A Day At The Races

So many people say to me it must be an easy life being a racing journalist. Well I would be telling lies if I tried to pretend I did not enjoy it. However it is hard work and involves long days.

Here is my diary for Ladies Day at Ascot.

6:28 The alarm goes off and no chance of a lie in today, straight up to finish off the prep for todays racing.

6:50 Receive the latest going reports from the BHA, no change at Ascot, only Ripon has a going change.

Of course today is the opening of Ffos Las, a difficult clash but Ascot just edges it – I am going to make sure I get to their next meeting though.

8:00 Finishing off my racecards for today. Thank goodness there is a field limit of 30 as that just happens to be the number of runners I can just squeeze onto a sheet of A4. There is nothing worse than trying to read a race when all the colours are not to hand on a single page.

The advantage of doing my own racecards is twofold, firstly I can get all the runners on a single A4 page and, as I do the cards I get to see all the runners and have a first shot at learning the colours.

8:25 That’s the racecards printed off and now the dilemma – which way do I go to Ascot.

Usually it is a simple choice, M1, M25, A30 - an hour door to door. But now there are major roadworks on the M25. The alternative is the “back roads” via Aylesbury and Wycombe but that entails battling with the mad Mothers on the school run. A lose-lose choice.

10:15 The back roads route won, but 1¾ hours is no fun.

Normally press parking at Ascot is in car park 2, immediately opposite the main entrance.

I was hopeful when the car park badges came through specifying car park 2F. However I discovered on Tuesday that the “F” stands for far away. Right through car park two and down this steep hill.

They have a golf buggy running a shuttle from the car park to the High Street – on Tuesday I thought it was for wimps. Yesterday and today I used it – carrying a 25lb computer bag up a steep hill is no fun. Yes I admit it - I am a wimp!!

11:00 A quick walk around to test the going – pretty much the same as yesterday. Enough of the relaxing and it is back to serious work as I have to preview Friday’s races.

12:00 It is really hard work doing race previews, especially at such a competitive meeting. I need a break so time for some lunch and probably the only break I will get today.

Having said that lunch is a working lunch as I am finishing off the previews as I eat.

Also never believe what you see on TV – on Ascot TV Rupert Bell is about to hand over to Richard Hoiles in the commentary box for a preview of this afternoons racing. Cut to a cheery Richard Hoiles in the commentary box, even thanking Rupert for the handover – only thing is, he is currently standing about three feet away from me in the bunker.

There is only one topic of conversation here in the media centre – will Yeats win? It is surprising how, even the most cynical of hacks, want to see Yeats win

12:38 Time for another walk around outside and it is filling up now, although it seems quieter than last year.

13:18 I have finally finished the initial prep work for tomorrows racecard, plus adding Saturday’s final entries to the web site.
I can now, finally, concentrate on this afternoons action.

I have been here three hours and haven’t really started on todays stuff.

13:35 It is really odd seeing colleagues you see most days at various courses here in all their finery. Oddest one to see is Luke Harvey – not known for his sartorial elegance – even he looks smart in a topper.

14:15 Have just been upstairs to watch The Queen arrive – there is a rat run from the media centre to the viewing level further up the grandstand – means one can get around and miss the crowds.

There are seventy steps on the stairs and I have worked out I will make at least 40 return trips up them in the course of the week.

The viewing area we have is in the middle of the Royal Enclosure but we are exempt from the Royal Enclosure dress rules and only Ascot could come up with a “path” through the Royal Enclosure which is exempt from the dress code – although I have to admit it does feel odd walking through wearing a lounge suit.

Also every time I go through I pass the door to Sheikh Mohammed’s suite – one of his security entourage stands guard, wearing the full top hat and tails. He is always there whenever I pass – it must be a boring job.

14:27 In place for the opening race. I have a good view down the course and just behind my right shoulder is a nice HDTV. Only eleven runners in the first, although over the straight five, should be one of the easier races of the week to read.

I always try, wherever possible, to view the races through binoculars and I make comments in running as the race progresses. The trouble is the quicker I write the more unreadable my writing becomes. 
It was very hard to start but, like most things, it becomes (relatively) easier with practice.

14:49 Well what a controversial start to the day. Plenty of interference from the American horse I wonder how many days Mr Velazquez will pick up for that ride?

Isn’t is amazing how quickly a jockey can go from hero to villain?

The other trouble with a controversial finish is it takes a longer to write up the race report.

Also having watched the replay several times and from several angles I had to change my initial view on the interference.

I thought the interference had cost Monsieur Chevalier the race but now I am of the view he just wasn’t good enough. Radiohead on the other hand did very well to recover from the interference and go on to win the contest.

Anyway the race is written up.

One big difference, which makes covering a big meeting more difficult, is getting information. At most meetings there are usually no more than half a dozen journalists, all in the one press room so we get all the result sheets and stewards enquiries bought through to the press room.

Here with hundreds of journalists and two centres, a fair distance apart, news does not filter down so easily.

15:15 A mad dash but I just manage to get to the parade ring to see the runners in the Ribblesdale then get back up to my vantage point in the stand and see Godolphin finally win a race at last.

At least some additional news to add to the report.

It is then a mad dash to get downstairs to the media centre and take in the press conference as Frankie is always good value for money.

15:30 Frankie was as good as ever and Rupert Bell made sure the press conference was quick, so as not to impinge into the Gold Cup.

So down to the parade ring and, luckily, none of the Gold Cup runners have arrived yet.

Ascot have held them back so all nine enter together, in racecard order – what a brilliant idea.

16:00 Well what can one say – what an emotional race – the roar as Yeats hit the front beats anything at Cheltenham or Aintree.

The roar was unbelievable – so loud it completely drowned out Richard Hoiles commentary.

Up in the press viewing area even the cynics are smiling.

As they walk back Johnny Murtagh is so emotional – kissing everyone – if he is not careful he will fall off the horse.
I stay up on the balcony longer than usual just to see the victors come back down the track and savour the atmosphere.

Back into the media centre to get the first report out – it is hard to find the right superlatives.

Aidan O’Brien is even showing emotion. This is a big story and connections are milking it – who can blame them. They are even keeping The Queen waiting – but I somehow suspect she doesn’t mind – she as much as anyone will appreciate the significance of what has happened.

16:20 Aidan O’Brien is human – he was great in the press conference, I have never known him be so effusive.

After all the Gold Cup follow-up I, and most of the hacks, miss the Britannia.

I have to confess missing the Britannia is a blessing in disguise – with thirty runners on the straight course it is impossible to do any decent report on the race without having to watch numerous re-runs on TV. As it happens it was a tight finish so I settle for giving the bare result and admitting I had not seen the race.

16:45 Right back on track now – The Gold Cup written up. I am sitting next to Matt Doyle of Skybet and he tells me they are offering 5/1 for number five for Yeats – they wouldn’t would they?

Down to see the runners for the Hampton Court then the rat run again upstairs again.

17:10 Well a another controversial finish and a stewards enquiry – I think the winner will keep the race but I think Moore will get a holiday. Only a brief report on the race but the enquiry drags on and delays me getting to the parade ring.

17:30 A 19 runner finale and not having time to get to the parade ring means I will be reading the race blind – ho hum.

Watching the runners in the ring serves two purposes. Firstly it gives you a chance to see their wellbeing and, as important, you can note any physical marking to aid identification. A big white face is a godsend when they are charging towards you – provided there aren’t too many with big white faces – you get the drift though.

17:45 Luckily an uncontroversial race so easy to do the report.

I am having trouble finding out what ban Ryan Moore has picked up but after some investigation I eventually find out he has picked up three days.

18:00 Catching up on the day and tying up loose ends, going through the press releases and RP and Sporting Life sites, just to make sure I have not missed anything important.

18:20 All the remaining hacks have stopped working and are gathered round the TV’s watching the first race from Ffos Las. It looks to be a decent course.

18:33 Finally finished now the drive home.

20:30 Finally get home, traffic was chunky, although nothing like as bad as it will be on Saturday.

Grab some fish and chips just before getting home and have a graze, scanning through the recorded BBC coverage as I eat.

21:00 Update the webs site and check the forums – always good for some controversy.

Now have to finish off racecards for tomorrow. More a matter of tidying them up. Noting any wearing blinkers or cheekpieces (another identification aid). Also highlight fillies – nothing annoys an owner or trainer more than getting the sex of their runner wrong in a report and finally marking any greys.

22:20 Racecards finished and time now to earn some money. Go through Fridays card looking for suitable investments – it hasn’t been a good week so far – but all gamblers are optimists.

23:45 Everything now ready for tomorrow. Just need to print off the racecards and time to hit the sack before we start again tomorrow.




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