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Johnny D.’s Ascot Thoughts

by Johnny D

June 27, 2019

One day last week a friend texted to see if I could come out and play. I tapped back that I couldn’t. Which was true. For five consecutive mornings I was glued to the ‘telly’ and Xpressbet for racing from Royal Ascot. Afraid to miss a moment--The Royal Procession; a graded stakes race; a Frankie Dettori flying dismount; Eddie Olcyzk in a top hat, a bandstand sing-a-long! 

You see, I’ve been racing at Ascot and it is quite the spectacle. Can’t wait to return. Neither can my wife. It was at Ascot when I first (and last) bought her a ‘bag of champagne.’ To explain: We stopped at a bar just inside the track and she ordered a bottle of bubbly. It was presented to us enclosed in a clear plastic carry-sack filled with ice. Wow! I was amazed. In the states, at Philadelphia Eagles home games salespeople confiscate caps from water bottles as if when launched they’d be as deadly as scud missiles. 

The Ascot Royal Meeting is special. Mostly graded runners compete in turf races over a course with a 73-foot climb from the lowest point at Swinley Bottom to the highest at the Winning Post. There’s a one-mile ‘straight’ and also a sort of triangle-shaped layout capable of presenting two mile and five and one-half furlong marathons. During some races, competitors form mid-race herds—near and far side—all in search of the best ‘going.’ 

European obsession with proper ‘footing’ interests me because the majority of handicappers in this country pay it so little attention. There is a growing group of bias proponents that attempt to declare ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the best paths. Our dirt track classifications include Fast, Sloppy, Good, Muddy and Sealed Fast. And over here we’re content with turf condition descriptions limited to Firm, Good, Soft and Yielding—which is one less category than is used to detail ‘How would you like that cooked?’ 

Check out this portion of Friday’s daily ‘Going’ info email from 2019 Royal Ascot Racenews Racecourse Service: 

Good, Good to Firm in places 

(from Good on the straight course and Good, Good to Soft in places on the round course at the end of Friday) 

It has been dry since racing on Wednesday. There was 10 millimetres of rain on Wednesday. A dry and sunny day is forecast, with temperatures up to 22 degrees Celsius. 

Chris Stickels, Clerk of the Course at Ascot, said at 9.00am: "It is a lovely, bright, dry and sunny morning. We have now been dry since Wednesday and the track is drying out really nicely." 

GoingStick Readings at 8.15am today: 
Stand side: 8.2, Centre: 8.4, Far Side: 8.1. Round: 6.7 
(Friday GoingStick readings: Stand side: 7.4, Centre: 7.6, Far Side: 7.4. Round: 6.0)
> (Thursday GoingStick readings: Stand side: 7.0, Centre: 7.0, Far Side: 7.0. Round: 5.7) 
(Wednesday GoingStick readings: Stand side: 8.2, Centre: 8.4, Far Side: 8.2. Round: 7.2) 
(Tuesday GoingStick readings: Stand side: 8.9, Centre: 8.9, Far Side: 8.7, Round: 7.4) 

Straight Course: Centre
Round Course: Inside 

When’s the last time you received such detailed information from a US racing entity? Would ‘never’ be accurate? 

Each year, during Ascot, besides the fact that the horse that gets there first wins, I’m reminded about how racing there is different from anything we have in the US. Neither way is right or wrong. Just different, probably due to cultural, historical and economic influences. That means we shouldn’t compare what happens at Ascot to anything on this side of the pond. Let’s just enjoy them both. 

For example, instead of presenting a few big racing days like Oaks/Derby; ‘Susan/Preakness; Belmont Festival; Breeders’ Cup, Ascot races five consecutive days, highlighting a major event each afternoon. Also, instead of 12, 13 or 14 races in a single serving, Ascot offers a mere six events daily--first post 2:30 pm and last at 5:35 pm. That brief schedule leaves plenty of room for serious pre and post-race picnicking in the car park—otherwise known as tailgating in the parking lot. 

Presenters on the ‘telly’ make a big deal about daily wagering on the color of The Queen’s hat, but that’s a bit of a scam. Exhilarated by the Ascot experience, on my only visit, I foolishly attempted to get 1,000 pounds down on ‘Yellow.’ None of those so-called bookmakers was interested. 20 pounds was their limit. Don’t really blame them. They really could get hurt by a ‘bloke’ with solid inside information. Apparently, something along those lines occurred one day last week when the winning color prematurely was leaked from inside Windsor Castle. Word spread like wildfire throughout the betting ring and the wager was closed quicker than you can say Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Obviously, Ascot is trenched in history. Not 151-year-old Belmont Stakes history, either. This is 1711 Queen Anne vintage. That’s when she rode out from Windsor Castle and declared the ground, “ideal for horses to gallop out at full stretch.” However, the first Royal Ascot race meeting wasn’t until 1768. This Ascot grandstand is newly minted. Opened in June 2006, by Her Majesty the Queen after an 18-month renovation. There are more than 100 bars and food outlets around the racecourse, with 39 professional kitchens—25 in the grandstand and one for every two private boxes. Fine dining chefs there hold 8 Michelin Stars and 21 Rosettes, collectively. That combination of historical significance and modern comfort is unbeatable. 

Also, pretty impressive is information provided by stewards to the racing public. Below is the Stewards’ Report from a previous day’s races at the recently concluded meeting…that’s right, from a previous day’s races…not from a week ago. Note the detail. You won’t need to read more than one to appreciate how thorough Royal Ascot stewards are.


Race 1 - 2:30pm G3 Albany Stakes - An enquiry was held to consider why Richard Hannon was running KEMBLE (IRE) here at Ascot on going described as Good to Soft, having declared the filly a non-runner at Ascot on 19 June 2019 on ground with the same official description. The trainer's representative stated that the filly had been made a non-runner on Wednesday on the basis of the forecast rain. However, with an intervening dry day and with the ground continuing to dry out, they were happy for KEMBLE (IRE) to take her chance on this occasion. Permission was given for CHILI PETIN (USA) to be ponied early to post. LORELEI ROCK (IRE) wore earplugs in the preliminaries which were removed at the start. An enquiry was held to consider why CHILI PETIN (USA), trained by Wesley Ward, had gone to the start behind 21 of the other runners, contrary to the 'Ponying of Horses to the Start' protocol which states that all horses to be 'ponied' should go down early and at a normal pace, so as not to delay the other runners at the start. After being interviewed, Ward was informed that any future failure to comply with the protocol may result in the privilege of having his horses ponied to the start removed. Following the race, Frankie Dettori reported that LAST SURPRISE (IRE), unplaced, stopped quickly; the Veterinary Officer reported that a post-race examination of the filly failed to reveal any abnormalities. 

Race 2 - 3:05pm - G2 King Edward VII Stakes - Permission was given for HUMANITARIAN (USA) to wear a hood in the Parade Ring. An enquiry was held to consider interference on the final bend when PRIVATE SECRETARY, placed fourth, ridden by Franki Dettori, interfered with HUMANITARIAN (USA), unplaced, ridden by Robert Havlin, which in turn interfered with PABLO ESCOBARR (IRE), placed fifth, ridden by James Doyle. Dettori was suspended for 3 days for careless riding for manoeuvring to his left when insufficiently clear o HUMANITARIAN (USA), causing Havlin to have to take a check and shift the gelding left-handed and, as a consequence, PABLO ESCOBARR (IRE) was taken off its intended line. Following the race, the Veterinary Officer reported that EAGLES BY DAY (IRE), placed third, had lost its left-fore shoe, and Oisin Murphy reported that PONDUS, placed sixth, ran too free. 

Race 3 - 3:40pm G1 Commonwealth Cup - Permission was given for KHAADEM (IRE) to wear a hood in the Parade Ring and be mounted in the chute. ROYAL INTERVENTION (IRE) wore earlpugs in the preliminaries which were removed at the start. Upon leaving the stalls RUMBLE INTHEJUNGLE (IRE), drawn 7, jumped right-handed at the same time as FOREVER IN DREAMS (IRE), drawn 5, jumped left-handed and as a consequence they made brief contact. After viewing a recording of the incident it was found that no riding offence was involved. 

Race 4 - 4:20pm G1 Coronation Stakes - The Starter reported MAIN EDITION (IRE) was the subject of a third criteria failure. Mark Johnston's representative was informed that the filly could not run until the day after passing a stalls test. As it was the second occasion within the previous 12 months that MAIN EDITION (IRE) had been reported, a further report within the same period would mean the filly would be prevented from having a stalls test for 6 months. MAIN EDITION (IRE), drawn 7, jumped right-handed leaving the stalls making brief contact with JUST WONDERFUL (USA), drawn 6, which in turn made contact with JUBILOSO, drawn 5. After viewing a recording of the incident it was found that no riding offence was involved. The Stewards wished to hold an enquiry into the Running and Riding of JUST WONDERFUL (USA) but were unable to do so as Aidan O'Brien had left the course. They adjourned their enquiry to Ascot on 22 June 2019. 

Race 5 - 5:00pm - Sandringham Handicap - Permission was given for INVITATIONAL and LAYALEENA (IRE) to wear hoods in the Parade Ring. Hayley Turner, the rider of the winner, THANKS BE, was suspended for 9 days and fined £1,600 for using her whip above the permitted level inside the final 1 1/2 furlongs. James Doyle, the rider of MAGNETIC CHARM, placed second, was suspended for 2 days for using his whip in an incorrect place on the run to the line. The performance of NONCHALANCE, which finished unplaced, was considered. John Gosden's explanation that the filly may be suited by a return to 7 furlongs was noted. The performance of LAYALEENA (IRE), which finished unplaced, was considered. Sir Michael Stoute could offer no explanation for the filly's performance. 

Race 6 - 5:35pm - Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap - Permission was given for SPARK PLUG (IRE) to be mounted in the chute and go early to post. BAGHDAD (FR) wore earplugs in the preliminaries which were removed at the start. The performance of JOHNNY DRAMA (IRE), which finished unplaced, was considered. G M Lyons' explanation that the gelding may be have unsuited by the step up in trip was noted; JOHNNY DRAMA (RE) was routine tested. 

Despite what the marketing brochures might sell you, not everyone that attends Ascot adheres to a formal dress code. However, if you’re planning to enter any area of the track governed by one, don’t mess around. It’s easier to sneak a dog into a cat show than it is to slip into the Royal Enclosure while wearing an unapproved hat. 

Absolutely, I couldn’t come out and play. Miss a Royal Ascot moment? No way. It’s too special and too different from what I’m used to. When asked to describe her Ascot experience NBC’s Dylan Dreyer offered, “It’s like the Kentucky Derby and the Royal Wedding had a baby.” 

Good answer. Or, as they say across the pond, ‘Spot on!’ 

Race On!