I thought that attending the horse races at Royal Ascot would be a bit of a lark, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to attend a glamorous event, like the Oscars. I thought there would be a fair number of “regular” people like myself, getting out our Sunday best and rubbing shoulders with “the great and the good”. Judging by how comfortable everyone was in their morning suits and Royal-Wedding-worthy fascinators, however, these were not hired duds but second skins. I saw one or two other women who looked, like me, to be wearing the very best hat they owned, but our hats were far more practical than the scraps of net and feathers that most women were wearing.
I decided to buy a package that included a special train from London, Grandstand admission, racing program and glass of champagne. It was the champagne that clinched it for me. In fact, one of the best parts of the experience was the easy availability of champagne. (I’ll write another post about the wonderful wine lists I’m finding… apparently my English heritage is reflected in my taste in wine… and preference for bubbles!) Champagne houses like Bollinger and Veuve Clicquot sponsor champagne bars, where, if you can find a seat, you can sit and enjoy the fashion parade around you.
As the train arrived at opening time (10:30 am), I had a lot of time to wander around and explore, since the Queen doesn’t arrive until 2 pm and the first race is at 2:30. As part of that wandering, I “had” to have champagne for breakfast, as my coupon expired at noon. I wanted something to eat first, though, as champagne on an empty stomach at the start of a long, hot day is not a good plan.
Nothing appealed until I found the “Cheese on Toast” booth. That even sounded vaguely breakfasty (unlike the bangers booth), so I decided to give it a go. Mmmmmm… The cheese is called Sussex Charmer, from Bookham & Harrison in Sussex. It’s described by them as “a cross between a Traditional Mature Farmhouse Cheese and a Parmesan”. Toasted on thick bread, it had a nice crunchy/chewy crust, with just the right amount of stringiness in the melt, a smooth texture and just a bit of a tang.
This bar serves hot dogs and prosecco –love seeing a guy in a top hat “queueng” for hot dogs!
You can take your champagne “to go” into the Grandstand in this handy PVC cooler bag. (It’s a bit hard to see, as there are black purses at the top and bottom left…) These are apparently very big here, an invention of which I heartily approve!
Once fortified with food and drink, I set off to explore and took a small flutter on the color of the Queen’s hat (more about that, later).
Around 1 pm, I placed myself by the race course rail to get a good look at the Queen. At 2 pm, she and Prince Phillip and Prince Harry (who was strangely NOT busy filming the show, “I Wanna Marry Harry” — which is actually on TV here, as well) rode in a landau (open carriage) past the hoi polloi and under the grandstand, to emerge later in the Royal Enclosure.
Now, a bit about the grandstand. I knew my tickets were for the grandstand. After all, to even BUY tickets for the Royal Enclosure you need a formal invitation from a current Royal Enclosure member. But I didn’t realize that grandstand was a literal description. Unlike American racecourses, there are no seats in the grandstand, simply tiers for standing. (Well, there are a few seats, including wrought iron benches on the lawn, but those were fully occupied early on and stayed that way.)
Apparently the tradition is to view the horses in the Parade Ring prior to the race, place your bets, then go to the grandstand and watch the race, collect your winnings, celebrate with a glass of champagne, then repeat. The only one that’s expected to sit for the races is the Queen.
The last race of the day featured Victor Espinoza, the American jockey who had ridden California Chrome in his attempt at the Triple Crown. I patriotically placed a £2 bet on him, and he won £14!
That wasn’t my only win of the day… not only did I get to see the Queen, she proved a winner for me as well (£12) when she wore a blue hat!
And thus endeth my visit to Royal Ascot….
Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to look at the Queen.