Traffic is at a standstill and it’s fully six hours before the opening race at Royal Ascot 2015.
I doubt if the commuters who are forced to share the High Street in Ascot this week feel the same enthusiasm as us racegoers.
Temporary traffic lights, mile after mile of cones, metal barriers, and contra-flows, not to mention men in silly hats and women in silly shoes who are crawling across the road at a snail’s pace lest they snap a heel before they even arrive.
Inside the racecourse is pristine. Any gardener out there who is impatiently waiting for their flowers to bloom should hire the Ascot gardeners: they’ve got everything out in full force, right on cue.
Of all the redesigns at the now not-so-new-look Ascot the Media Centre must easily be the worst. I’m writing here from next to the Weighing Room in a windowless bunker with 1990s padded swivel chairs that are utterly clumsy as photographers and press – with tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment on their shoulders – shove past each other in the narrow corridors. Tensions are high and the language is far from regal.
The food, however, is insanely good. Long before the crowds come in, I take a wander through the Royal Enclosure lawns and begin to dribble as I glance at what members of the Turf Club, White’s and the Garrick Club will be tucking into shortly. My mouth dries up when I see the prices.
Nick Smith, Comms supremo here, is looking remarkably calm.
The tabloids haven’t yet arrived with their pre-conceived ‘Brawl Ascot’ headlines.
The tabloids haven’t yet arrived with their pre-conceived ‘Brawl Ascot’ headlines. Five Live’s Luke Harvey is jogging round the course whilst his BBC colleague Cornelius Lysaght is taking it all in his stride with a coffee.
The big screen is showing re-runs of last year’s footage, interspersing Toronado the horse with Sir Bruce Forsyth the tap-dancer. Thousands upon thousands of students are absent-mindedly receiving instructions from their catering bosses about how to address guests; understandably they seem far from fully engaged.
And the clock has just struck 11.00 so I imagine outside in the fresh air that the crowds are beginning to file through the turnstiles. It’s still the most glamorous week of the year and with 4 Group races and some searingly competitive handicaps about to get us underway, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. All we need is some windows, a bigger desk and then the horses can do the rest.
So who’s the mole in the Palace? Bookies had suspended betting by lunchtime on pink being Her Majesty’s opening day hat colour and true enough, she rolled down the royal Mile is cerise. Or was it fuchsia? In the media centre, we decided it was pink.
An international field assembled in the opening race of the day with the French-trained favourite Solow heading the betting ahead of the Hong Kong beat, Able Friend with Richard Hannon saddling Toormore and Night Of Thunder to combat the overseas invasion.
It went to Solow, with jockey Maxime Guyon wasting no time in identifying Solow as the best horse he’s ever ridden.
Some lofty reputations were lowered somewhat in the Coventry Stakes with the well-fancied Round Two and well backed Air Force Blue both succumbing to Mark Johnston’s Buratino.
Buratino was having his sixth run of the season and I’ll be surprised if it’s the best 2-year old performance of the season we see this year, but that will scarcely have worried delighted jockey William Buick.
The King’s Stand – the fastest race of the week – saw a surprise as the unheralded Goldream scooted up under Martin Harley to leave the vast majority of the crowd scratching their heads. It didn’t take long, however, for natural order to be restored with Gleneagles the class act of the day in the St James’s Palace.
The dual 2000 Guineas winner never looked in danger as he cemented his position as the outstanding miler of his generation to set up some mouth-watering clashes later this Summer against the older horses. His jockey Ryan Moore was back in the winner’s enclosure in the next race courtesy of Clondaw Warrior who justified favouritism in the marathon event.
Moore really is the best in class by a country mile and whilst not always the most talkative to the press he does his talking in the saddle. In the final race of the day, the Windsor Castle, it was time for the speedsters rather than the marathon runners.
Washington DC flew home to win the race for Aiden O’Brien and guess who the jockey was? Anybody want to come back for Moore tomorrow? The bookies might think twice but everyone else simply can’t wait.