Jump over the pond and check out the writing of Brough Scott. According to his website: "Brough Scott is one of the best known figures in racing and sport although he once received a viewer's letter stating 'you used to be the world's worst jockey, now you are the world's worst commentator, please shut up.'"
She deserved it, although I’m not sure if we did. After weeks of unwanted headlines about steroids in horses and drugs and corruption in humans, followed by the death of its most legendary trainer, racing has suddenly pulled itself together and produced, until the rains came, the best Royal Ascot ever with the Gold Cup for Her Majesty as the crowning glory.
Those of us who have been more times than there are runners in the Grand National, are apt to pretend there was some rose-tinted age when racing in general and Royal Ascot in particular, was much better than it is now. Well if we or others do, we are wrong. Of course racing lacks the central place in the national firmament which in 1909 had crowds dancing in Leicester Square the night that Minoru won the Derby for Edward VII. But for accessibility, enjoyment and thrilling action on the track, Royal Ascot has never served its fans and indeed its monarch as well as it did last week.
The reaction to the Gold Cup said a lot about the healthiness of the change. Sure there was not the deluded deification which once sent everyone marching off to war, but there was a wonderful, warm, shared dignity in the Queen’s delight. A year ago we celebrated 60 years of her remarkable reign with an Olympic Games opening ceremony which perfectly captured the different faces of modern Britain and even included our sovereign of sixty years coolly upstaging 007 in the most unexpected TV moment of them all. On Thursday the Queen was in every sense back on her home turf, but the big screen close ups gave us access to the personal happiness of this best moment of her own racing career. The whole racecourse was gripped not with the hysterical hats-in-the-air fervour of yesteryear but by a collective well-being, by an overwhelming sense of how lucky we were to be there and, even more, how lucky to have her.
Time was when the “Royal” in “Royal Ascot” was an excuse for stifling even the most obvious forms of progress. Up until 1955, the first year that running commentaries were actually permitted on course, divorced people were still banned from the royal enclosure and for far too long the place used to be renowned for its stuffiness and for a seemingly hopeless wish to resist, rather than harness the winds of change. To its great credit it has done the Stately Homes trick of inviting people in but explaining it is more fun if you enjoy it for what it is. So the dress code has become an advantage not an issue, the sense of decorum as an aid not a dampener. They have even made sponsorship seem respectable.
Remember all those “over our dead bodies” statements about sponsorship at Ascot as if they were about to change to titles like the “Macdonald’s Kings Stand” or the “Harpic Hunt Cup”? That may not have happened but in a rather upper class way the likes of Betfair, Longines, BMW and Bollinger have got their names into the mix and are no doubt paying very handsomely for the privilege. That’s what sponsorship is for but in sport it never works for long if the sporting action is not up to scratch and spectators don’t feel that they count. I spent the whole of Thursday with a paraplegic and friend on a first time Royal Ascot trip. He was made to count – pity his betting didn’t.
[Photo Credit: Ahmed Jadallah/the Sunday Times]