Royal Ascot Fashion, Fillies, Festival & The Queen

This entry was posted on Monday, June 15th, 2009

THEY’RE trained to the minute; their skin glistening in the summer sunshine. Some are perfectly poised; others are sweating profusely as they jig around the paddock. Some are a bit on the leg; others are a lot on the leg. Some look fit, trained to the minute; others look as if the run would do them good. But wait a minute, they may be fillies, but they certainly aren’t horses! For this is Royal Ascot where there are as many lovely-looking fillies off course as there are on the track itself.

It’s a fashion show and racing festival all rolled into one. Unlike the Cheltenham Festival, where sensible clothing is very much the order of the day and the horses and riders are the centre of attention, Ascot has a split personality. For the race fans, top-class racing is what it’s all about. For the fashion-conscious the whole event revolves around what the ladies are wearing. But the two aspects of this great meeting seem to co-habit pretty well. Yes, it’s part of the so-called London Season that includes those other British sporting bastions, Henley and Wimbledon.

Sadly, Mrs Shilling – as mad as the proverbial hatter although it was her son David who made the outrageous and often amusing hats that she wore on each day of the meeting – is no longer with us. But the Queen is – and every day she will travel up the course in her horse-drawn carriage to the delight of the thousands of royalists who line her route. For those track side and in many betting shops all over the land the first bet of the day for many is to guess the colour of the Queen’s hat!

Another thing for sure is that you can bet your bottom dollar that the credit crunch/economic downturn – call it what you like – won’t make any discernible difference to how the ladies will turn themselves out, not even the weather can interrupt their week. Not many of the ladies will be scrimping and saving to buy a new outfit for the meeting, nor will they be digging the sewing machine out of the loft to knock up that stunning little number that will have men’s eyes out on stalks. Ladies Day is pure theatre. Whatever you think about the fashions, it’s the horses that count for me. Yes, it’s a difficult meeting and as someone once said the only way to come out of Royal Ascot week with a small fortune is to start with a big one! But winners are there to be found. The quality of the racing is of the highest class and punters always feel they’ve got a better chance when every horse is trying for its life for the big purses on offer. I don’t actually subscribe to that view. Give me a race where there are only two or three possible winners and I’m at my happiest.

At Royal Ascot level, it’s probably best to stick with the top stables. Sir Michael Stoute from Newmarket and Aidan O’Brien from Ballydoyle in Ireland will probably have profitable meetings. Both are masters at timing a horse’s preparation to perfection. They will have their charges peaking on the big day – when there is big prize-money to be won. Don’t approach Royal Ascot in an all-or-nothing frame of mind. Too many punters think that big meetings like Ascot, Cheltenham and Liverpool are make-or-break fixtures as far as their betting is concerned. I treat every race alike. Finding the winner of the maiden at a Ripon evening meeting is just as sweet – and just as rewarding – as finding the winner of a race at the royal meeting. One race I might have a serious look at is the Royal Ascot Gold Cup run on Ladies’ Day on Thursday. Lester Piggott was a master over all distances when he was in the saddle, but never more so than when he was winning the Gold Cup on great horses like the French-trained Sagaro (three times) and Henry Cecil’s Ardross (twice). Watching Piggott in action on a short-priced stayer was pure joy. He always knew when to press the button – and rarely made mistakes when the chips were down.

How I wish Piggott was around to ride Geordieland in this year’s renewal. Of course, he is no superstar in the mould of either Sagaro or Ardross, but on his day he’s a pretty useful performer. But he’s what they call in the trade a ‘thinker’ and needs his mind making up for him. Of course, Shane Kelly made a pretty good job of winning on Geordieland the other day at Sandown, but I can’t help feeling that Piggott and Geordieland would have made a perfect – and perfectly backable – combination.

Nevertheless, it might still be worth sticking with Jamie Osborne’s enigmatic eight-year-old to finish in the gold medal position. Overall, though, approach with caution.

Sit back and enjoy the wall-to-wall coverage on At The Races or the fashion reports on BBC interspersed with the occasional races. There isn’t a better meeting on the Flat anywhere else in the world and, if you’re going along, the track now offers unrivalled viewing facilities despite the fact that the new grandstand looks like the departure area at Heathrow Terminal Four. Just don’t spoil it all by doing your money!

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