Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot

June 23, 2012

            The big day has finally arrived and while I am excited about it because Ascot is so famous with so many beautiful people there, I am also quite nervous because I am not really a dress up kind of person.  The gates open around 10:30 or so but the first race isn’t until about 2:30 so we think if we go around noon, we should be fine.  My hubby had kept me worried during the week by asking me if I was sure the Queen would be there on Saturday.  I was pretty sure that was the plan but we are so hoping to see her and if she’s not there, I was going to be devastated as we missed her by one day at the Royal Windsor Horse Show and have missed her by a day or a few hours at other places we’ve been.

So we put on all our finery.  I feel like I am wearing a corset or close to it but it is what is necessary for the fancy dress.  My feet aren’t on fire yet but they will be by the end of the day.  We pack a carry bag with a pashmina and spare shoes for me, the camera bag, an umbrella and a couple of disposable ponchos and finally I throw in a hoodie although it is definitely not Ascot quality.  It’s only for an emergency.

We drive to the train station and get our tickets.  The platform is full of people going to Ascot.  You can tell by what people are wearing what kind of tickets they have purchased, for the most part.  Men in morning coats and top hats are in the Royal Enclosure and there are a few of them on the platform.  Men in suits are in the Grandstand and women with fascinators rather than hats are in the Silver Ring, the lowest priced tickets.   The trains today are pretty much dedicated to going to Ascot but we are lucky enough to get a seat.  There is only one stop and then Ascot.

If one has claustrophobia at all, this would not be a good place to be.  Getting off the train and walking the footpath to Ascot and up the hill through the gates, we were very crowded and pushed together.  It spaced out a little once we got inside.  I was using my cane today and it helped get people out of my way (Not because I was hitting them with it but because they were kind enough to move) which helped my arthritis a lot to only move in a fairly straight line.

We get to the gates of Ascot and we’re in.  No worries.  There are places right away to bet or to buy a programme or to get drinks.  We find some information ladies and ask if there is a map because we really don’t have any idea where to go.  They advise us to get the programme but one also tells us that the queen will definitely be in the parade ring at around 2:30 and suggests we go there around 1:50 to get a good place to stand.

The programme is great because it has a map and lists all the presenters of the different races plus the horses, jockeys, owners, trainers, etc.  I notice the Queen is presenting the winner of the third race which is the Diamond Jubilee Sweepstakes Race.  We decide to get something to eat first and make our way down a ramp to eat at the restaurant which has tables and chairs for people.  So many others are eating where they stand or sitting on grass or eating as they walk.  I’m not coordinated enough anymore to do that.  It is the only place we are able to sit that entire day.

My hubby gets us both a fish and chips plate but due to my underwear, I am unable to eat too much of it.  Hmmm. Maybe I should be wearing corset like underwear all the time as a food control measure – LOL.    I am anxious to get back to the parade ring because if the Queen is going to come through at 2:30 (my hubby thought 2) then getting there at 1:50 would not give us time to find a good place to stand.  I was right. When we walked back to the parade ring, it was full and I had to wiggle my way into a blank spot and I don’t think the people behind us were very happy about it.  Then some drunks came to stand behind us and they were so much into the party mood that they were just about shouting in our ears so we slowly inched our way over and over away from them until we were far enough away to be able to avoid them.  My ears weren’t so assaulted then and they weren’t falling against us as they laughed and joked.  They must have arrived at gates opening time and hit the bars immediately.  Guess I am really getting old too because they didn’t look near old enough to me to be drinking!  LOL.  Turning into my parents more and more!

The cameras pick up the Queen and her carriage and escorts entering from somewhere.  As we haven’t even seen the track yet, we’re not sure exactly where she is coming from but she’s coming!  I am so excited now that I’m just about bouncing up and down.  She’s going to do the outside stands and enclosures first and then turn into the parade ring and come around past us.  It seemed like it was taking her a long time watching via the big screen monitors but again, don’t know the track so couldn’t tell where she was.

At one point, the band which was in the parade ring with us started playing “God Save the Queen” which is their national anthem.  It was very patriotic and thrilling to listen and to see everyone sing the anthem and mean it.  It’s always very heart rendering to me to listen to people sing their national anthem.  It was hard to actually hear that people were singing but you could see the lips moving of everyone around us (except for that small drunk group behind us) and see the lips moving of the people on the screen.  Listening to anyone sing their own countries national anthem always makes me proud that people love their countries.  As the anthem ends, we can see that they are making the turn to come into the parade ring!  The young ladies behind me are talking about the Queen and making comments like “She is so wonderful.  She is remarkable”.  It was so great to hear them be so proud of their monarch.

It seems to take forever for the Queen to enter the parade ring but finally we can see her lead horses coming in and then there is her carriage!  This is it!  We are finally going to see the Queen!  What if she goes the other way and doesn’t come all the way around?  I was still very nervous that I would miss her.  Plus, a few minutes ago, it had started to rain and what if she just went to the other side where she would exit the carriage and get out of the rain!  Blast English weather!

But NO!  The horses are turning to go all the way around the parade ring which will take her directly past us.  I am so excited that I can hardly see through my camera view finder.  There she is!  Sitting in her carriage with Prince Phillip at her side and two gentlemen whose names I did not write down across from her in the carriage.  She is wearing a green hat and coat and stands out in the crowd.  Is it some innate English thing that people know what color she is going to wear and nobody else wears that color?  Whatever it is, it makes her very easy to spot, thank goodness.

As the carriage came around the Parade Ring, I snap photos and my husband waves.  She passes within a few feet of where we are standing.  It is glorious.  I have finally seen the Queen and she is quite a lady.  I am very impressed.  We wait until the carriages stop on the other side of the parade ring and watch while she dismounts from the carriage and walks into the building.  She walks without the aid of a cane or anyone’s assistance.  I can’t even do that on a bad day now!

Now it is time to go watch some horse races.  We climb up to the grandstand entrance.  It’s hard to tell exactly where we are supposed to go but there are all these signs that say “Grandstand Viewing” in front of us so I think we are in the right place.  Now is another time where a claustrophobic person might be in trouble.  It was very, very crowded to get into the building and we were just inching along and it started raining again harder so people were trying to push their way into the building but people were nice when they saw I had a cane which is good as I might have fallen over had they pushed me.

Here’s where we got the biggest surprise of the day.  Ascot racing in the Grandstand area has no seating.  There is one very small section with seats but mainly, you are expected to stand by the railings in the stands and watch the race from there.  We had both so planned on sitting down.  There wasn’t a place to sit anywhere except at one or two of the bars and those seats looked like they were glued to the behinds of the people sitting in them.  They had found seats and weren’t leaving them for anything.  So we caught a glimpse of the racetrack below and then went back inside to watch the race from the monitors.

Looking at the map, I figured we could get almost directly in front of the presentation stand of the parade ring and so I suggested we go over there to be able to see the Queen again as she was the presenter for race #3.  I do like horse racing but I am fine watching it on monitors if I don’t have a seat.  (We’ve always had seats when we’ve attended horse races in the U.S.)  So we made our way back to the Parade Ring and found a nice spot in front of the presentation stand and could see the monitors just as well.

Horses were being brought onto the track and walking around the parade ring.  We asked a gentleman next to us which horses they were and these were the second race horses.  Activity at the Parade Ring was quite fascinating.  As the race would end, people from the Royal Enclosure side would pour onto the Parade Ring and mingle with the jockeys and the horses.  Often it was hard to see the horse walking on the other side of the ring because there were so many people on the inside of the ring.  The jockeys came out here and mounted the horses here and then rode them onto the track.  The announcer was calling all the shots on when to mount up and go onto the track.  Also, the announcer called the following: if any horse had scratched and was now a non-runner, go place your bets, the odds are, jockeys mount up, this horse or that horse had special permission to be walked to the gate, and so forth and so on.

Second race horses were mounting up and then leaving the parade ring.  As the horses leave, the people also flow out of the ring and towards their spots to watch the race or to bet or to whatever.  I am really thinking that the people in the Royal Enclosure might have seats!  Another reason to try and get into there next year.

We watch the race on the monitors and cheer for the horses and then the race is over and the winners are coming back into the parade ring.  The third, fourth, and second place winners come in first and go to their respective places (signs on the grounds).  The jockeys are taking off the saddles and disappearing into the building underneath where we are standing.  Often, someone throws a bucket of water on the horse.  Some of the horses are not really fond of this and try and prance away from the water.  The winner of the second race enters and goes into the special winners circle.  The jockey is wearing a bright hot pink helmet.  Really?  Some owners have no sense of style in choosing their colors.  Maybe they don’t have much of a choice either.  Don’t know that one.  He also takes his saddle and disappears into the building.  We hear the announcer say that the jockey weights are in and the race is official.  The winning horse has been covered with a blanket and is being led around in the small winners circle.  Next the announcer states “horses away now please” and all four horses are let away.  The jockey is back and Lady Sarah Chatto presents the owners, the jockey and the strapper (?) with their trophies or medals or certificates or whatever.  I think Lady Chatto is the wife of a nephew of the Queen or something like that.  Haven’t figured out the Royal Family yet and the offshoots or who is who.

Now the horses are being led into the ring for the 3rd race.  There are many more people flowing into the Parade Ring.  There are ladies next to us very excited about horse #11 who is Black Caviar from Australia.  They have small signs in the owner’s colors and explain to us that Black Caviar has won her last 21 races in a row and this is her first international race.  They are very excited.  The monitors show people in the stands with Australian flags and waving little “Black Caviar” banners.  Black Caviar enters with a loud cheer and there is a cameraman walking in front of her with his camera pointed at her filming every step she takes.  He stays 5 feet in front of Black Caviar at all times.  Our new Aussie friends told us the owners have come over with an entourage of about 120 people.  Wow.  Guess if you have enough money for a racehorse, you hopefully have enough money to hire a plane too!  Black Caviar looks bored with the entire proceedings.

There are so many people in the Parade Ring now that as the horses pass along the back rail; we can just barely see them through the crowd of people.  The announcer finally states “Jockeys mount up now please”.  It takes a while for all the jockeys to get on their horses.  Black Caviar’s jockey is one of the last to mount and he exits the parade ring to a round of applause and almost the entire contingent of people in the Parade Ring flows back to the stands to go watch the race.  We stay where we are because the Queen is presenting the winners of this race.  It is the Diamond Jubilee Sweepstakes.

Takes a long time to get all the horses into the starting gate.  Some horses apparently aren’t real fond of standing in those gates but almost as soon as all of the horses are in, the announcer shouts “they’re off”.  Seems to me he shouts it a bit before the horses are actually moving!

From the screams and shouts of the crowd, we can barely hear the announcer although as it gets closer to the end, his voice becomes more and more animated and louder and louder as well.  Black Caviar is in the lead but towards the end, another horse is gaining on her and it is a photo finish!  What an exciting race!  As the monitors slow down the end of the race, we can all see that Black Caviar has streaked across the finish line just a nose ahead of the second place horse and isn’t it a shame that I don’t know that horse’s name!

The Aussies go wild!  They are screaming and shouting.  The crowd starts ebbing back into the Parade Ring by the dozens.  The losing jockeys walk through the Parade Ring to the doors underneath where we are standing.  I’m waiting for the Queen and suddenly she walks out from underneath where we are standing and walks over to the winners circle.  She’s by herself and doesn’t even seem to have any minders or handlers or anyone with her.  Just makes her way over to the winners circle to wait for the winner.    She is so small that she is swallowed up in the sea of top hats and if it wasn’t for her bright green hat and coat, she would have disappeared in the crowd.  We all know the Queen is a horse lover and we heard from the Aussies that she had asked to meet Black Caviar and her owners if she won.

Finally the winners enter the Parade Ring with Black Caviar coming last and the crowd is going wild.  Black Caviar is being led by her owners, I assume, as it was somewhere between 3 and 5 women holding onto her lead.  Her jockey dismounts but I never saw him take the saddle and go into the building like the jockeys had on race #2.  Maybe they did and I just missed it.

There is such a crowd of people in the winner’s circle all associated with Black Caviar that it is teaming with people and barely enough room to walk Black Caviar around in a circle.  Finally she is stopped over close to where the Queen is standing and someone must have said something because Black Caviar bows her head and through the crowd, we could see that she was right in front of the Queen and the Queen was probably petting her or talking to her.  The fans of everything Ascot are just going crazy for it all.  No one with a camera to broadcast onto the monitors can get close enough to see what is happening though.  But the people standing next to them had plenty of cell phones out of pockets and pointing in that direction.

It takes a bit longer but finally the Queen turns to mount the small stage for the presentations.  That takes a while too and she talks with some people near her.  She is so tiny next to these tall women with 5” and 6” heels and the men with their top hats.  I am so glad she knows how to stand out in a crowd.  I never lost sight of her in her green coat.

Now there are these big buffoons who are putting up ladders right in front of me so they can climb up and get photos of the Queen.  I would so like to push them off their ladders.  We had perfect spots to watch and now we are behind the paparazzi that just don’t care who they offend and who they inconvenience.  We are packed in tight against the rails in the stands above the Parade Ring so we can’t shift over to get a better view.  So most of my photos of the Queen doing the presentations have this jerks big blue head in front of me (he had on a blue jacket).  The Queen poses with the Black Caviar people and then it is time for her to leave as the race 4 horses are being led onto the track now.  She just walks off by herself and it’s like the Red Sea.  Waves of people part in front of her and she talks to a few as she is walking and then walks underneath us into the building and she is gone.

How exciting.  How wonderful.  How special.  I am so glad we went.  As far as I was concerned, my day was finished.  My husband wanted to see some of the horse racing now in real, not just on the monitors so we slowly made our way back into the grandstand and down to a small area where it said there was limited seating.  The seating was so limited and everyone was in a seat and probably glued to it so they wouldn’t lose their seat.  My hip was about to fall off, it hurt so badly, so we decided it was time to leave while I could still walk.  As it was, took us about ½ hour to walk back to the train station when it should have taken about 10 minutes.  I did change into my sandals as soon as we were out of the track and that helped a lot.  And I did have on my pashmina so I wasn’t too cold anymore either.  We had used the umbrella at one point but it was broken which I hadn’t realized so it was pretty useless.  Good thing we didn’t need it all day.

All in all, it was a wonderful day.  We got to see some fantastic imaginations of what defines a hat.  We saw some good racing, albeit via a monitor, and we saw the Queen and Prince Phillip up close and personal.  Ascot can be fun but it is a wearing ordeal for people with bad hips!  Still, I want to do it again.

We’re doing quite well in our Royal Watching as so far we have seen the main characters!  We still have yet to see:  Princes William and Harry, Kate, Prince Charles and Camilla, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenia, and Princess Ann.  OK, so we haven’t seen many but the Queen was the all-important one to see for me and we’ve done that.  Wouldn’t mind seeing her again and of course would be great if she’d invite me to something but that’s about as likely as me winning the Grand National!  Still, stranger things have happened.  Maybe I should start horse riding lessons.  Sigh, another dream realized during my life in England!

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