Getting your goat

England’s oldest racecourse is in Chester, a small city a few hours North of London. It’s surrounded by Roman walls. The grass is perfect. There is lots of champagne. And ladies in small feathered hats. And beer. The course is called the Grand Roodee. I’m not sure why, but it does sound grander than calling it a racecourse. I am actually here to attend a conference of the Linnean Society and The Society for the History of Natural History at the Chester Zoo. But the day after the conference ended was raceday and since I have been wanting to find out if the expression “to get your goat” is really about stealing the goat-companions of racehorses the night before they race (in order to make them so frazzled that they falter on the course), I thought I’d stay.

It was “Roman Day” at the racecourse. I was told by a taxi driver that this meant there would be chariots. I didn’t see those but I did see lots of drunk men in togas wanting to show off what was under them. And also gladiators posted at all the entrances, most of whom looked exhausted. The area with all of the people (and horses) who could answer my questions about companion goats, anxiety and racing were extremely off limits. So instead I made friends with a man whose job is to televise the race on jumbo television screens posted around the course (Hi Graham) and he tells me he is going to ask questions on my behalf, in the jockey dining room. In the mean time, there is this Sports Illustrated article “Animal Magnetism: Skittish racehorses tend to calm down when given goats as pets” and I am pretty sure this is also on topic:

In 1907, the New York Times ran this article on Miss Edna Jackson….

ps. Stag Party fellows–here’s that photo I promised you! (right click to download)

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