An Almost Perfect Day

When you spend as much time going racing as I do you tend to get into something of a rut, when one race just seems to be like any other, almost a merry-go-round of racing, some ups, some downs and plenty of nondescript stuff in the middle.

Occasionally you will get a race which will make you sit up and pay attention, a promising newcomer, a great turn of foot, a Houdini escape from a seemingly impossible position.

Even more rarely you will get one of those special, “I was there moments.”

Day’s like the first Sunday in October last year, at a racecourse at the top end of a forest in the centre of Paris. The day when Sea The Stars extricated himself, with the assistance of Mick Kinane, from  seemingly impossible position to win the Arc. It was an unbelievable performance which had to be seen to be believed, it was a scene that had tears rolling down the cheeks of many a cynical hack, myself included.

You came away privileged at having witnessed such a fantastic race live, coming home knowing you have probably experienced a once in a lifetime race.

If somebody had said to me that day in October that eight months later I would, once again be watching a race in total awe, I would have laughed at them

Yet on Saturday, on a triangular track at the bottom of The Queen’s rather large back garden there was an equine performance which left those who watched it standing there open mouthed, not believing what they had just witnessed.

I am referring, of course, to Harbinger’s demolition of a small but very select field in Ascot’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. He beat two Derby winners but that was not what caught the eye. It was the manner of his victory and the emphatic manner in which he accelerated down the home straight under Olivier Peslier.

To emphasise how good a performance it was he broke the course record for good measure and all this under what was effectively a third choice rider.

Stable Jockey Ryan Moore had the choice of riding Harbinger or Workforce and he settled with the Derby winner.

Moore is not renown for showing his emotions but one look at his face after Saturday’s race said it all …….. he knew he had made a really bad choice.

The ride on Harbinger had also been offered to Frankie Dettori but he opted, instead, to ride at York, so the ride went to Peslier and what a ride he gave the horse.

The race was eloquently summed up by Alistair Down when he said, “I cannot believe what I have just seen.”

Nor could any of us in the press room at Ascot, even the handful of us who had gone against the “perceived wisdom” and had thought Harbinger had the beating of Workforce and backed our belief with hard cash. Even we could not believe the manner of victory.     

The near sell out crowd at Ascot also appreciated the performance and horse, rider and trainer all received a rapturous welcome after the race.

It was almost, but not quite, perfect.

So what was wrong?

Well Ascot probably has one of the most stunningly impressive parade rings, not only in this country but in the world and it was packed before the race with racegoers wanting to see the six magnificent horses before the race.

They waited and they waited but the runners did not appear in the parade ring until less than ten minutes before the off, meaning they had barely had the opportunity to do one lap of the parade ring before the bell went for the horses to mount.

This surely is not enough, especially with such a big race. Racegoers have the right to see the horses parading properly in the parade ring, not just a token appearance.

I’m told it was to ensure the race went off on time because of the television coverage. We are talking BBC television coverage here, coverage that has been so decimated one actually wonders why they bother. Yet it seems they can still dictate timings, even if it is to the detriment of the paying punters.

It is a shame racegoers at Ascot were short changed on this one.

Speaking of the BBC it was a pleasant surprise to see Radio Five Live giving top billing to the meeting, even presenting Sport On Five from the course and providing live commentary on all the races.

Clearly they could not find any minor county league football to cover live or there wasn’t a tiddlywinks competition begging for live coverage and I suspect the early finish of the Pakistan / Australia test match helped as they had more time to fill.

Whatever the reason, full marks for giving the meeting prominence, even if it did mean having the inane utterances of Kevin Day, who is allegedly some sort of comedian, rolled out to dumb down the coverage. I can’t remember the exact question but as I was caught in traffic trying to get to the course I remember listening to Day chatting to commentator John Hunt. One of the questions Day asked Hunty was so stupid, so inane, had it been put to me I would not only have told him but I would have provided a practical demonstration as to where he should stick his microphone.

Why do broadcasters feel the need to dumb down to the level of a moron?      

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Despite it having been my local course for the first thirty odd years of my life, and having been a frequent visitor to the course, I have never actually attended a Glorious Goodwood meeting.  Hopefully that will change tomorrow.

I am told the atmosphere is really good (and the racing isn’t that bad either) so I am really looking forward to my first visit to the festival.

This week also sees one of Ireland’s biggest festivals, the Galway Festival. By all accounts you need a very strong liver for this particular as the racing apparently takes second place to the partying. Another Festival I have yet to visit, although I should have perhaps visited a few years ago when I was a drinker.

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