The portents were not good on Saturday morning for the trip to meet a couple of pals at Ascot for the Shergar Cup, writes Tony Stafford. There are three routes I can take: through town, around the North Circular Road or, if the tank is full, around the northern portion of the M25.
The phone didn’t help, best route through town avoiding accident on the M25. I ignored it – not telling my wife who when in the car insists on my sticking to what it tells even when I know every wrinkle between here, Ascot and pretty much every other course in the south-east.
So I set off down the A12 past the Olympic Velodrome and on to Redbridge roundabout, a name which more often than not reminds me that Jessie J, the singer, started out in that borough as Jessica Cornish. Honestly, it does!
This Saturday, the signs told us, but not until we were almost on the big roundabout that joins the North Circular and M11 (leads to M25), that road works were starting that morning and lasting for more than two weeks. Cheers, that and accidents. Without the wrinkles I’d never get there in time for the early start.
With the local knowledge, past the new development of the former Denham Film Studios – must look at a show flat if I’ve the time one day – I just about made it. As soon as I arrived, it was obvious that Shergar Cup day still draws in the crowds. Just as evident was how many young people were there. Possibly most were attracted by the post-racing concert with its trio of attractions (more later) but as the first of the six contests with horses running in four team colours and in distinguishing caps got under way the excitement was palpable. You can talk about the potential ills of gambling but when people not accustomed to being in a betting environment have the chance to have a wager on a live horse race with all the motion and colours, and maybe collect, a switch seems to be turned on.
For me, though, there was one great wrong. John Gosden has been mopping up the Group 1 races for fun this summer, almost without exception with Frankie Dettori’s rekindled genius assisting. The winners would not have garnered anything like the publicity for the trainer and their owners without the Italian’s part in events.
How then, bearing in mind the trainer’s obvious love of publicity, did he not manage to understand what a difference it would have made to the Shergar Cup if in this year of all years Dettori was allowed off games at Haydock or wherever to bolster this always-quirky day on the greatest of all UK stages?
Frankie is the uncrowned King of Ascot, from the seven in a day more than 20 years ago to the four-timer that had the bookies panic-stricken at the Royal meeting in June, to Enable’s consecutive epic King Georges.
But Gosden had much more important matters in his mind. On Saturday morning Dettori was booked for a single mount at Haydock, where the ground was already very testing. He was to ride Cambridgeshire winner Wissahickon in the Group 3 Rose of Lancaster Stakes, a decent race but one hardly of earth-shattering importance.
Wissahickon was a 5-1 morning-price second favourite behind even-money Addeybb, a mudlark who duly won comfortably for William Haggas. What happened to Wissahickon? Nothing. He was taken out because of unsuitable ground – hardly a shock that it was going to be unsuitable.
Instead, Frankie turned up at Chelmsford City, again for a single ride on the Gosden-trained Lady Lawyer, a 90-rated, thrice-raced and dual previous winner who collected £30k for getting home first in a 0-105 handicap, presumably to the joy of the throng at what Derek Thompson always describes as “Essex’s Premier Racecourse”. Hope he was there doing his routine day-long broadcast for the fans. He undoubtedly will have got a few words out of the great jockey.
But what a publicity opportunity wasted. The cheering crowds back at Ascot who celebrated Hayley Turner’s second successive Silver Saddle triumph by coming out top on points among the 12 riders in four teams, would have been ecstatic at seeing the elusive Mr D.
He won’t be around for much longer and John Gosden should have been instrumental in letting him off for the day. He’s happy to use Rab Havlin, Nicky Mackay and Kieran O’Neill on top-class horses on many occasions. What was so different this weekend? Certainly in terms of top-class racing, there was nothing to stand in the way, save Big Johnny G.
The Ascot fans were happy enough even in the wind and the occasional sudden squalls of drenching rain which caused gaggles of dressed-for-summer young ladies dashing for cover. As ever they were accoutred for Royal Ascot, mostly minus hats of course, the track perennially magnetic thanks to its reputation for style and class.
After Saturday, though, I fear there will be more than a few of that particular gathering that will have gone home less than satisfied at the return of 50% of their admittance fee because the windy weather caused the abandonment of the concert. Coincidentally, top billing among three featured stars was none other than Jessie J, latterly a judge on one of the best-known talent shows on television and a big recording star in her own right.
Apparently the setting up of the stage at the site of the Old Paddock, now a verdant open space and wide open to the elements once the temporary extra Royal meeting stands are taken away, was much too dangerous to be used.
In earlier years I recall that the stage had been nearer the bandstand, scene of the post-racing “Hits from the First World War” sing-along that always has its share of enthusiastic and youthful devotees, often belting out the wrong words, not that it matters. Had the concert been based there, it might have been less exposed, but it certainly was windy on Saturday!
If the concert had gone ahead I might have stopped by to try to have a word with Ms J to tell her that if she planned to visit her family over the next couple of weeks to use the Central Line. Every rush hour, morning and night, that junction is a nightmare. I’ll have to tie a knot in a handkerchief – who uses handkerchiefs these days? Not me! I’ll need to because, true to form, my mental automatic pilot kicked in and at 6 p.m. there I was at the same spot, swearing at the delay!
Monday evening will be a rare occurrence for the Raymond Tooth team with TWO runners – unfortunately in the same race at Wolverhampton. Say Nothing and Waterproof are in a field of 11. What can I tell you? Not a lot.