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The Royal Meeting

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Thursday, 20 June 2013
The Royal Meeting at Ascot is one of the oddest happenings in the entire British year. It is over three hundred years old, so long established and woven into the tapestry of this island life that nobody much stops to question it. But it is packed with curiosity and paradox.

On the one hand, it is billed as a social occasion, and so it is. Every duke and earl and peer is here, as the old song says. Now they are joined by many other princes and lords, from Dubai and Qatar. Oceans of champagne are drunk; there are strawberries everywhere. Certain ladies really do start contemplating their Ascot hats in the month of March. There are illicit meetings in Car Park Number One and flirtations in the Silver Ring.

At the same time, it is a place of some of the fiercest and most professional work you will ever see under the British sun. The trainers might be dressed as if they are going to a wedding, but they are at the office, with millions of pounds in prize money and potential breeding fees riding on their immaculately timed decisions. Like the ladies with the hats, they will have been thinking of Ascot since the first crop of two-year-olds came back from their winter rest. Out in the biting Siberian winds of Newmarket Heath, where headgear is composed of hard helmets and worn flat caps, they will have been plotting and planning and hoping and dreaming.

The jockeys too are at the office. No foie gras and bubbly for them; the taller ones will have been surviving on a morsel of broccoli and chicken with the skin off. Making the weight is such a crucial thing that even a mouthful of water before a race will have to be spat out in case it should tip the scales in the wrong direction.

It is a place of shining modernity. The new stand, the facilities for the horses, even the computerised bookies’ pitches are all state of the art. Yet it is amazingly old-fashioned. The Queen is still driven up the straight mile in a carriage drawn by match greys, whilst the Welsh Guards play the National Anthem on shining trumpets, and gentlemen wave their top hats genteelly at their monarch. It is not so very long ago that the Royal Enclosure refused to admit the divorced. In a quiet corner of the pre-parade ring, the farrier surveys the scene whilst wearing the most traditional tweeds. All the old gentlemen’s clubs have their pitches – White’s, the Turf, the Garrick, the Jockey Club itself, which you cannot join but only be invited to.

Typical Ascot conversation: ‘Let’s go to the Turf Club.’ ‘Yes, let’s.’ The group arrives at the door. Everyone looks at each other. ‘Do you know a member?’ ‘No, I thought you did.’ Pause. ‘Let’s go to the Weatherby’s box instead.’

Some people do treat it as a cocktail party, and will hardly take in the fact that the world’s best horseflesh is assembled for their delectation. Women who cannot tell a hock from a pastern totter about on impossible heels; titans on a corporate jolly are far too busy networking and making billion pound deals to attend to whether John Gosden is in form or not.

But for those who love the thoroughbred, it is the festival to end all festivals. It is the Olympics and the World Cup rolled into one. The real beauty is the equine version. Those glorious brave athletes, with their bloodlines running back to Eclipse and Hyperion and St Simon, fill the eye with an excess of aesthetic pleasure. All of them are brought to their crest and peak for this short, antic week. They are a gallimaufry of shining coats, dancing hooves, intelligent heads, bright eyes. They cast even the most cunningly contrived hat into the shadiest of shades.

I watch it in a mazy haze of delight, like a child at Christmas. Along with Cheltenham, it is my favourite week of the year. From my first glimpse of the Racing Post at 8.30am to the farewell singalong around the bandstand after the last race, it is all holiday with me.

Behind the scenes at Ascot

Posted by Young Ladies About Town
Young Ladies About Town
Fiona Hicks has not set their biography yet
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on Monday, 13 May 2013
One of the great sounds of an English Summer is pounding hooves on turf whilst heady punters cheer their money over the line and champagne corks pop in celebration. But for me, like so many others, it’s all about the horses and names like Frankel and Black Caviar are as revered as equine gods and legends with almost mythical status.

I love getting close to horses and when Ascot held its third annual Free Raceday on 1 May it offered a great opportunity to see behind the scenes and into parts of the world famous racecourse normally restricted to the inner circle of owners, jockeys and stewards.
Kitty-01-590

With the beautiful May sunshine greeting the 20,000 people who had dressed up for the occasion we headed into the parade ring to stand on the winner’s podium and for a brief moment feel what it was like to own a racehorse. Then into the jockey’s weight room to speak to the Clerk of the Scales. Who knew that jockeys could gain so much as 2lb if they ride in rainy and muddy conditions, or conversely can lose a pound or two on sunny days and that any dramatic weight changes could cause instant disqualification.
Kitty-02-590

Next we were taken to the Stewards box directly overlooking the winning post and heard how a series of cameras and mirrors defined who won by a nose, a head or a length; a serious job for a steward considering how many millions are involved in the sport.
Kitty-03-590

Perhaps my favourite titbit though was the story of how the Queen arrives at Royal Ascot from her back garden at Great Windsor Park, up the race course and almost straight into the Royal Box. No-one is allowed in or out at any point during the year and she brings her own food up in Tupperware whilst Prince Phillip watches the cricket in another room. It reminded me of my own Scottish Grandmother, always ready with a tartan flask and packet of cheese sandwiches for any outing. I like to picture Her Majesty, eyes glued to binoculars shouting for her horse to romp home whilst her husband is shouting at England who inevitably are about to lose another wicket.
Kitty-04-590

I like it that for others racing is all about the hats, the champagne and the showing off, but for some of us we are happy with a cheese sandwiches and luke-warm tea as our races are truly all about the horses.

Words and photography by Kitty Buchanan-Gregory

The rain it raineth every day

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 27 June 2012
For every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. This time last week I was roaring home perhaps the greatest racehorse I ever saw, giddy with euphoria, only slightly cross that mere words on a page could not express what I saw. (There is a visceral, elemental nature to horses which means that often they defy prose.) Now I gaze out onto a drowned landscape, everything brown and sodden under a low, grumpy sky.

There are particles of sadness floating in the air. I’m really sad about Nora Ephron dying. Seventy-one is no age; she was so clever and funny and witty and true. She gave an awful lot of pleasure to an awful lot of people, and that’s not a bad thing to be able to say about your life. Someone else who gave pleasure was the young jockey, Campbell Gillies, who won me money and brought me great joy at Cheltenham this year, when Scotland triumphed in the Albert Bartlett, with the lovely Brindisi Breeze. Gillies also died yesterday, in one of those freak accidents that make no sense. (I suppose no dying makes an awful lot of sense, but some makes less than others.)

Crash, crash, back to earth I come.  The sensible great-aunt in me says: spit, spot, this is life. It’s not a carnival ride. The rain rains, and work must be done, and people depart, and that’s how it goes. The not sensible part says: bugger this for a game of soldiers.

I stomp up crossly to the mare. It’s so nasty out that I was not going to do any work with her, but I have some bizarre puritan streak that pushes me on. As if sensing that I need some good news, she is immaculate, at her sweetest and funniest and dearest. She actually rather loves this weather. Too much sunshine is far too vulgar for her grand sensibilities. A low, soft day is her absolute favourite. She is willing and responsive and I get the sudden thrill of achievement.

tania june27

Just as the horse is doing something particularly impressive, my step-niece comes out to feed the chickens. The hens are nearly as grand as the mare, and get the remains of the great-nieces’ porridge for their breakfast. ‘Oh,’ says the step-niece in delight, ‘look what she is doing.’ I feel idiotically proud. I have a witness. See what I can do, with my horse whispery skills. See how clever and brilliant my lovely girl is.

The lovely girl, obviously overcome by her own cleverness, sticks her nose into the silver saucepan and eats all the hens’ porridge. For some reason I find this inexpressibly funny. I never heard of a horse eating porridge before. ‘So Scottish and good for her,’ I say, laughing. The mare nods her head, very pleased with herself. I scratch the velvety spot behind her ears and think this really is much, much cheaper than therapy.

Determined to counter the dreich, I come home and make yellow split pea soup with saffron and drink a pot of coffee so strong that I can feel it jump-starting my brain. On I bash. At least the rain means I don’t have to water the garden. It keeps the flies away from the horses. It means we live in a green and pleasant land, instead of an arid desert. It’s just a little bit of precipitation. Out in the east, beyond the beeches and the Wellingtonias and the venerable oaks, a faint gleam of light appears in the sky.
The rain it raineth every day.

For every reaction there must be an equal and opposite reaction. This time last week I was roaring home perhaps the greatest racehorse I ever saw, giddy with euphoria, only slightly cross that mere words on a page could not express what I saw. (There is a visceral, elemental nature to horses which means that often they defy prose.) Now I gaze out onto a drowned landscape, everything brown and sodden under a low, grumpy sky.

There are particles of sadness floating in the air. I’m really sad about Nora Ephron dying. Seventy-one is no age; she was so clever and funny and witty and true. She gave an awful lot of pleasure to an awful lot of people, and that’s not a bad thing to be able to say about your life. Someone else who gave pleasure was the young jockey, Campbell Gillies, who won me money and brought me great joy at Cheltenham this year, when Scotland triumphed in the Albert Bartlett, with the lovely Brindisi Breeze. Gillies also died yesterday, in one of those freak accidents that make no sense. (I suppose no dying makes an awful lot of sense, but some makes less than others.)

Crash, crash, back to earth I come.  The sensible great-aunt in me says: spit, spot, this is life. It’s not a carnival ride. The rain rains, and work must be done, and people depart, and that’s how it goes. The not sensible part says: bugger this for a game of soldiers.

I stomp up crossly to the mare. It’s so nasty out that I was not going to do any work with her, but I have some bizarre puritan streak that pushes me on. As if sensing that I need some good news, she is immaculate, at her sweetest and funniest and dearest. She actually rather loves this weather. Too much sunshine is far too vulgar for her grand sensibilities. A low, soft day is her absolute favourite. She is willing and responsive and I get the sudden thrill of achievement.

Just as the horse is doing something particularly impressive, my step-niece comes out to feed the chickens. The hens are nearly as grand as the mare, and get the remains of the great-nieces’ porridge for their breakfast. ‘Oh,’ says the step-niece in delight, ‘look what she is doing.’ I feel idiotically proud. I have a witness. See what I can do, with my horse whispery skills. See how clever and brilliant my lovely girl is.

The lovely girl, obviously overcome by her own cleverness, sticks her nose into the silver saucepan and eats all the hens’ porridge. For some reason I find this inexpressibly funny. I never heard of a horse eating porridge before. ‘So Scottish and good for her,’ I say, laughing. The mare nods her head, very pleased with herself. I scratch the velvety spot behind her ears and think this really is much, much cheaper than therapy.

Determined to counter the dreich, I come home and make yellow split pea soup with saffron and drink a pot of coffee so strong that I can feel it jump-starting my brain. On I bash. At least the rain means I don’t have to water the garden. It keeps the flies away from the horses. It means we live in a green and pleasant land, instead of an arid desert. It’s just a little bit of precipitation. Out in the east, beyond the beeches and the Wellingtonias and the venerable oaks, a faint gleam of light appears in the sky.

A return to the Royal Meeting at Ascot

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A plaintive and very polite note comes from the editor, wondering gently if there is to be a blog this week. I had, in fact, entirely forgotten which day of the week it was. I had practically forgotten my own name. This is because, after twenty years, I have returned to the Royal Meeting at Ascot. I abandoned it because of the crowd and the hats and all the fashion silliness. But this year it lured me with the two best horses in the world.

One of them, the Australian supermare, Black Caviar, had flown thirty-three hours to be here, dressed in a special lycra suit, so that she looked like one of the Olympic swimmers. (It keeps the horse's blood pressure steady, apparently.)

Black Caviar runs on Saturday, but yesterday the meeting opened with the highest rated horse in training, the majestic Frankel. High expectations are the enemy of happiness, and expectations were running red hot. He has never been beaten, he is clearly head and shoulders above the rest, he has developed into an even greater and stronger horse at four than he was at three. I said, for a joke, 'he'll win by ten lengths.' Horses don't win at Ascot by ten lengths, over a mile; especially when up against the most talented of their cohort. Last year, Frankel won by three-quarters of a length. The greatest horse is the greatest horse, but it is racing; anything can happen.

...


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