Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Reflections on Royal Ascot 2014 – Fabulous Showcase for British Racing …. and a Few Issues

I don’t know if you saw the typically eloquent comment from Alastair Down in the Racing Post during Royal Ascot: “Because it is easier to pander to prejudice and caricature than it is to explain the many-layered complexities of Ascot, the broad brush stroke of the media settles for the simple portrayal of the meeting as some anachronistic toff-fest by Class Distinction out of Behind The Times.” He, like me, disagrees with that, although I often have trouble with some of the “pomp and circumstance” that is always associated with the Royal meeting. But before flagging up a number of issues that came to the surface, here is a personal view of the racing:

  • What a start to the meeting for Sheikh Joaan Al Thani’s Al Shakkab Racing (by the way, named after a massive battle in the 19th Century in the Ottoman Empire) with Toronado winning the Queen Anne and then The Wow Signal prevailing for John Quinn. Must have been a huge sigh of relief from Harry Herbert.
  • Fabulous results for Eddie Lynam with Sole Power in the King’s Stand, Anthem Alexander in the Queen Mary and Slade Power in the Diamond Jubilee. How can such a relatively small yard do so well with sprinters?
  • I’ve said to all our NH trainers how much I’d love to see our horses go to one of the staying races at Royal Ascot. Wouldn’t you love to have owned Domination in the Ascot Stakes, Hartnell in the Queen’s Vase or Pique Sous in the Queen Alexandra? You could have bought all three for under €100,000! And of course, what about Landing Light, under a superbly mature ride from Joseph O’Brien in the Gold Cup where, for my money, he out-rode Ryan Moore despite hitting the horse 11 times and being banned and fined.
  • I’m glad I wasn’t the punter who had £100,000 on Kingman as they swung into the straight in the St. James Palace. But I would have been, after I saw the magnificent acceleration. Hasn’t 2000 Guineas form worked out well, with winners of the Irish Guineas, English and French Derbies and now this race.
  • Everyone expected Treve to show why she is Timeform’s highest rated horse in the Prince of Wales. Amazingly she is the first Arc winner to race in Britain since 1990. Obviously not right in her action, she was thrashed by The Fugue who is top class when conditions are in her favour.
  • I liked the comment from Jamie Osborne after Field Of Dream won the Royal Hunt Cup, when asked: “How will you celebrate?” …. “Well!”
  • Eagle Top looked a top-quality horse in the King Edward VII. Would you keep him to 1m 4f or go for the Leger?
  • Great to see Telescope bounce back in the Hardwick. Although I’m not a huge Highclere fan, it’s always good to see a syndicate grab a big one at Royal Ascot. Another sigh of relief for HH. There is quite a bit of rumbling amongst owners that maybe Highclere is no longer the main focus of Messrs. Herbert and Warren.
  • In the Wokingham, Karl Burke’s horse Rivellino ran a blinder from a poor draw to finish 3rd, to land a number of good each-way bets for OfO owners. Thank you, Karl!

Phew! Sorry if I left off some of your favourite horses. But what about some of the issues that inevitably surround the world’s best Flat fixture? Quite a bit of murmuring that racing / bloodstock is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a small number of very high net worth individuals. That was reinforced by the ultra-premium Goffs London Sale, in association with Qipco, at the Orangery in Kensington Palace on the Monday evening. That notably saw mare, Crystal Gaze, with Frankel foal, selling for £1.15m to the Magnier clan. Café Society was snapped up to go to Australia, and will go to the Melbourne Cup. It now seems that all you need to do to trouser £300k+ is to have a top-notch, 95+ 1m 2f to 1m 4f Flat horse and flog it out East. There was also the appearance of a new Russian buyer, Volga Star Racing, who spent £400k on a son of Giant’s Causeway. A fabulous sale, lots of spiffing champagne for the invited audience ….. but out of the price-range of most.

On the track itself we saw Stoute’s yard bounce back, and with John Gosden, dominate the meeting; so, again, a concentration of trainer power as well as buyers. The interference rule now appears to be too lenient and needs to be tightened up again, judging by the ease with which Hartnell gained the race having almost knocked Century over in the Queen’s Vase. Jockeys, equally, are ignoring the whip rule with over 46 days in bans being doled out. There is increasing controversy about the bias on firm ground on the straight course between those drawn high vs. low. Worryingly, not a single horse came to Ascot from the Southern Hemisphere.

Finally, there was a lot of debate about BBC vs. RUK vs. Channel 4. Depending on how you interpret the figures, it looks as though viewing has dropped over 50% under the C4 stewardship. Bearing in mind that only a few years ago, Ascot used to have an excess of 1.25m viewers, while simultaneously C4 was broadcasting from other venues with ½m viewers. A lot of viewers appear to have disappeared, and if that is maintained, it has considerable funding and media rights implications. Personally I’d sack a number of the presenters and bring back more individuals who can share the passion and excitement of racing. You don’t necessarily need lots of high tech for that, but you do need to be able to communicate the essence of what makes Royal Ascot such a stand-out meeting. And, very rarely for me at Ascot, I finished in profit on the betting front! But then, so did almost everyone else.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.


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