Royal Ascot history awaits Black Caviar
Ahead of Australian wonder horse Black Caviar’s eagerly anticipated run at Royal Ascot, we invited Racing Post Associate Editor JOHN COBB to preview the grand meet.
IT’S an opportunity to be in the presence of true nobility, to see the Queen close up. That’s what’s on offer at Royal Ascot when the Queen of Australian racing, Black Caviar, puts her reputation and unbeaten record on the line next week [Saturday, 23 June] during the finest five days of Flat racing Britain can offer.
Royal Ascot is an essential part of what passes for summer in Britain, an annual segment of the social landscape since Queen Anne decided 300 years ago that a piece of open heathland handily within reach of Windsor Castle would be a good spot for racing horses.
It’s long been a playground for the upper classes and it’s a great place to observe them in their natural habitat, with the female of the species displaying brightly coloured plumage, frequently topped off with feathers, and the males, all grey and black in top hats and tails, attired in morning suits for an event that starts in the afternoon.
There’s no need to be put off by the formality, though, as the strictest dress requirements are only for the Royal Enclosure, where entrance is restricted to those put forward by someone who is already a member. And while you might ask what sort of a country stages a race meeting that insists a woman’s dress must have straps at least 2.5cm wide and men are not allowed to wear brown shoes, it is also fair to say that these anachronisms are part of the attraction.
Some standards have been allowed to slip, though, and divorcees have been allowed in the Royal Enclosure since 1955.
Entrance to the Grandstand and Paddock can be bought without needing a reference, provides a brilliant view of all the action and puts the Queen, Elizabeth II as well as Black Caviar, nearly within touching distance. It also gives access to what is certainly the plushest, grandest grandstand at any racecourse anywhere. You’ll still need to be carefully attired though, women require a hat or fascinator and can’t go strapless, men must sport a suit and tie.
On the track it’s a true blueblood affair, the horses running are a culmination of generations of breeding, and a winner at Royal Ascot is a calling card to a future stallion career, for the boys at least. This year is no exception as the five-day meeting will start with Britain’s greatest horse for 40 years, Frankel, defending his unbeaten record and reputation as the best in the world in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday.
It ends with Black Caviar attempting to follow an illustrious line of Australian speedsters at the meeting – Choisir, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti and Scenic Blast – in winning the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. Despite facing a likely challenge from last year’s winner, the British-trained Society Rock, and the leading French filly Moonlight Cloud, Black Caviar is a long odds-on favourite to do so. In fact, Britain’s most fancied challenger, Bated Breath, is expected to skip the race and run in Tuesday’s slightly shorter sprint, the King’s Stand Stakes, to avoid clashing with the Aussie star.
In between there’s the Gold Cup – no need for the prefix Ascot, this is the original – the centrepiece of the meeting and run on the Thursday card, the original Ladies Day, when tradition dictates the finest outfits are worn with the brightest plumes in the most audacious hats.
It’s not difficult to be a part of it all. Tickets can be bought at ascot.co.uk while all the information you’ll need to get the most from your day and to back a winner or three can be found at www.racingpost.com.
So join the streams of revellers at London’s Waterloo station, they’ll be the well-heeled ones in the morning and the well-oiled ones by evening time. There are frequent trains to Ascot, where the station and racecourse are just a furlong apart.
And don’t forget to look and act the part. Arrive with a swagger in your step, a glint in your eye, a copy of the Racing Post under your arm and you’ll fit in perfectly. It’s an unforgettable occasion, unchanging in its grandeur, its majesty, but most of all in the sheer fun it provides.
IMAGE: RIDING DESTINY - Australian jockey Luke Nolen will ride champion mare Black Caviar at Royal Ascot in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, chasing her 22nd consecutive win. (AAP Image/James Elsby)
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