Thursday, 21 June 2012

Ascot: Day Three

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The thing I had completely forgotten about Ascot is the exhaustion. I feel as if I have run in the Gold Cup myself. Canter, canter, canter I go, from the stands to the ring, to the rails, and back again. Even in my ruthlessly practical flat patent boots, my poor calves feel as if someone has been battering them with hammers. I do not know how the women in heels do it. I take my hat off to the women in heels.

I've come all this way for the horses, so today I shrugged off all social engagements and concentrated entirely on the horseflesh. The best thing of all is to go early to the pre-parade ring. This is a smooth asphalt circle, gentled with venerable green trees, lined with the saddling boxes, where the horses come out before the paddock. They walk round, their newly shod hoofs wonderfully silent on the soft black surface, naked except for their halters. It is the time that you can really see them; it is not where the crowds go. You look for the condition of their coats, the ease of their walk, the gleam in their eye.

Some are old hands, gloriously relaxed, looking at the observers with sage eyes. Some are dancing like cats on hot tin roofs, on their toes, feeling the atmosphere. Some give great bucks of nerves and good health. 'Steady, steady,' I say, out loud.

I think of my lovely Red, back at home in her field, dreaming of the way her grandfather won The Derby. Many of her relations are here; in some of them I can see the family resemblance. The bloodlines of Northern Dancer and Nijinksy still run strong. I think: if she were here it would be like a reunion of cousins. This thought gives me idiotic satisfaction.

I love everything about it. I love watching the trainers, their faces set with concentration. I love the lads, gentling their charges. I love seeing the jockeys come out of the tunnel, all their energy focussed on the task ahead. If they sense their ride is getting a bit fired up, they run a soothing hand up the neck, gentling the withers, absolutely sensitive to the horse's mood.

I love the moment when they turn onto the course, and the horses go from walk to bucketing canter in one stride. I love the stir and shift of the crowd as the field races into the final furlong. I love the thunder of the hooves on the turf, which you can feel run through you, if you go and stand right by the rails.

I had absolutely no luck today. I remember now why my old dad used to take himself abroad during Ascot week; he always said going on holiday was cheaper. He lost too much money, year after year, at the royal meeting. It's because all the best horses come, and there are often maximum fields, and raiders fly in from America, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany. Not to mention the Irish. It has been a very international festival so far: America, the Antipodes and Germany have all scored. Aiden O'Brien, the brilliant Irish trainer, has had a fine time.

But I don't care I lost money today, although I was sad to see two of my favourite horses, the lovely filly Vow, and the fine colt Wortham Heath, get beat. I saw so much beauty. The thoroughbred really is one of the most glorious sights in the world. It is grace and power, delicacy and intelligence, courage and an ancient desire to win. It is at once the most civilised of human creations - bred over centuries for this very specific purpose - and the most untamed of wild beasts - harking back to its ancestral past, in the Arabian sands.

It's enchanting being able to watch them on television, as I do, week after week, but to come and see them in the flesh, and to hear the roar as the best of them puts its lovely head in front, is something quite else. I feel the luck and the privilege keenly,

The ephemera is fun. The betting is fun, the watching of the hats is amusing, the presence of the Queen, rolling up the straight mile in her open carriage is a stirring piece of tradition. The green course is one of the finest in Britain, the men in morning coats tipping their hats to each other is vastly diverting.

I even made some new friends, most especially a rather grand military fellow from America.

'I do like your uniform,' I said, boldly, as we were standing upsides by the Shergar bar.

'Thank you,' he said.

'Nothing I like better than a good bit of gold braid,' I said.

We chatted for a bit and I'm afraid I may have said 'Welcome to Britain,' as if Britain belonged to me. I sometimes just open my mouth and nutty things come out of it. But I love the thought of American visitors coming to one of our oldest race meetings, and seeing all this, and the least I can do is a little cultural ambassadorship.

All this is lovely, but the real loveliness, the point of it all, the thing that makes my heart lift like almost nothing else, is the equine beauty. Watching Frankel on Tuesday was the best thing I ever saw; it was on another level altogether. But every moment throws up its joys, because of the sheer gloriousness of the horses. Win or lose; triumphant or hopelessly outpaced, they all try their brave, beating hearts out, they all carry dreams and hopes. They are so lovely to look at, so honest and true, so very fine. That is why I don't care so much about the hats, or the lost bets, or anything really. I am spending five days in the presence of greatness, not in money won, or contests gained, or ratings rated, but in the simple fact of the most extraordinary breed of horse in world.


  1. This is almost, almost as good as being there. You have brought to life Ascot for me. And I love it! I can smell it!
    What a wonderful time you are having xx

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  3. Goosebumps all over. Nobody writes about all things horse better than you. Absolutely glorious writing.

  4. And do you know what I love? I love the way you write and the way you draw me deep into a scene i have never cared one whit about before I met you.

    xo Jane

  5. You do bring it all to life. Reading this makes me want to get on a plane. Can remember my first trip to Royal Ascot, the old Ascot, back when the earth was cooling. The hike up from the train through the rhododendrons, the sunshine and the band playing ... I was overwhelmed with the thought, "I will remember this day all my life." And there it is, a nice little memory firmly lodged in the brain cells, more so than any later trip. That year, was struck by a mare named Flame of Tara. The next year, it was Katies and Rainbow Quest, whose son Colour Vision won today. Every time, there was someone.

    All great tracks and meetings have their own aura, of course, but for me, the only one which rivals RA is Saratoga, over here--different, but all the best horses and very, very special. Wish you would come and write about it, because then there it would be, down in words like this post, to be kept (LOL, in case I get dim in my old age).

    Thank you very much.


  6. Thank you for a stirring post. When I see the word Ascot, I only can think of My Fair Lady!!! and Audrey Hepburn so reading this post brings it all back.

  7. Husband just turned on the TV as I was reading this....and, quite randomly, I have the BBC Ascot commentary in the background.


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