'It feels normal again' - why it's so glorious to be back at the races

A young boy watches a horse race from his father's shoulders at Fakenham Racecourse

A young boy watches a horse race from his father's shoulders at Fakenham Racecourse - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

The coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns robbed us of many of life's great joys. 

Those simple pleasures - a pint down the pub with friends, trips to the cinema or that weekly routine of going to the football - were all cruelly snatched away.

Action from Fakenham Racecourse's Jarrold Ladies Raceday

Action from Fakenham Racecourse's Jarrold Ladies Raceday - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

Another much-missed activity was spending a day at the races which, for many, is an annual tradition or favourite pastime. 

Horse racing developed a curious association with Covid after the virus broke out, with critics labelling the Cheltenham Festival of March 2020 as a 'super-spreader' event that should not have been allowed to take place. 

More than two years later, it has begun to feel normal again for racegoers to don their finest gladrags, mingle in big crowds and soak up the action.

Look no further than Fakenham Racecourse's Jarrold Ladies Raceday, which on Sunday (May 22) was attended by thousands of punters in a host of colourful dresses and elaborate hats - with a few smart suits for good measure.

A group of women getting ready to place their bets on Ladies Day at Fakenham Racecourse

A group of women getting ready to place their bets on Ladies Day at Fakenham Racecourse - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

For Penny Chapman, who lives in Briston, near Fakenham, attending Ladies Day has become something of a ritual. 

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After two years away (Ladies Day in 2021 had a limited capacity), she was simply pleased to be back.

"I was a regular until Covid hit. I've probably been coming for more than 10 years," said Penny. 

"I look out for it on the schedule straight away and I've been gutted it's pretty much been cancelled for the last couple of years.

Penny Chapman, from Briston, is a vision in red at Fakenham Racecourse's Ladies Day

Penny Chapman, from Briston, is a vision in red at Fakenham Racecourse's Ladies Day - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

"For me, Ladies Day is probably the most exciting day in the social calendar. I just absolutely love it and love Fakenham - it's brilliant."

Also capturing the mood was Sue Bloom, who lives near Wisbech and came with her friend, Julia.

She added: "We've been to Newmarket in the past and we're regulars at ladies day there, but we had always wanted to come here. It's just nice to get out and enjoy the occasion.

Sue Bloom with her friend, Julia, at Fakenham Races Ladies Day

Sue Bloom with her friend, Julia, at Fakenham Races Ladies Day - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

"It's brilliant to get back out and to be in a big crowd of people. It feels normal again."

Friends Lucy Kingston and Susan Cormack, from Fakenham, were similarly enthusiastic about returning to the races. 

The pair said they had been looking forward to Ladies Day for months, undertaking an exhaustive process to find exactly the right attire. 

"We live locally, so we're regulars here," added Lucy. "When an event like this happens it's so nice because it brings everyone together. 

Susan Cormark (left) and Lucy Kingston at Fakenham Races Ladies Day

Susan Cormark (left) and Lucy Kingston at Fakenham Races Ladies Day - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

"We look out for this date every year. We've had it in the diary for months, but then it took ages to get the right dresses!"

And for Susan, a love for the races has already been passed on to the next generation. 

She said: "My little girl is here too and she's already come to the races a lot. She absolutely loves it."

While heading to Ladies Day was like getting back into a routine for some punters, others found themselves breaking relatively new ground.

A horse being paraded to punters on Ladies Day at Fakenham

A horse being paraded to punters on Ladies Day at Fakenham - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

It was a family affair for Leonora Norris, who came along with her husband Steven, son Richard and grandchildren Thea and Persephone.

"Richard is a regular, but the rest of us not so much," said Leonora. 

"We've just come for the day out really. It's the first chance we've had to get dressed up for a while and we're all enjoying the sunshine.

"It's nice for the children as well to come out and have a fun day, and see the horses up close. 

"We've not done ladies day before, but we'd definitely come again. It's a great atmosphere and nice to see so many people have made an effort."

Katrina Temple, Ian Temple, Chloe Rissen, Chris Cracknell, Jemma Appleton-Barnes and Gareth Appleton-Barnes at Fakenham Races

From L to R: Katrina Temple, Ian Temple, Chloe Rissen, Chris Cracknell, Jemma Appleton-Barnes and Gareth Appleton-Barnes at Fakenham Races - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

Meanwhile, Chris Cracknell - from the Fakenham area - admitted a day at the races had proved the perfect opportunity for he and friends to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet.

Chris added: "We were actually out on a walk and decided we'd come to ladies day - without the kids! I sat down, ordered the tickets and we made it here for a lovely day."

Jemma Appleton-Barnes, another member of the group, said: "For me, it's all about the dresses and the hats. It was a pretty long process for me; trying to get everything to match is quite tricky."

A bookmaker taking bets at Fakenham Races Ladies Day

A bookmaker taking bets at Fakenham Races Ladies Day - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

Evidently, a big part of the racing experience is having the occasional flutter, but beating the bookies is far from the be all and end all at Fakenham.

Sara Westwood, who lives in Aylsham and visited the racecourse with friends, said: "I'm not a particularly lucky person but you can't worry about that! We just come for the fun."

Lucy added: "We tend to go for the outsiders and, if it doesn't come in, we've still had a good day."

Sophie Bray, Sue Underhill-Smith, Lauren Westwood, Sara Westwood and Trudi Bradley at Fakenham Races Ladies Day 2022

From L to R: Sophie Bray, Sue Underhill-Smith, Lauren Westwood, Sara Westwood and Trudi Bradley at Fakenham Races Ladies Day 2022 - Credit: Ella Wilkinson