I love getting close to horses and when Ascot held its third annual Free Raceday on 1 May it offered a great opportunity to see behind the scenes and into parts of the world famous racecourse normally restricted to the inner circle of owners, jockeys and stewards.
With the beautiful May sunshine greeting the 20,000 people who had dressed up for the occasion we headed into the parade ring to stand on the winner’s podium and for a brief moment feel what it was like to own a racehorse. Then into the jockey’s weight room to speak to the Clerk of the Scales. Who knew that jockeys could gain so much as 2lb if they ride in rainy and muddy conditions, or conversely can lose a pound or two on sunny days and that any dramatic weight changes could cause instant disqualification.
Next we were taken to the Stewards box directly overlooking the winning post and heard how a series of cameras and mirrors defined who won by a nose, a head or a length; a serious job for a steward considering how many millions are involved in the sport.
Perhaps my favourite titbit though was the story of how the Queen arrives at Royal Ascot from her back garden at Great Windsor Park, up the race course and almost straight into the Royal Box. No-one is allowed in or out at any point during the year and she brings her own food up in Tupperware whilst Prince Phillip watches the cricket in another room. It reminded me of my own Scottish Grandmother, always ready with a tartan flask and packet of cheese sandwiches for any outing. I like to picture Her Majesty, eyes glued to binoculars shouting for her horse to romp home whilst her husband is shouting at England who inevitably are about to lose another wicket.
I like it that for others racing is all about the hats, the champagne and the showing off, but for some of us we are happy with a cheese sandwiches and luke-warm tea as our races are truly all about the horses.
Words and photography by Kitty Buchanan-Gregory