I'm sorry to be writing two successive pieces on the same subject, but Ascot’s management of spectators on Saturday was just beyond belief. On the first day when its new dress code came into operation the racecourse scored a spectacular own goal when it attached bright orange "naughty boy badges" to around 50 spectators who were not wearing a tie.
The idea behind the stickers was that they would prevent people not complying with the code from being pestered throughout the afternoon by stewards telling them off. In other words it was a piece of good customer service. Who dreamt that one up then?
The new code was announced last week, and opinions expressed here at Geegeez are about as far apart as the North and South poles. But it was the changes to women’s wear that were attracting attention, whereas it was men who were at the centre of attention on Saturday. Clearly the Ascot authorities were of the view that we would just do as we were told.
It cannot have been a complete surprise that some men without a tie would present themselves to the Premier enclosure on the course. With a little bit of forethought Ascot could have handled the situation without creating a PR disaster akin to holding the AGM of Alcoholics Anonymous in a brewery. What would it have cost them to have a stash of Ascot racecourse ties ready to hand out at the turnstiles with a simple explanation of the new rule? All customers would have been compliant, and a few would have gone away with a free souvenir. Ascot would have avoided all the opprobrium poured on it over the weekend.
Instead they have shown themselves as thoughtless, idiotic old buffoons, brought ridicule on themselves throughout the media, and demeaned not just a small group of tie-less men but everyone else in that area of the track. It seems as though Ascot is harking back to the 1950s when one aspect of its snobbery was to ban divorcees from the Royal enclosure.
Charles Barnett, Ascot Chief Executive, rather ungraciously acknowledged the error yesterday, without appearing in the least apologetic. "It is clear that we let down many of our Premier enclosure customers with a well-intentioned but misguided policy. No customer should be expected to pay for such an experience, and we have taken the view that all Premier enclosure visited yesterday will receive a full refund." There were around 1,000 people in the enclosure who had paid £28 each on Saturday. A forfeit of £28,000 is a mere drop in Ascot's turnover.
There was a fine irony in the comments of Nick Smith, Ascot's head of PR. He was forthright in his claim that the change in dress code was only introduced on the basis of customer feedback (it's what you lot wanted, so you ought to just get on with it). He said, "It's frustrating, because we have worked so hard to change the reputation of Ascot. This was a significant mistake, but I hope people will appreciate that it was also a very rare one."
Nick Smith is absolutely right when he says it was a rare mistake. But it is a mistake that has undone all the work that has been done over the years, with some success, to shed Ascot's image of toffs and tomfoolery.