All very civilised for the Secret Racegoer
The Secret Racegoer experiences a Royal Ascot with the return of racegoers
A year after Royal Ascot was run behind closed doors, the crowds were back at the Berkshire track for the best five days Flat racing you’ll see anywhere.
The numbers were nowhere near the 50,000 or more a day seen up until 2019. The cap was set at 12,000 and the two enclosures in operation were reconfigured as a result. The biggest difference was that the Royal Enclosure didn’t graduate to the fourth level, despite the signage saying it did.
For some of those who prefer to watch from upon high, especially as the site lines at ground level have never been satisfactory since the new stand was built, the fourth level and its seating being off limits was a source of irritation.
Royal Enclosure patrons don’t expect to be told where they can’t go – that’s for spectators housed further down the course in the Queen Anne enclosure, which had shrunk in size since it was last in use.
And there were glares directed towards anyone wearing lounge suits rather than morning suits who, unwittingly or deliberately, encroached from the Queen Anne compound into the Royal reserve.
The Secret Racegoer has a favourite spot to watch the racing but that had, for no apparent reason been roped off. Still, with the crowd numbers limited it wasn’t an inconvenience, just a source of mild irritation due to the lack of reasoning behind the decision.
If Royal Ascot racegoers were pent up with excitement after lockdown they didn’t show it with a mighty Cheltenham style roar to greet the first race.
Maybe only 12,000 people felt somewhat self-conscious about making too much noise. Or they didn’t realise the opener was underway as the track’s commentary wasn’t very audible.
Fortunately, the volume was turned up mid-race and everyone could hear Ian Bartlett calling home the odds-on winner Palace Pier and spectators found their voices, shouting “come on Frankie”.
And Frankie duly responded to the crowd overlooking the winner’s enclosure with a flying dismount. It was one of his more athletic dismounts, leaping into the air and landing in a manner that would have pleased judges scoring a gymnastics routine.
If that was a pleasing start for punters, many subsequent results reminded us that Royal Ascot can provide more than its fair share of long-priced winners. There were SPs of 11/1, 14/1, 33/1 and 66/1.
Many who had collected at 2/7 for backing Palace Pier soon found out, if they didn’t already know, that it was money on loan.
Buying a pint of Guinness (£6.50) or burger and fries (£12.50) made the Secret Racegoer realise that a loan may well be needed by the end of the week.
But what soothed the soul was the calming music of harpist Glenda Allaway.
Sitting in a floral decorated dais, her playing helped enormously in taking the mind off losing bets and extortionate catering prices.
Perhaps, when London Irish return for the new rugby season, Glenda could sit and play close by the Secret Racegoer as the Exiles yet again turn victory into defeat by conceding a try in the dying seconds of the game.
That’s when the calming music of the harp is most needed.
There wasn’t a Royal procession, that’s fallen to Covid, but the traditional sing-song around the bandstand returned, albeit with a smaller gathering, waving their union flags and singing with gusto.
“I’m singing all the right notes, but…”.
It wasn’t soothing music, it was of the rousing variety and many a millennial seemed to know the words to Pack Up Your Trouble in Your Old Kit Bag – ah, that’s what they did in lockdown, learn the words of songs over 100 years old.
So, five-days of top-notch racing was underway and those coming back for more knew that it was going to be civilised, as the 12,000 cap was going to be the order for the rest of the week.
Secretly, some would rather like it to be like that for future Royals, watching great racing, saving up for a burger, being relaxed by soothing music and maybe having the fourth level back in circulation. Oh, and backing a 66/1 winner.
But, for everyone’s sake, the return of 55,000 racegoers would mean things had really returned to normal.