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Alex Salmond: How I got into horse racing…

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond

It all began with a wonder horse called Arkle – and a lifelong passion for the race track was born, which led him to organise Scotland’s first royal race meeting with the Duke of Rothesay.

Alex Salmond’s joy at the races was obvious as we spoke: his eyes lit up, he smiled with pleasure and became excited in a boyish way.

Perhaps this was because he was just nine years old when an uncle captured his imagination with talk of Irish race horse Arkle, which went on to become a racing legend.

The former first minister remembers it well: “I put half a crown on, and got 7/6 back. I was really, really pleased and thought this is the sport for me – the sport of kings.

“That was my first bet on and I came to the conclusion that this was something that happened every time – you put your half-crown on and got more money back. This is easy.

“However it turned out there was a wee bit more to it than that.”

Mr Salmond is fascinated by how betting works. He never spoke of what he thought the odds were for winning the “referendum stakes”, but he felt he was favourite on the day.

“Folk like my uncle owned dogs because he couldn’t afford to own a racehorse. We would have loved to have owned a racehorse.

“He was interested in racing as many working people are, and right through society to Her Majesty the Queen, who I have spoken to about racing on many, many occasions.

“It captures something which few other sports do. There are bits of it I could give or take – I’ve never been to Ascot and I don’t think I ever will. But I’ll go to Cheltenham. It’s amazing.”

Betting, of course, carries a dark side and many potential pitfalls.

“If I’m at a race meeting, I’ll put a bet on for the fun of it. It’s not something I would ever suggest that someone does seriously unless you wanted to take it very, very seriously. You should treat it as a hobby.”

At various times, he’s written racing columns and is proud of his “spectacular” 50% win rate.

“When I became first minister, I realised that it wasn’t going to be possible to continue my racing column. You can survive a lot in politics, but a run of losing naps is difficult to explain.”

Scotland’s first ever royal race meeting came about in 2011 as a result of a collaboration with Prince Charles.

“I’ve got a huge amount of time for Prince Charles and he does great causes,” he said.

They decided on Perth as the venue to raise money for charity.

“We raised a mighty sum.

“We were planning a television interview with Prince Charles, but when we got there his advisers were less keen on an interview – being a bit overprotective.

“So what I did was when it was time to present the trophy, which the prince was presenting for the race, I introduced him and said that the prince would like to say a few words.

“I handed him the microphone. Now, he was brilliant. He was absolutely great, considering I handed him the microphone without any warning.

“There was a huge number of folk round the ring and live television. He did a great speech, impromptu and witty and on the spot.

“You asked me about risk-taking – there’s an example.”

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