This week at Ascot, the mighty Godolphin operation will have almost fifty runners. The Mongolians, by contrast, will have one. Yes, my darlings, the Mongolians. This is somehow the Royal Meeting in a nutshell.
Mongolian Saturday is a big, bonny, fast horse who is trained by Enebish Ganbat. Ganbat famously wears his traditional national dress to the races. One wag said that when he went to the Breeders’ Cup, people thought he had entered a Halloween fancy dress competition. The jokes stopped when his fella trotted up at 20-1.
He trains Mongolian Saturday in America now, but when he worked in Mongolia he had 200 horses who ran races of fifteen miles, against hundreds of competitors. ‘One time, my horse won a race which had 721 runners. He won by one kilometre. We could not see another horse.’ This kind of thing fills me with amazed delight.
On The Morning Line, Ganbat was interviewed about his first experience of the Royal Meeting. He had a lot to say, in his broken English. I loved it so much I wrote it all down. ‘This is very special because I know this is very famous old racetrack and every time Queen come to see this race.’ He stopped, and let out a wide smile. ‘For me, king and queen is very important thing. I think not many countries keep king and queen. Mongolia was socialist country, take off our king. King and queen is better for tradition, better for young people how they understand what is tradition, what is culture, what is history.’
The Royal Meeting is all about what is history. As the Queen comes down the course behind her mannerly Windsor greys, she is following in the footsteps of Queen Anne, who founded the track in 1711. The first races were run over four miles, in three heats, for the Queen’s purse of a hundred guineas. That is some good history, for the young people.
The first day is in some ways the best day. The meeting gets off to a roaring start with Group Ones fluttering like confetti. Aside from the flying Mongolians, there will be horses from Japan, France, America, Ireland. Wesley Ward will bring over his speedy battalions from Florida. The American supermare Tepin will grace these shores for the first time, with her beauty and her brilliance. The master of Ballydoyle, Aidan O’Brien, will have his glittering stars honed and polished to their peak.
But, rather oddly, almost the horse I am most excited about is a nine-year-old mare who will never make headline news. She’s called Jennies Jewel, and she is a three-mile hurdler. (This, at the greatest flat meeting in the world.) She is not a superstar; she is a household name only in this household. But I adore her. She always runs her race, with her ears pricked and her heart on her sleeve. Even when she is up against much superior company, she puts her head down and gives her all. She does not shy away from the fight; she is not afraid.
There are always great staying races at the Royal Meeting, and this is where the National Hunt horses have their chance to shine. The jumps trainers cast aside their Trilbys and their raincoats and put on their top hat and tails. Today, the ground is soft and the trip is two and half miles in the Ascot Stakes and this is where dear Jennies Jewel may come into her own. As the international raiders fly in, and the multi-million Godolphin stables throw every dart they have at the board, and the princes and potentates send out their good things, I love the fact that this sweet little mare, usually seen slogging round Punchestown in frigid January, might have her moment in the sun.
The fillies and the mares always make my heart beat faster. I think there is hardly a creature finer than a grand thoroughbred mare. There are two other lovely girls I’m looking forward to: the glamorous French Ervedya, and the tough and speedy Mecca’s Angel, bred in Ireland, trained in County Durham. I can’t wait to see how the mighty Tepin adjusts to conditions she has never encountered before. But if I lose my voice, as I lost it after the Derby and the Oaks, it will be from shouting for the kind, willing, courageous Jennies Jewel.