This issue features Royal Ascot and the Queen as its key themes and the two are very much interlinked. It was Queen Anne who initiated horseracing at Ascot in the early 18th century and the racecourse remains the property of the Crown Estate.
For over 60 years, Her Majesty has been a constant and reassuring presence at the June festival, the famous daily carriage procession down the course fervently anticipated by royalists wanting a view of the monarch and those who’ve had a bet on the colour of her hat.
Hats, of course, are also synonymous with Royal Ascot, which is renowned for the well-bred fillies that converge on Berkshire every year – and I’m not talking about thoroughbreds.
Dressing up is as much a part of the royal meeting as the world-class racing – indeed some visitors choose to focus on the action off the track rather than on it – and to recognise this Laura Thompson takes a fascinating look at the changing attitudes, styles and fashions that Royal Ascot has delivered over the years.
For those of us more concerned with the actual racing, there is only one filly (or mare, to be precise) we are desperate to see in the UK this year: Black Caviar, the best female racehorse in the world.
“Nothing has managed to lay a glove on Black Caviar in her homeland”
To describe the race record of this Australian champion – unbeaten in 21 starts between five and seven furlongs, with 11 Group 1 wins to her name – fails by some way to do her justice, for it is the manner of her victories that marks Black Caviar out as truly exceptional. Opponents are not simply beaten; they are treated with contempt.
Nothing has managed to lay a glove on Black Caviar in her homeland so the daughter of Bel Esprit will now be tested on these shores, firstly at Royal Ascot and hopefully at other tracks later in the year. Is trainer Peter Moody looking forward to the challenge of taking on Europe’s best?
“I’ve got little interest [in Royal Ascot], to be honest,” he tells Stephen Howell. “I’m the quintessential Aussie who thinks we’ve got the best racing in the world, so why do we need to go over there to show our wares?
“You see Freedy [Lee Freedman] win Melbourne Cups and Golden Slippers and not be moved, but he won a Group 2 at Ascot [with Miss Andretti] and was very moved by it, so clearly it means something.”
Punters hoping to get rich by backing the superlative sprinter can avail themselves of the 8-13(!) that is currently available for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Looking further ahead, the clash that racing folk are praying for – Black Caviar versus Frankel – is unlikely to happen unless someone moves quickly to sanction a match race that appeases both camps; the idea of the two meeting on Goodwood’s undulations in the Sussex Stakes is almost certainly a non-starter. Yet this is a unique opportunity to give horseracing globally a shot in the arm – imagine the media coverage potential – and must not be passed up.
On the basis that a huge pot could be raised (bookmakers contributing the money they’ve saved in moving offshore would easily raise £10 million, and wouldn’t they benefit from the result?), the race distance set (seven furlongs seems fair) and the venue agreed (Ascot’s Champions’ Day in October, with the capacity for a huge crowd, is perfect) then there’s just a chance, albeit slim, of securing the showdown to end all showdowns.
If the match is to happen, Johnny Weatherby may well have a role to play in events. Having succeeded the Duke of Devonshire as Her Majesty’s representative at Ascot, where he is also Chairman, Weatherby is confident that Ascot can continue to thrive despite the BBC’s decision to stop televising racing next year.
“In Channel 4 we have a partner hugely committed to Ascot, to the success of the royal meeting and to the sport,” he explains to Tim Richards.
“This is a big investment on their part and we have every confidence that the Channel 4 team will deliver a top-class product.”