The Secret Racegoer at Ascot
Ahead of Saturday’s meeting at Ascot, featuring the Clarence House Stakes, a columnist on a weekly racing newspaper, not a million miles away from concentrating on the weekend’s action, opined that the Berkshire track is somewhat lacking in atmosphere when it holds jump fixtures.
There is some truth in that observation, just as there is that some midweek Flat racing seems to be played out in front of a less than packed house, where the atmosphere can best be described as sedentary.
But on Saturday, despite the drizzle and the chill, meaning the nice lady in the left luggage room still hadn’t thawed out after two hours, there was a buzz about the place, more than likely in anticipation of seeing Altior out to make it seventeen wins from seventeen races over obstacles.
The fact that he’d seen off all but two rivals was a disappointment, but if all went according to plan, the number of fellow runners was going to be academic unless one of them got in the way of Nicky Henderson’s charge.
One person definitely at Ascot to see Altior was Debbie Matthews. Debbie fights mental health issues, which she describes on her blog:
“Not only do I battle with my mental health, anxiety disorder, PTSD, emetophobia, I have physical health issues too. I have had 10 operations in my lifetime for both renal and gynaecological issues.”
One of the consequences for Debbie is social anxiety which, in the past, has meant she’s been unable to be left alone. But she has become a fan of Altior, watching him on TV, so come Saturday she was determined to get to Ascot and see her hero. Beforehand, she tweeted:
“So, I am not going to be hiding in the safety of my home today watching @itvracing and saying ‘I wish I had gone’. I am off to @Ascot, my first time there, and I am going on my own. Just a day out for most, a massive step for me.”
Not only did Debbie get to Ascot and brave the crowds, she has since been introduced to Altior in person by his trainer Nicky Henderson. You can read more about Debbie’s day at Ascot at http://www.novicefilly.co.uk
But before Altior’s race, however, we were to see another successful raid on a Berkshire track by Ireland’s Jessica Harrington. After her first runner at Newbury for 15 years, Magic Of Light, obliged last month, she was now further south in the royal county to see it win again.
The nerves took hold
Supplemented during the week and backed into favouritism, the 11yo duly won the OLBG.com Mares Hurdle. But, for the groom, the nerves took hold and she needed the aid of nicotine whilst the race was in progress.
But she needn’t have worried and quickly stubbed the cigarette out on Ascot’s hallowed Flat track turf as she went out to greet her charge with Robbie Power aboard, who had recommended the mare took the trip across the Irish Sea for the tilt at the £50,000 Grade 2 contest.
Little damage was done by the dog-end to the surface as it currently resembles the implementation of a scorched-earth policy.
With Altior’s race still to come, the necessary quality check of the Guinness was undertaken.
The first pint sampled was in the Frankel Bar but a change of barrel delayed it’s arrival by nearly five minutes which led to the young lady behind the bar showing more concern at the wait by jumping up and down whilst this customer was less troubled – good things come to those who wait.
But it did have to been necked more quickly than is ideal, so another pint was required in order for the test to be carried out in ideal conditions.
The second pint was poured without delay, but its sampling was still delayed as the contactless payment device wasn’t working properly – the battery was flat. It’s good to know that whilst the plastic had taken bit of a hit from racecourse catering prices and was beginning to blister at the edges, the machine was the first to show signs of fatigue.
So it’s now time for Altior’s race which means that the warmth of the bar is forsaken to head to the pre-parade where a young lady of one’s acquaintance wants to see the day’s headline star.
And, standing in the drizzle and assisted by the handler’s armband, we were able to identify number one on the racecard – Altior, the 1-10 favourite for the Matchbook Clarence House Chase.
For a fleeting moment I remembered that I used to collect Matchbook toy cars, and then realised they were Matchbox cars and my favourite was a milk cart pulled by a horse, not unlike some of the animals I’ve since backed.
The odds seemd prohibitive but one patron in the Annual Members’ room decided to risk an £80 flutter. Once the bet is placed he took on the persona of someone who’s got their pension fund invested in Patisserie Valerie, and breaks into a cold sweat
But, as we know, you can sometimes have your cake and eat it, and he collects £88, possibly wondering if all the anxiety was worth it.
On a packed train home, a young boy aged 10 gets on one stop down the line at Sunningdale with his older brother. Both seem aghast that there’s nowhere to sit.
Room is made for the younger of the two to sit down whilst his brother asks if there was racing at Ascot, and was told there was.
The ten-year-old enquired which horse had won. “Do you know anything about racing?” he was asked. No, he replied, I do polo.