Magazine article The Spectator

Ascot Shows Its Class

Magazine article The Spectator

Ascot Shows Its Class

Article excerpt

The late Jim Callaghan told a few of us one day about life in the House of Lords after being an MP in the Commons. 'In the Commons you wonder if you'll survive the next election. In the Lords you wonder if you'll live until Christmas.' On his first day in the Lords, the Whip detailed to show him round stopped him after an hour or two and said, 'Jim, you're making two mistakes. You're going too fast and you pass every lavatory.' We are all in danger of rushing things too about the new Ascot. Yes, the sightlines are not perfect, although £10 million has been spent on improving initial faults. Yes, attendances have dropped, although the weather this year may have as much to do with that as any received wisdom about the view. None of the male racegoers I saw on Saturday was jostling anxiously for a better view of the track, and most of the females, struggling with breeze-threatened hemlines shorter than those my mother used to wear on her swimming costumes, were there to be seen rather than to see.

There are small gripes. I find it frustrating to walk miles around the Ascot atrium without being able to find a screen showing results from other courses. When we were admiring Raven's Pass, his impressive winner on Saturday, the ever-thoughtful John Gosden pointed out, too, that the new Ascot layout means that photographs of the winner, which set the tone in the sporting media, are taken against the background of empty standings on the far side of the vast parade ring. Talk about emphasising the negative.

But an unpleasant pack-hunting mentality seems to have developed about what remains a bold effort to create a truly world-class racetrack in Britain. Trainers of Australian sprinters don't seem to be deterred, nor the mighty Mike de Kock from South Africa, or the Japanese and German connections who are increasingly ready to send their horses.

The latest bout of Ascot-bashing accompanied the Berkshire track's flagship race, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Headlines the size we used to reserve in my subediting days for police shootings or royal deaths suggested that the end was nigh for a great race. They were occasioned by the fact that this year's race drew only seven runners, and that a contest designed to provide a seasonal showpiece -- the crucial clash over a mile and a half between the Classic generation and the older horses -- had attracted not a single three-year-old. There was no new sponsor either to replace De Beers.

But a thinner field for one year and the absence of the top three-year-olds for a single season does not prove anything. Peter Chapple-Hyam, the trainer of this year's impressive Derby winner Authorized, wanted to run his horse at Ascot but was overruled by the owners. …

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