victories for Jane Cecil and The Queen on the same afternoon, with
racing on the front pages for all the right reasons the following day.
Yes Royal Ascot is a special meeting and one that always manages
to stir the emotions. For me it is the very best domestic flat
meeting of the year, possibly in the world and the only other flat
meeting coming near to it in my view is the October meeting at
Longchamp and if the Froggies had not had the revolution it would
undoubtedly now be known as Longchamp Royale.
It is the most frustrating, difficult meeting of the entire year
to cover and after five days I am frazzled, indeed I’m usually
flagging fast after day three.
The irony is Ascot is, by far, the best course to work at any
other of their meetings. It has a well-equipped press room,
with a viewing balcony offering fantastic views, second only
An escalator immediately next to the press room makes it easy
to get down to the parade ring and weighing room. It’s an
absolute delight. The Royal meeting is so different.
Clearly there is much more press interest in the Royal
meeting, both domestically and internationally so an
accreditation system is used.
Basically a similar system to the meeting itself is used. The
“elite” get to use the main press room, the remainder of the
racing media are sent to the “media centre” in the bowels of
the grandstand whilst the non-racing snappers are consigned to
what is normally the Ascot Children's Nursery over in Car Park
Now in theory that sounds a reasonable system, but in reality
it isn’t that simple. As with the Royal Enclosure it’s who you
know, not what you know that’s important.
Like God, Ascot moves in mysterious ways in terms of
allocating the valuable space in the main press room. Of
course the “glory boys (and girls)” from the National press
are afforded prime positions, whether they actually need the
space or not. These are the prima-donnas who suddenly appear
at the big meetings and strut around the place as if they own
I wonder how many of them would pass what I call the
The test comes in two stages.
Stage one is, if given a map of the United Kingdom, would
they know where Fakenham actually is?
Stage two, having actually located Fakenham on the map,
how often have they gone racing there?
Of course you could replace Fakenham with any of the so
called “minor courses” – the point is most of the national
racing correspondents wouldn’t be seen dead at a smaller
course but they expect to be treated with respect and kow-towed
to at the big meetings.
I would stress at this point my criticism is not aimed at
all national correspondents, just a significant number of
Some of the correspondents, like Alan Lee of The Times in
particular, do frequent the smaller tracks, even Fakenham and
there are a handful of others who regularly appear at
Something that really surprises me is the number of racing
journalists who have been covering the sport for decades yet
they still have not visited all the courses in the UK – I find
that really incredulous.
By the way, in case you are thinking I’m simply envious of the
national racing correspondents, nothing could be further from
the truth. There is no way on this earth I would want to work
for a newspaper or broadcaster and be beholden to the whims
and views of an editor or proprietor.
Indeed I would rather be on the streets and starve than work
for anything that is part of the Murdoch empire, which would
rule out a fair proportion of the national media.
like being my own boss and my own editor.
As one national correspondent once said to me “I envy you as
you can actually write you want and what you really believe, I
don’t always have that freedom."
Even more annoying about the allocation of places in the main
press room though is the number of people who should, frankly,
not be there. Notably the retired and the hangers on, who are
not working, not filing copy but are taking up space that
could be used by working journalists and reporters.
lesser mortals of the racing press are confined to the
media centre. Now that is an adequate working environment.
It’s very cramped and windowless but we have a work area
and we (normally) have working wi-fi and a bank of
televisions showing C4, ATR and Ascot TV.
That should be enough I hear you say, for most it is but
for some of us it isn’t.
For example we have no access to the parade ring so seeing
the runners before the race is very tricky. There are
around half a dozen of us who try to provide paddock
reports but we cannot get near the paddock.
Annoyingly there is an area just outside the media centre
which is right beside the parade ring, an area hardly
used, yet those of us who need to view the runners are
denied access. So the paddock pickers have to either fight
their way through the crowds to try and get a view of the
runners or catch the runners on the horse walk as they
come out. Neither is satisfactory.
The other problem is reporting on the races. Those of us
with the blue badges are allowed on the press room viewing
balcony to view the racing, which is good and better than
we have at Cheltenham. However we that have to report on
the race based on the one single viewing as, amazingly,
the media centre has no facilities for recording races for
later reviewing, unlike
the in main press room.
Now I can probably do a reasonable account of an incident
free 12 runner contest on a single viewing. However for
something like the Hunt Cup trying to write anything
coherent about the race on a single viewing through bins
is nigh on impossible.
Indeed I don’t even bother trying to do a coherent
write-up on the big field races any more but that's
ridiculous when you are supposed to be reporting on the
the meeting each year we’re asked for our feedback about
the facilities and every year the same concerns are raised
but is anything done about it – of course not.
Is it really too much for a racing reporter to ask for
facilities to view the runners in the parade ring or a
facility to record and view replays of the races?
This week I’m back to the "bread and butter" racing.
The setting may not be so grand, the quality not so
high, the press rooms will be more basic but, at
least, I’ll be able to see the runners in the parade
ring and be able to watch as many replays of a race as