As the third week in June approaches, the eyes of the racing world turn to a corner of Berkshire and, more specifically, Ascot racecourse.
Five days of world class racing that have me salivating in anticipation and recoiling in anger in equal measure.
First of all the anticipation. Even though my personal preference tends to lean towards the excitement of jump racing, I also recognise the supreme test of racing at the top level of flat racing. That precisely sums up Royal Ascot, five days of top, world class action. No maiden platers here, thirty races and not once will you see the words “selling” or “claimer”. It is at Ascot that reputations are won and lost. Win a race at Royal Ascot and you know you have beaten the best.
More and more international runners are being attracted as well. The Australians are trying for a hat trick of steals in the big sprints. Irish wizard Aiden O’Brien will, of course, arrive mob handed to try and wrest the big prizes across the Irish Sea, but the big guns from home have some strong defences.
From a punters point of view the meeting offers the ultimate challenge, hours are spent pouring over the form, trying to find those elusive winners.
Those who know me know not to telephone me any afternoon next week as I sit glued to the television watching all the action from Ascot.
Watching it in television …. why are you not there I hear you shout? Well that is why I hate Royal Ascot so much. I have been to Royal Ascot several times and every time I have come away vowing never to return.
I would love nothing more to be there, watching the racing live. However if you do go you cannot appreciate the racing.
To get the best viewing you have to be in the Royal Enclosure and to obtain access you either have to know the right people or be prepared to pay nigh on a grand for a hospitality package. On top of that you are obliged to wear morning dress. Now morning dress has its place, usually at weddings, and I have nothing against people looking smart when going racing. However I like to be comfortable when I am going racing and I can think of nothing less comfortable than spending a hot June afternoon having to wear a waistcoat, jacket and top hat (wearing the top hat is obligatory when outside at Ascot), trying to juggle binoculars and getting a line of sight of the racing.
The next enclosure down the pecking order is the general admission enclosure. With prices starting at £54 the enclosure is often sold out in advance. However the vast majority of racegoers are not there for the racing, indeed I suggest most would struggle to identify one end of the horse from another. No, most of those attending are going to enjoy the social side, or in the case of the ‘ladies’ flaunt their latest fashions in the hope of being spotted on TV. The main sport is to see how much alcohol can be consumed with the watching of any racing being incidental. So if you are a genuine racegoer you first of all have to find a spot where you can view the racing, then you have to contend with the increasingly drunken hoards who are only into self gratification.
This leaves the Silver Ring, located far away from the winning post and with no access to the parade ring but still charging a minimum of £15. If you are a serious punter it is unlikely you will place a bet without seeing your fancy in the paddock, especially when the racing is so competitive. Also being so far away from the finishing line the only way you will see the finish is by looking at the big screen and if I am going to watch the race on TV I would rather do it in the comfort of my own home.
What is the answer to providing better access for real racegoers? One radical solution is to stick all the hooray Henry’s and Henrietta’s (or should that be Darren’s and Tracey’s) who frequent the general enclosure into the silver ring where they can quaff their booze to their hears content and it doesn’t matter if they see the racing or not. Then the general enclosure can be made available to genuine racegoers. To qualify for access you must be an annual member at a UK or Irish course or you must produce badges to prove you have attended at least ten race meetings during the previous twelve months.
Until that happens I will be watching Ascot on TV …. now where is that remote?
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