Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Royal Ascot.  Two days down, three to go.  Frankel, of course, has been the star - although So You Think provided us with yet another special moment today.  And Frankel will remain the star right to the end of the Carnival, almost irrespective of whatever Black Caviar does.  It is almost inconceivable that she can post as impressive a victory as the one to the sight of which he treated us.  (Technically correct but unacceptably unwieldy clause at the end of that sentence, I'm afraid).  His win was surely the best win anywhere in the world this century, and arguably the best win since Secretariat's Belmont Stakes victory in 1973, although it might be wrong to overlook Shergar's Derby.  But, even leaving aside the stunning performance of Frankel, there have been some great runs by a few other horses whom I also enjoy seeing in the mornings.

King's Stand winner Little Bridge (pictured in the previous paragraph) can't really be termed a local horse, being trained in Hong Kong, but he's been in Clive Brittain's stable for around a month and we've seen a fair bit of him, mostly in the rain (which isn't as great a coincidence as it sounds, as it has rained on a disappointingly high proportion of the mornings of the past month).  I didn't watch him exercising on the press open morning last week, but I didn't feel that I missed out as I'd already seen plenty of him.  I rather fear, though, that nobody watched him at all, which would have been rather sad.  It's great that the press are given the opportunity to inspect the overseas raiders on a designated pre-Ascot open morning each year, and it's great to sneak along to it (on the perfectly justifiable pretext of being Winning Post's overseas correspondent) but one has to say that this year's press open morning, which was obviously dominated by Black Caviar (pictured) was a complete debacle.

Black Caviar goes out each morning some time before 5.00 and wanders around for a while.  There aren't many people at large at that time of day, so she has plenty of privacy to do her minute amount of work.  On the open morning, she duly went up the Al Bahathri extremely slowly at 5.00 (pictured) and then returned to her stable.  It wasn't a bright morning, so the snappers wouldn't have had great conditions to record her pacework for posterity - and then, to widespread consternation, they discovered that they were not allowed to photograph her in the stable because (hard though this is to believe) her owners had signed an exclusive-rights contract with Racing Victoria's TVN station, giving that channel sole access to her.  So that was part one of the cock-up, and the part from which her connections emerged with no credit.  However, things only got worse.

Unbelievably (bearing in mind that each stable only has one horse here and all day to work him) the two HK-trained gallopers, Joy And Fun (stabled, like Black Caviar in Abington Place) and Little Bridge (stabled in Carlburg), then worked at exactly the same time (5.50) on different parts of the Heath (the former up Long Hill, the former on the Al Bahathri).  I wasn't too fussed about having to miss one or the other, because I'd already seen plenty of Little Bridge, so it was an easy decision for me to head out the back to watch Joy And Fun canter slowly, ridden by his trainer Derek Cruz, up Long Hill (pictured).

If, though, it reflected poorly on the organisers that these two horses were working simultaneously and separately, it reflected even more badly on the press, who ignored them both.  I suspect that nobody watched Little Bridge (and more fool them, as he's now the King's Stand winner) and, amazingly, only six people watched Joy And Fun - and two of them were  Derek Cruz's wife and very nice son Trevor (seen walking in alongside the horse)!  The remaining hundred-plus journos just mooched around in Abington Place, complaining about Black Caviar's invisibility and hoping to catch another glimpse of her.  I was embarrassed on behalf of Joy And Fun's connections, as it was a collective disgrace that he was there but ignored.

And then, to complete the f**k-up, Ortensia came out for her exercise, which involved walking around the extremely murky indoor ride (as she had galloped the previous day).  That meant that she was as close to being invisible as it was possible to be (as you'll see from this photograph, in which photographer Steve Cargill is looking at, but not photographing, her) - but that didn't matter because nobody seemed interested in her anyway.  I'm told that I very closely resemble the QC in the Leveson Inquiry - well, if that inquisition/whitewash (delete as applicable) paints the British press in a poor light, this press morning depicted it even less flatteringly.  I thought at the time, 'I wish one of these other horses could go and win at Ascot and make the journos realise how stupid and ignorant they have been so completely to ignore them' - and now, justice done, Little Bridge has won the King's Stand.

On a more positive note, a more satisfactory event has been the annual pre-Ascot invastion of human visitors from Australia.  There's always a really good crew of them here for a few days en route to Ascot.  This year, courtesy of Black Caviar, they showed up in record numbers.  I generally try to spend a bit of time with them.  Going to Salisbury on Sunday, I couldn't see them then, but I spent an excellent evening on Saturday with one bunch in the Bedford Lodge and then joined two groups (led by two really nice men Bryan Martin and Wayne Wilson, the former chief race-callers of Melbourne and Brisbane respectively) for an hour or so on the Heath on Monday morning.  It was an excellent hour, in which they saw plenty of nice horses including Frankel and were able to pass the time of day with plenty of the locals.  Included among the locals was our favourite honorary local Michael Holding, who couldn't have been nicer when I pointed him out to a few dozen of the Aussies with the suggestion, "There's Michael Holding.  He's the friendliest man you'd ever find, so why don't you all head over to say G'day".  As all Aussies love cricket as much as racing, his presence was perfect - and I was delighted to be able to take a photograph of two sporting legends, the other one (on the left of shot) being the great former Kiwi jockey Bob Skelton.

Remarkably, Bob was not the only Melbourne Cup-winning hoop on the Heath as Ray Selkrig, champion jockey in Sydney in 1958/'59 (following Neville Sellwood and preceding George Moore) and rider of the 1961 Melbourne Cup winner Lord Fury, was also in the group.  He seems a lovely man and it was a pleasure and honour to meet and chat with him.  Ray (pictured here, with Bryan Martin on right of shot) rode, of course, in the era when most of Australia's top jockeys rode in Europe at some stage, but he never did: he said that he was offered a contract one time but turned it down (Bill Williamson then accepted it) but that he didn't regret not coming as, although it would have been a great experience, he wouldn't have been champion jockey at home if he'd gone travelling and wouldn't have won six Derbys (including three, the VRC, AJC and QTC in 1964/'65, on Royal Sovereign, the best horse whom he ever rode and who has a feature race in Sydney named after him).

Just before I close, I must salute Princess Haya.  The Prince of Wales's Stakes today was a cracking race, with lovely So You Think recording his tenth Group One victory.  I thought that he looked the best he's ever looked in Europe, appearing to have regained the depth, strength and solidity which he'd exhibited when trained by Bart but which he lacked last year.  That was lovely and he was a really popular winner - but surely Carlton House (pictured returning from a gallop on Racecourse Side early one morning last week, with his usual rider John Nolan) would have brought the house down had he won rather than finished second.  I'm full of admiration for this lovely horse because it seemed (with the wisdom of hindsight, now that we know that he didn't win it) to have been the wrong decision to run him in last year's Derby, from which he unsurprisingly seemingly came back very sore.  It's great that, a year on, he's got over that - and it would have been really, really great had he been able to give the Queen a Group One victory at Royal Ascot in Diamond Jubilee year/month.  The loveliest thing of all came when Princess Haya was being interviewed on the BBC after her filly Joviality had won the Windsor Forest Stakes, the previous race. She had Colombian set to run in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, and when asked of her hopes for him in the race, she replied, instantly, straight from the heart and with complete sincerity, "I hope that Carlton House wins".  It was a lovely moment, and when Rishi probed further, asking about Sheikh Mohammed's views, bearing in mind that Godolphin had two runners, she responded, "We all hope that Carlton House wins".  It was a wonderfully moving moment.  Sportsmanship isn't dead.

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