Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

A return to the Royal Meeting at Ascot

Posted by Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A plaintive and very polite note comes from the editor, wondering gently if there is to be a blog this week. I had, in fact, entirely forgotten which day of the week it was. I had practically forgotten my own name. This is because, after twenty years, I have returned to the Royal Meeting at Ascot. I abandoned it because of the crowd and the hats and all the fashion silliness. But this year it lured me with the two best horses in the world.

One of them, the Australian supermare, Black Caviar, had flown thirty-three hours to be here, dressed in a special lycra suit, so that she looked like one of the Olympic swimmers. (It keeps the horse's blood pressure steady, apparently.)

Black Caviar runs on Saturday, but yesterday the meeting opened with the highest rated horse in training, the majestic Frankel. High expectations are the enemy of happiness, and expectations were running red hot. He has never been beaten, he is clearly head and shoulders above the rest, he has developed into an even greater and stronger horse at four than he was at three. I said, for a joke, 'he'll win by ten lengths.' Horses don't win at Ascot by ten lengths, over a mile; especially when up against the most talented of their cohort. Last year, Frankel won by three-quarters of a length. The greatest horse is the greatest horse, but it is racing; anything can happen.

He won by eleven lengths, easing up.

It was, as I think one commentator said, a procession. The best horses in Europe were scattered down the track after him like forgotten toys. Hardened racegoers gasped and shouted and cried. (Well, mostly I cried. And the very polite Australian gentlemen who had flown all the way from Melbourne to see Black Caviar pretended not to notice.)

That was the power and the glory. For sheer spectacle, nothing may match that again in my racing life.

Then there is Ascot itself. It has all changed since I was a girl, with a huge grandstand like an airport and a completely new geography. I got to the racecourse an hour early, simply to do basic orienteering. But the turf is still the greenest and finest in these British Isles, and the watching the horses storming up the straight mile makes your heart beat in your chest. The old gentlemen who check your badge are still wry and quizzical and filled with old-world courtesy. The old fellas in their battered silk top hats tip their brims to acquaintances as they pass.

There are extraordinary ladies with bright orange faces and heels seven inches high and hardly any dress on. But the women who struck me most are the ones who have been going since the Queen was a girl; they really, really know how to dress for a race meeting.

Easily the chicest woman I saw must have been eighty-five. She was so elegant that I wanted to march up to her and pay my compliments, but I could not, because I am British.

As for the Queen herself, I am afraid I cannot report. As she was being driven up the course by her match greys, Frankel was in the parade ring. I heard the national anthem start to play as I watched him walk round, his eye bright and wise, his body packed with muscle and anticipation, his coat gleaming with health and brilliance. I had to choose between Her Majesty and Frankel; and I'm afraid, on this occasion, the king won.

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