Royal Ascot Tour Diaries – Day 5 – Fifty Shades of Salmon and Black

Royal Ascot

It’s a description not generally afforded to my own derrière.

“Magnificent black rump”.

But Black Caviar and I do share other common ground.

Caulfield is our home track.

We reside on the Frankston line.

Mordialloc beach hosts our water-based activities – where admittedly Nelly has me covered in mid-Winter (as does Tom Hafey, incidentally).

Today, we’ll both be accessorised in salmon and black. Tie and cuffs for me. The silks for her.

Our long-awaited Old Dart D-day has arrived.

The British horseracing era BC, Before Caviar, is over.

Despite England possessing their own 11 length crushing superstar in Frankel, the mystique surrounding “the mare” has kept Ascot buzzing at unprecedented levels all week.

Waterloo station is heaving in anticipation.

The self-serve ticket machines are backed up further than this morning’s full English breakfast (black pudding was involved). The decision to collect my Ascot train tickets the night prior has proven the day’s first triumph.

There is straight-legged, G.Costanza style effeminate sprinting along Platform 16 to the front carriage.

It’s standing room only today.

The train makes a handful of stops in vain, including Ali G’s much-maligned stomping ground of Staines. No one can squeeze in. A bunch of Carlsberg-skolling Australian lads are stranded on the platform. They sport orange polyester ties, featuring texta-inked black dot handiwork.

I struggle for conversations en route.

Two prim and proper English matrons dither about meaningless zero world rubbish. They are engrossed in their own Miss Marple episode, where their initially picture perfect lives gloriously unravel with each passing stop.

The French Caribbean folks opposite are clad in top and tails. One brandishes a sceptre. A sceptre, for god’s sake. I assume it’s not wielding ill fortune on Black Caviar to aid the Gallic filly Midnight Cloud. But an ice-breaker of this nature is rare.

“Hey, nice sceptre”.

Arriving at the course itself, we’re swiftly wearing the home strip.

It’s all about Black Caviar. It’s all about Australia.

Cameras and microphones are chasing down anyone sporting the BC apparel. The big screens feature vox-pops with Australians only. It runs the spectrum from the morning suit set, to those wearing a Roger David 2-for-1 special. Faded orange Black Caviar baseball caps complete the kit of the latter.

A BBC host goads a more senior group into a non-rousing rendition of “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi”.

Rooboy Kev and I cringe a thousand cringes. At least they weren’t The Fanatics. But at the same time, hope it pisses that irrelevant crank John McCririck right orff.

En route to the Australian bar, we again pass Dave Spice, the incomparable parade ring bookie whose name, by any measure, screams “rat with gold tooth”. He continues taking bets on the Queen’s hat colour. D.Spice employs some homemade texta work himself, adding “salmon” to the field.

The newly declared “Pink/Salmon” combination is 5/2. His market is running at 290% – rat with gold tooth indeed.

Black Caviar paddles are affixed to the walls and Fosters beer taps in the Australian bar. They are making us feel at home – or cashing in with some savvy marketing. A barman gives me a paddle to souvenir.

I can’t resist.

“This is going straight to the pool room”.

For now, it takes place in the suit pocket where the “Go Frankel” version took residence on Tuesday.

The Australian bar has played home base this week. There’s no queue for a beer, or a toilet stop. All canny bladder strategising roads lead here. You’d waste twenty minutes everywhere else today. In both proximity and furnishings, this bar is to Ascot what the Boomerang bar is to Caulfield.

Almanackers would definitely drink here.

We meet Clem from “south of Perth”. He’s half Singo, half Joffa, half Sir Les – don’t correct the math, I’m working to Dave Spice market principles there.

Clem trains trotters. He and the wife made a detour to Ascot after travelling around UK and the Emerald Isle.

“We’ve been to f**kin’ Belfast, f**kin’ Londonderry, f**kin’ Galway’, f**kin’ everywhere mate”.

Clem also barracks for Fremantle. His rather colourful descriptions of their new coach can be saved for another time.

The Royal procession is watched from the 34cm TV in the bar. We’ve had our fill of Royal waving this week. Incidentally, the Queen’s hat is not “Pink/Salmon”.

Racing is upon us. We stake a claim on the terraces, mindful of securing an all important clear view for the Diamond Jubilee.

Grandstand aisle 31-32 it is, about 60m from the post. Not far from the distinctive Richmond coloured umbrella of another delightfully named bookie, Tom Fruit.

A bunch of Scottish girls nearby brandish the Black Caviar paddles. They wind us up anyway.

The Susan Boyle incarnation is the ringleader.

“I’m a wee Scotswoman, aye. Is ya’ horse goona woon?”.

For no apparent reason, her hips then begin hula-hooping,

Struth.

The Jubilee undercard also provides great interest for Australians. And there are plenty of us standing in the vicinity.

The Hardwicke Stakes features last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden, and the pixelated runner up Red Cadeaux. We may be five months out, but it’s likely to prove a handy form reference for this year’s Cup.

Dunaden investment-returns last November had assisted in financing this junket. I “stick fat” and take the 6/1. The short-priced Sea Moon salutes, but Dunaden was unlucky. Shuffled back, then hampered significantly for a fast-finishing second. He again has the measure of his old mate Red Cadeaux in third. Other’s tailed off will still be Cup-bound also.

The main event’s in sight now. Canny bladder is at work, but I know where to head.

I pass Peter Moody. He’s speaking with what appears a leprechaun (possibly a shrinking ex-jockey).

Big dog Pete seems relaxed. More so than I.

In the preliminaries, Black Caviar’s on her toes a touch. As am I, to be fair – there’s that common ground again. With all the circus transpiring around us, I don’t give it much thought.

The race nears, and I’m twitching. Ultimately, I can’t help myself.

With two minutes remaining and tension reaching a crescendo, I relinquish the vantage point briefly. I forge through the crowd and take the 11/4 she wins by 6+ lengths. It was a patriotic, high on Australiana fumes wager, at best.

The big screens flash temporarily to a packed Federation Square. I think of the weather and time back home, and dips my lid (today, a flat cap), to those braving Metro trains, and the cold.

If Pete Donegan were here, he would now utter “all is in readiness”. But the gates fly open quickly in English racing, and at times readiness is not apparent.

Racing.

There is a Melbourne Cup start cheer.

I hit the record button on the camera. Then pray.

All eyes to the big screen. The Ascot layout ensures you won’t really see them until about the two furlong point.

“Hurry up already” is the general feel, given the tension.

When they appear in view, the race-caller confirms Black Caviar is easing forward . The cheering amps again.

She’s got them covered, it seems. I relax a little.

And she’ll just extend now. It’s what she does.

We wait for the extension.

Waiting.

It doesn’t quite come. But she’s still holding them. Right?

Rather too abruptly, all does not appear entirely comfortable. In the Black Caviar sense of “comfortable”, that is.

There is no pronounced gap between her and the rest.

My six lengths margin bet is shot, but I couldn’t care less. We just need to bloody win it.

The post is further away than it appears.

Some slight anxiety builds. Then, the full-blown fear.

They talk of life flashing before your eyes during a near-death experience.

My sports viewing life flashed before my own.

The internal kaleidoscope replays losing St Kilda Grand Finals. Jinxing the Aussies at Lords. My own meaningless junior sporting disappointments.

“This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening”.

I’ve begun resigning myself that she’ll lose, and of the inglorious aftermath.

The papers. The British papers.

The reaction from the Poms on course today. They’ll be into us.

The build-up. The hype. Documentaries. Memoirs. Novels. All shot down in flames in what should be the crowning glory.

My weak-willed action-packed lunacy plays out in just five or six Black Caviar strides. It was some lowlight reel.

Eyes return back to the screen for the last few yards. The populous are screaming.

Nolen appears to sit up.

Jesus. Are you sure, Lukey boy?

The French charges Midnight Cloud and Restiadargent are gaining rapidly on the outside. All three necks extend furiously.

I think of the bloke with the bloody sceptre. Bastard. He’s done this!

They hit the line.

There is an immediate expulsion of tension from the entire course. It then emits a low hum.

Many are uncertain, but I know she’s got it.

Yet I still think the worst.

I’m doubting myself, but reassuring those around. Talking myself into it.

It’s indicative of the meddling confusion. More likely, the fright.

The screens return momentarily to a rabid Fed Square. They seem convinced.

The course announcer, in typically British “Keep calm and carry on“ manner, declares it without a hint of angst.

“The winner. Number Eleven. Black Caviar”.

There is only a half-hearted “woo-hoo” victory cry. There is almost a feeling of helplessness.

Shock. Relief. Too close for comfort. They nearly blew it!

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

It wasn’t supposed to be quite like this. Something must have been amiss. Did Luke sit up? Was she hurt? Were the French things that good?

Nolen rides her back down the track for the masses to applaud. The realisation of the near calamity is muting the celebratory cheers.

The “win’s a win” line is trotted. We are trying to pick ourselves up.

I scurry out back where Black Caviar will head once the presentation fanfare dies off. The big screen keeps us in the formalities loop. Her Majesty gives our girl a pat.

Nelly then strolls past us in the relative quiet. She looks exhausted. The winners rug already removed from that enormous frame. The obligatory photo is snapped.

Post-mortems begin in the Australian bar.

Despite “us” winning the race, the Poms still ark up the banter. They sense we are feeling flat.

The inevitable Frankel comparisons come.

I remind them the number of English horses to win the Melbourne Cup, after two decades of trying. Zero.

I remind them the alternative was a French horse pinching the pounds.

And when an uppity old geezer suggests she’d be better off with an English hoop, I respectfully advise him to “go forth, and multiply”.

But it’s generally light-hearted.

Fosters continues to flow.

As the afternoon rapidly passes, it dawns. For all the challenges just being here, it’s probably her greatest victory yet. We had been conditioned to her braining them in the typical fashion. The expectations of “a show”, were high. Frankel may have established that feeling of inadequacy.

I’m somewhat glum I couldn’t marvel at the achievement at race time itself. Or celebrate in the manner it deserved. You’d always take a Grand Final win by a point. It’s the immediacy of sport, I guess. You can’t help what you feel.

News of her injuries come to bear later.

The punting itself is later capped with Simenon saluting in the last. The 4,345m Queen Alexandra stakes.

At the bandstand soon after, I meet “Moonee Ponds Mick”, also of salmon and black tie, who interrupted his US holiday to fly in from New York. He’s flying back tonight.

We’ve certainly come from far and wide to be here.

By the time Jersualem lets fly, I’m heading off.

There is further refreshment and increasing high-fiving with Caviar ties at Jagz bar near the station.

The Waterloo return journey is more productive. Surrounded by Melbournians, we reflect on Black Caviar’s achievement. And the privilege of being there.

Naturally, we then shit-talk footy soon after Virginia Water station.

I reflect on how long Nolen will be crucified for his almost-miss.

The Irishman Aiden O’Brien was widely hailed as humble on Wednesday, after admitting he got it wrong with So You Think for eighteen months, undoubtedly costing him races along the way.

Luke Nolen admitted his split-second error two minutes post-race, and still won.

Slack, surely, must Luke also be cut.

My phone is nearing battery demise towards London, but I catch Twitter wind of the general location of the Black Caviar after-party, near Marble Arch.

I don’t quite make it.

Nelly and I perhaps find common ground again. We are both “tired and emotional”. And in need of a feed-bag.

Maybe a hose-down, too.

In time, her feat will be appreciated more.

The meticulous year-long plan. The chanceless preparation. Exerting previously untapped reserves of courage, when the hurt kicked in. And at the death, a little bit of luck.

On the back of these, her Old Dart D-day was ultimately fulfilled.

Oh, and let’s not forget what really made it all possible.

That magnificent black rump.

Comments

  1. pamela sherpa says:

    Fabulous Dave. Thanks for capturing and relaying all the emotion, excitement and tension of the race via this piece. It was wonderful to read .

  2. Phantom says:

    The reply to the milling Poms at the post-mortem should have been standard and as unrelenting as an Abbott ‘no’, Dave.

    ‘It’s a good thing it wasn’t a dead heat – we would have had to have gone to penalty kicks’. That would have been enough to set them back.

  3. Top work again Dave!

    I look forward to the prospect of Dave Spice “googling himself” and stumbling onto this piece !!!

    PS: Great to see “much-maligned” once again featuring prominently in an Almanac publication.

    Cheers
    Arma

  4. Phantom says:

    Fosters Larger? Isn’t that a beer that Poms drink and Australians don’t?

  5. John Harms says:

    D Downer,

    Superb. So many wonderful observations explained in the way that made my head nod in agreement from the other side of the world.

    Also one of the lines of the year:

    “In time, her feat will be appreciated more.”

    Magnificent intentional ambiguity as it could be read

    In time, her feat will be appreciated more (than mine).

    And…In time her feat will be appreciated more (than it is now).

    Love all your descriptions of people. Sounds like yuor thieving bookies would fit in perfectly on the Vic provincials or the old Gabba greys.

    Thanks
    JTH

  6. Dennis Gedling says:

    Clem definately sounds like he’s from ‘South of Perth’, Lark Hill probably.

    Great stuff Mr Downer.

  7. David Downer says:

    Thanks for the kindly comments all.
     
    Phant, Fosters is indeed swilled by Poms – and Australian tourists when in London environs only. That’s it. The Poms copped their right whack in that penalty shoot-out v Italy the night after.
     
    JTH – I did tinker with that line a wee while, and sheared it right back. Good pick up.
     
    I did feel honour-bound to manually calculate the market percentage offered by Mr Spice. He’s got the Flemington Nursery car park books well and truly covered (sans when Crio on the bag, obviously). WF Beaver would go alright under English conditions.

    Arma – you know that “much-maligned” was staring in your general direction.

  8. Andrew Starkie says:

    Great stuff, DD. You’re right, thank God she didn’t lose, the Pom press would’ve given us a hiding forever over it. And her feat will be recognised more over time. It was a classic sporting moment, ove I’ll never forget.

    Sorry about the footy on the weekend.

  9. Andrew Starkie says:

    And LN has to give himself a break. The bloody horse won! Imagine how he would’ve reacted if she’d lost. Can’t bear to think.

  10. Great stuff, DD.
    I am in Hong Kong at present and was fortunate enough to
    visit Happy Valley last night. I spent an inordinate amount
    of time giving a “hoof-by-hoof” description of BC’s race to
    a group of travellers who were unaware that she had run
    already!

    (B Pebble is a star over here!)

  11. David Downer says:

    And in the commotion of preparing this article, I’ve managed to stuff the name of the runner up (twice!). It wasn’t an intentional show of disrespect. Maybe it was.

    So that’d be “Moonlight Cloud” of course, not “Midnight Cloud”. Close enough.

    Cheers Stark – the Roos seem a different proposition since I boarded QF9. I should have stayed home in front of the fire Sunday! By crikey they’re quick.

    Smoke, the more informed locals would still be revelling in their first Royal Ascot winner, Little Bridge in the King’s Stand?

  12. Mark Freeman says:

    Lovely Dave, really enjoyed the read. Particularly loved the “ticket machines are backed up further than this morning’s full English breakfast”. And well done for getting there and being ‘in the house’.

    I was at Fed Square on the night and if you looked carefully, when At the Races replayed the scenes after the race, there I was with my little BC flag flapping away (about the 200 mark), and then with 50 to go my arm swings up and my hand slaps the forehead. I was screaming something like ‘Noooooo Lukeeeey’ watching him sit there as they bore down on him. Not only was there the whole national pride thing and BC love on the go, but I’d been snipping away on the exchange in the preceeding weeks and had built up quite a large investment – and I hate being on em in the red!

    The feeling in there was very similar to what you described on course – more incredible relief than anything after we all thought the worst. There were some la-las dancing about at the front, but those watching it carefully were mortified for those few moments.

    Fair effort from Premier Big Ted to get in there for the race, and post-race he called on everyone to “pitch in 10 bucks and buy Lukey a whip”

    In the end, as you’ve pointed out, She won, Lukey boy won, P Moody won, and so did we, and that’s all that really matters.

    Freeza

  13. Awesome stuff, Dave. Took me right there. Captured the atmosphere and the mixed emotions perfectly. And obviously this Churchill Downs regular will have to put Ascot on his bucket list.

  14. But you’ll have to tell me where to get one of those salmon-and-black polka-dot ties. Wow.

  15. Dear DD, fabulous read, I was there with you through all your adventures. I recorded the race and watched it three times the next morning, mostly to try and understand all the discussions on SEN about her nearly not making it. I understand now. Fabulous adventure. Good to have you home. The Saints need you

    Yvette

  16. Magnificent again DD – a great adventure well told.

  17. David Downer says:

    Cheers Freeze. Lady Brooke IQ’d all the coverage back here. The evidence of Fed Square frivolity is at hand.

    Glenn, you’ll have to just settle for that BC cap for now!

    Yvette, I’m tipping the club are wishing I were still overseas (or at least not attending games a la Sat night). I do a great reverse jinx.

    Budge, catch up with you on track soon.

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