it may be, straightforward it isn't.

And there's something else, something rather special about the course. It has a friendly atmosphere all of its own, a wonderful melting pot for people from all backgrounds and classes, where the landed country toff rubs shoulders with the old boy from down the village.

Whether they've arrived by helicopter or beat-up ancient Ford Escort, all are united by their love of the sport. Clutching carefully-annotated racecards, EDPs and Racing Posts, their choices ringed with an emphatic swirl of ballpoint pen (just to make absolutely sure), they head for the Tote or the on-course bookies, convinced that this time their flutter really will come romping home.

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The triumph of optimism over experience? Maybe.

But then again, as all racegoers know, there's nothing like a winner to give you that weather-beating glow.

The next meeting at the Hempton course is on Sunday January 30, with the first race at 1.55pm.

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