Race Night

Tonight we will be having our Pancakes and Race Night in the Church Hall, just before it falls down.

I know a lot of people have encountered Race Nights with videos and proper betting slips, but I like many are slightly suspicious of these: what if someone has watched them beforehand? Also, they cost money, and we are frugal. I therefore present to you a Race Night which is cheap, lots of family fun (which is, I think you’ll agree the whole point of these), makes a serious amount of money for your parish and gets the whole community involved.


  • Masking Tape (lots of it) to mark out a straight track, 6 lanes and about 19 or 20 steps
  • Two large bits of square foam to act as dice. It is best if one is coloured sides and one is marked as a die. You can buy oversized dice on t’internet.
  • Six wooden hobby horses for the young people to ride, in the primary colours shown on the dice and the sheet.
  • Six books of raffle tickets, preferably in colours which match the colours of the horses and the dice
  • A laptop with my Excel spreadsheet on it (see below)

  • Some markers to act as hurdles or obstacles. I used to use paper places but now use the plastic markers used for football training.
  • Some laminated cards with coloured horses on to signify ‘ownership’ of a horse for a given race.
  • Someone who is prepared to talk up the event, auction off the horses for a shameless amount of money and whip up the enthusiasm during the races. The Vicar works well for this one. I have seen such events compared by someone quiet, and it needs a bit of extrovertism to get the bets, the bids and the thing going. A microphone is a good idea as it kills the throat, and Mass must be said tomorrow.

Optional Extras:

  • A shedload of alcohol and some nice food: tonight will be pancakes, later in the year will be Curry
  • A bit of change for the first few races

Unlike the filmed race nights, the outcome is entirely down to the dice, so is completely random and therefore more fun. By using young people (and for one race, the over 60’s)  the children feel really involved. More than six children? Two more to throw the dice and vary the jockeys. This is especially good when families are shamed into purchasing tickets for their own child, and especially the desire to ‘own’ the horse that their child is riding. Encourage the buying of lots of tickets per race.

Sell tickets for each race, for each horse and enter the number sold in the right box, so in this shot, 4 red tickets sold, 10 yellow tickets. At a ticket price of 25p each, you can see how much each winning horse might win. As you can see a winning ticket can be worth between 60p and £1.45 per ticket. It all depends on how many people bet on a given horse.

Auction off each horse at the beginning of each race. Get the bidding to be part of the excitement. If tables make a syndicate between themselves, they might be bidding for up to £30 or £40 to own it: the more bid, the much better the return. I have seen winning horses make £80-100 or more.

Have you noticed however, the house takes 50% of everything and even this makes it an excellent return for the punter. For every pound paid out as winnings, the parish gets a pound. This applies to the auction as well, so the total amount bid in the auction is halved and the house takes half and the ‘owner’ gets the other half.

This is how we in our small and poor parish can raise £750 in one of these nights. If people come expecting to spend the £20 in their pocket (which is what people normally do – you bring along so much and expect it to be spent by the end of the evening), then they get a full evening of entertainment for it. Their children have a great time, the food is good and good money will be raised for the parish.

Oh, you might say, that is gambling! That is sinful! Do you know? If it raises £750 for the parish, then I don’t care. It is closer to a raffle than a horse race, a tombola than a casino. We don’t have a problem, and neither should you.

So, please feel free to download the spreadsheet, adopt adapt and improve it, and have a lot of fun in the process!