Why the fifth-day races belong to Royal Ascot

By David Williams on |

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The Queen arrives at Royal Ascot
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The fifth and final day of Royal Ascot is always a curiosity. I spent an irritable part of yesterday within earshot of a former stipendiary steward who was adamant that the elevation of what used to be known as Heath Day to become a fifth day of the Royal meeting was little short of an abomination and, moreover, “Her Majesty disapproves”. Putting aside the nonsense of the final statement — for no indications of the sort have ever been given — I was really hacked off by his statements.

Today is the busiest day of the meeting for caterers, for bookies, for the media and for the vast majority of the country who — horror of horrors — have to go to work Monday to Friday. There is nothing sub par about today’s Royal offering: the Diamond Jubilee Stakes is now firmly entrenched as a high-class Group One and races like the Hardwicke are knocking on the door of being top class. Throw in a ferociously competitive handicap like the Wokingham and it ticks the kind of boxes of which the proudest of monarchies would approve. Shame on the old boy who argued to the contrary yesterday!

In the interests of balance, and for fear that readers might think I’m going sentimental, I do have a quibble with the Royal Ascot programme and I’ve been dwelling on it for a couple of days. The quibble is the Tercentenary Stakes earlier this week. I wish in no way to belittle winning connections, but this race does not belong at the Royal meeting. It’s excessive, average quality and doesn’t ring any of the right bells for the premier week of the year. I’m all for extending programmes, embracing new ideas but this week above all other weeks deserve extra special handling, and the Tercentenary dilutes rather than enhances the week. I’d scrap it in a heartbeat.

Mention of the Wokingham earlier brings back the happiest memory of my punting career at this meeting. Readers would be forgiven for thinking that, based on recent evidence, fond memories are non existent but anyone who remembers Jeremy Noseda’s grey, Laddies Poker Two, will remember 2010 with clarity. The gamble started at 16/1 and with an SP no more then half that price, the galloping grey obliterated a field like an odds-on poke. A similar gamble has been underway this past week or so on today’s market leader, Brando. Headline makers will crave the Hollywood finale but bookies will fear — six years on — a raspberry ending to what has already been a tough week.

This time last year, Ryan Moore had visited the Winners Enclosure no fewer than nine times. It’s been tougher this year but he still tops the standings, albeit with Frankie Dettori very much in contention. Dettori reminded us yesterday — atop Across The Stars — why Moore will never be over the hill and far away in the race to be top jock on the top days.

Dettori’s ride in the King Edward VII was electric, judging it from the front and holding on from a swarming pack. It wasn’t a vintage race, but it was a vintage Dettori ride. I had some sympathy for Moore in the penultimate race of the day when his mount King’s Fete found all the trouble in the world before having the door closed on him in the dying yards of the race.

Choose a size:A stewards enquiry failed to reverse placings and Moore backers were rightly exasperated. The rules were correctly applied, in my subjective opinion, but the rules are bonkers: it isn’t right that GBH is required for the stewards to act. Had all horses run straight to the line yesterday, Kings Fete would have won. Sometimes we make racing unnecessarily complicated. Simplify the rules and the best horses will invariably win the race, ideally on the racecourse, but if necessary in the stewards’ room.

Meanwhile, a very welcome sartorial addition to the Royal Box came this week in the shape of the Queen’s cousin, Prince Michael of Kent. Prince Harry has had a crack of late, but the absence of bearded Windsors is something I lament. Prince Michael is a glorious exception. His ensemble yesterday — grey tails, black silk topper and floral tie — were set off expertly with giant whiskers that very nearly stole the show from a lesser spotted Sarah Ferguson. While I doubt very much that my fashion findings are likely to achieve awards in the months to come, I harbour one wish before we return in 2017: more Royal whiskers, please.

The final flings of the wagering week will focus today on Cunco in the Chesham to keep the Frankel flag flying, Oceanographer for a resurgent Godolphin in the Wolferton, Simple Verse in the Hardwicke, The Tin Man in the Diamond Jubilee, Brando in the Wokingham and Clondaw Warrior to bring the curtain down in the Queen Alexandra. What could possibly go wrong?

Top image: The Queen arrives at Royal Ascot, by Reflected Serendipity via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

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