In the old days, this was the quiet Saturday, the Heath Meeting after all the royal hoopla, when everyone could put their hats away and let their hair down. Now, it is the final blast of the week, all the pomp and circumstance still going, and just as grand and thrilling as the first Tuesday.
It seems years ago that the bold and beautiful French grey, Solow, got the meeting off on a roar. Every story has been told. Ryan Moore has smashed the course record with nine winners, setting the crowds alight and leaving the bookies in despair. Richard Hughes, after a torrid week, had a lovely double on his last Ascot Friday in the saddle. Frankie Dettori hit fifty Ascot winners and did his customary leap in the air. The Master of Ballydoyle has sent out his traditional flying posse, all in perfect order, and Willie Mullins put aside his Cheltenham green for a top hat and made a lightning raid on the flat with Clondaw Warrior.
The princes and potentates have gathered many of the spoils, but, to my intense pleasure, it has not all been about the billionaires. Goldream held on brilliantly in a fighting finish for his two owners: a farmer and a butcher. The French have been dazzling; the Americans gave us a superstar in Acapulco; today, perhaps, the Australians may have their moment in the sun.
My biggest love of today comes not from the flat-racing headquarters of Newmarket, but out of Ireland, from the jumping yard of Willie Mullins. I love it when the jumps boys come to Ascot, putting away their Trilbys and dusting off their morning coats, always looking slightly like naughty schoolboys bunking off lessons. Today, Mullins sends out Wicklow Brave, whom I have adored since he was a baby in bumpers. He started off his career in flying fashion, then slightly lost his way for a while, almost as if he suddenly couldn’t see the point of the whole shooting match, before roaring back to form, all his early promise blooming again. Lately, he’s been running on the flat, which he has taken to like a duck to water. I’ll be shouting my head off for the fine fella in the last race, hoping that he sends the majestic Ryan Moore out of this remarkable week with a bang.
My other love is Telescope. He’s a classically handsome, strong, athletic bay, with a fine aristocratic head and a long, dancing stride. He’s up against two really good horses in Eagle Top and Postponed, and his trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, one of the grand old racing knights, has had a horrible week. Although Telescope is short odds, in some ways all the odds are against him. I’d like him to put a smile on Sir Michael’s face, and on mine too.
As for the rest – I’m very excited about Brazen Beau, the shining Australian sprinter, and think he could show that he is world class. He’s travelled an awful long way, thousands of miles from the other side of the world, and I hope the journey will have been worth it. Today’s Ryan Moore placepot is not beyond the realms of possibility, because quite frankly I start to think that man could do anything. And for my long-shots, I’ve got a little feeling for three Mark Johnston toughies at huge prices. It’s always important to have a sporting bet, and I do it in memory of my father, who taught me never to back an odds-on favourite. I’m particularly sweet on Dessertoflife, a charming grey filly. She only ran six days ago, she’s up against the colts, and she might not quite have the class for this, but there is something very taking about her and she’s worth a little chance at sixteen-to-one.
And then, after all that, I’m going to have a very, very long rest in a darkened room.
Just time for two quick snaps. Apparently, the Queen likes to ride for an hour before the Royal Meeting. I naturally follow her example. Today, for no known reason, I got on my own little champion without a saddle or a bridle and had a bareback moment just a halter on. I have not ridden bareback for over thirty years. I genuinely thought I might just fall off. But the duchess was immaculate:
Oh, and PS. I don’t know what is going to win the Wokingham, because nobody knows what is going to win the Wokingham. I’d love to see Intrinsic run well, but I really like Algar Lad for the very, very clever David O’Meara. He travelled incredibly well last time out at York, and won cosily, and he’s got course form and experience in these huge fields. Who knows, with a bit of luck in running?