I openly admit (apologies to fellow Square in the Air colleague Cameron Brown) that I much prefer National Hunt horse racing to the Flat. Granted, it’s often wet, windy and cold during the Jumps season and you’re often more concerned about huddling inside watching the big screens that stand in the grandstands, but for me, it will always be the side of horse racing that really gets my heart pumping.
The jewel in the Jump racing calendar is of course the Cheltenham Festival and it’s a meeting that I’ve attended several times already. Obviously, the fact that working at SITA allows us to do that is a great perk of the job but even before that it’s a four days that I would always circle in the calendar. So while Jump racing has Cheltenham, for many the equivalent on the Flat is Royal Ascot.
I’d attended the Royal meeting before but not from a working perspective and the first thing that really struck me was how big an operation it is. There might be more buzz around Cheltenham, but Royal Ascot dwarfs it in terms of infrastructure and the volume of people required to run it. You perhaps don’t notice it when you’re there as a spectator, but I really was astounded as we walked through the gates every morning just how many people were scurrying around getting things ready for the day ahead. Whether it was chefs, bar staff or even the on-course bookmakers, everyone was busy in their own way in order to make sure the event ran smoothly
So here's a quick look back at the three horses that I was particularly impressed with.
When a hot favourite runs in a horse race there’s always mixed feelings, particularly at a big meeting such as Royal Ascot. Yes, you’re going to see a likely very good horse win but it often means the race is a bit of a non-event. While if the horses don’t run as hoped, then the winner is often not quite given the credit they perhaps deserve.
The horse in question here is Baaeed and if there ever was a day for a horse to show just how good he was, it was the Tuesday of Royal Ascot. That’s because the Berkshire track was blessed with beautiful blue skies with hardly a cloud to be seen – perfect conditions for William Haggas’ superstar colt to, once again, prove he’s the best around. And so he did with a minimum of fuss putting a fair field to bed without breaking a sweat (unlike the author…). Those reading this might not be horse racing fans, but I urge you to have a watch of this horse’s previous races because he’s a good one, a real good one.
This year’s Royal meeting was complemented by several horses from around the world. Equine stars from Australia, America and Japan, among others, were brought to Ascot this time around showing the importance the meeting has not just in the UK but globally too. And it’s one of those overseas challengers that gets the next spot in the list in the shape of Nature Strip.
Six-furlong races are often closely contested, while Group One contests are perhaps even tighter, so when a horse wins a Group One six-furlong race by over four lengths it’s certainly a bit of a surprise. However, from my perspective this wasn’t a surprise at all having seen Nature Strip in the flesh a few days before and being taken aback by how big he was. I can’t say I ever thought he was going to lose the King’s Stand Stakes and for once my theory was correct.
The Australian raider oozed class to win the race in a dominant fashion and for many, it was the performance of the week. In all honesty, it’s hard to disagree!
The final entry is somewhat of a selfish choice given a few of us won a fair few quid on him, but Dark Shift’s win in the Royal Hunt Cup was a brilliant story in more ways than one.
Trained by Charlie Hills, who we help activate on behalf of William Hill and have built up a great rapport with, the striking grey had always been regarded as an ideal type for the race. However, given it’s one of the toughest races of the entire week to win, it was hard to be too confident.
However, he surged through under Australian jockey James ‘Macca’ McDonald to win a shade cosily and it’s very much onwards and upwards. He’s another to keep a firm eye on.
It was perhaps a win that meant most to Reg, Dark Shift’s groom, who was celebrating his first Royal Ascot winner after working in the sport for 62 years. It was a win that won him the World Pool Moment of the Day and here’s the interview he gave upon receiving the award. What a legend!