Morning Suit Glory – The Royal Ascot preview

As compiled between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and posted on a sunny early Sunday morn from Gloucester Road, Kensington, SW7


It was my Pulp Fiction moment, of sorts.

Though it must be said, I was not riding shotgun in J.Travolta’s Chevrolet at the time – perhaps thankfully so, as recent “revelations” would suggest.

Samuel L Jackson, a hulking black man, had visions of Amsterdam, lured by a royale with cheese.

For yours truly, it was visions of Royal Ascot, lured by a hulking black horse.

And so it was proclaimed in February at Caulfield, as Black Caviar effortlessly surged clear at the 200m mark of the Orr Stakes.

“That’s it man, I’m f#@$* goin’!”.

Er, subject to Lady Brooke’s seal of approval, of course. And luckily for me, my very own “super filly” from Aspendale had obliged*.

I would be going to Royal Ascot to watch Black Caviar.

All roads for the champion mare had been leading there for a number of months. More specifically, the 1200m Diamond Jubilee nee Golden Jubilee nee Cork and Orrey nee All-Aged Stakes.

That summer day at the Heath, full of free entry and seemingly free love (of the innocent all-inclusive community-bonding variety), was Black Caviar’s first tilt at 1400m. Trainer Peter Moody, aka “the big dog”, used the seven furlong test as crucial preparation for Ascot’s challenging straight course. It features a unique rise of some twenty metres towards the winning post. Perhaps the equine equivalent of heading up the Southern Cross station footbridge after your team is rolled at the Dome. Your steps tend to shorten towards the peak.

It’s been well reported Black Caviar has travelled and settled in magnificently well in the Old Dart. The British media have since jumped on board too. They are excited by her presence, and the lift it will give racing. It doesn’t appear to be an Ashes battle – there are no worthy challengers to take her on.

I will preface the following by admitting what I don’t know about English racing history would fill the Newmarket stables many times over, but one imagines Black Caviar may already be the most anticipated runner to ever hit Royal Ascot. Certainly the most anticipated international runner.

And that would be some feat. Entering its 301st year, Royal Ascot legitimately puts the “time”, and “honoured”, into “time honoured”.

The pomp and ceremony, for which it is famous, obviously continues. It’s so high fallutin’ that even cravats are deemed unacceptable attire in the Royal Enclosure.

The carnival itself, or “meeting” as it seems termed, runs the duration of a Test match. Unlike Melbourne Cup week, there is no respite or rest day.

With Black Caviar presenting herself on day 5, there is much to transpire on the track before then.

But the Ascot race days are shorter. Six races only, on each of the five days, the first at 2:30pm. Not the obligatory nine or ten races kicking off before noon. There are seven Group 1’s, a smattering of Group 2 and 3’s, along with some quirky handicaps featuring enormous fields.

On the opening day, the other star attraction book-ending the week is the similarly unbeaten Frankel. The officially rated “world’s best horse” opens the batting in the Queen Anne Stakes over 1600m (8f). Could you imagine the McKinnon Stakes ever scheduled as Race 1 at 11:25am on Derby day?

Frankel is priced at a shorter quote than Black Caviar in the Jubilee. He is a speed machine with the mid-range stamina to match. He is breeding perfection.

There has been much salivating the two champs could meet at some stage on this trip. Perhaps over candlelight and a cheeky red in the breeding barn one day, it won’t be on the track.

Frankel has not captured the imagination of the public like Black Caviar, perhaps without the marketing force behind it. Yet I am genuinely excited to witness another equine behemoth in the flesh.

The St James Palace stakes for 3yo’s also features on opening day. Frankel himself won it last year.

The Kings Stand over 1000m obviously attracts much Australian attention. It’s the race where Choisir blazed the trail in 2003. The Brits were aghast he could then back up and win the Jubilee on the Saturday. The famed sire Last Tycoon saluted in 1986. Scenic Blast in 2009. Takeover Target returned multiple times to stamp himself an Ascot legend. His trainer Joe Janiak, Canberra taxi driver, always resplendent in top hat and tails.

Ortensia, an Oaks Day Almanac Nursery Carpark revelation last year (I backed her), is high in the betting for this year’s renewal. The Messara clan are you tube-ing frequent updates on her progress. There’s a concern the soft track early in the week may find her out, but all else appears incredibly positive. Her challengers will be similar to those she conquered on Dubai World Cup night in March.

And those dodging Black Caviar on the Saturday will head here instead.

On day 2, the Wednesday, Australian eyes will be focussed on So You Think, a likely starter in the Prince of Wales Stakes over 2000m. It’s the race he was nudged out in an epic finish with Rewilding last year. Coolmore’s tactics were roundly criticised (read: he was absolutely slaughtered).

Aidan O’Brien professes to have now “worked So You Think out”. Bart must be both bemused and dismayed.

His rivals will include the Queen’s own horse Carlton House, along with Cirrus De Aigles who knocked him off on Champions Day at Ascot in October.

The Royal Hunt Cup is another day 2 highlight. A 1600m race down the straight course, with up to 30 starters making the charge of the light brigade.

Day 3 the Thursday is generally seen as the major day, with the running of the 4000m Ascot Gold Cup. The mighty Yeats won an astonishing four on the trot from 2006-2009.

This year Fame and Glory is a short priced favourite to defend his title. Another interesting runner is Ibicenco, now part of the Simon O’Donnell OTI stable bound here for the Cups. I’m currently leaning towards Godolphin’s Colour Vision at around 6/1. His finishing burst is something to behold, he seems a horse on the up. At his last start he cleaned up Melbourne Cup “almost hero” Red Cadaeux with a paralysing finish.

On the penultimate day, Friday, it’s the fillies turn in the Coronation Stakes. For this correspondent, it will be my “rest day”. Perhaps knocking off Lady Brooke’s shopping list will dominate proceedings* (or squeezing in another tour of Lords).

And then, the reason QF9 to Heathrow was full, we move to final day Saturday, and the Black Caviar caravan rolls into Berkshire in earnest. Sunglasses will be a crucial addition to the clobber. Evidence of “emotional scenes” will need wiping from the peepers. It is Race 3, 3:45pm British Summer Time (12:45am AEST).

Also featuring on this day is the Hardwicke Stakes over 2000m. Previous winning names familiar to us are Almaraad in 1988, and Jeune in 1993. At the time of print, I believe Melbourne Cup “actual hero” Dunaden is a possible starter for this race.

The final race of the week is the Queen Alexandra Stakes. It’s for Cliff Young types, over an official distance of 2m5f159y. That’s about 4,345 meters. Think Melbourne Cup plus another dash up the straight for good measure.

That race did prove a quintessential “get-out” for me in 2009, when the 12 year old Caricciolla was victorious. He also contested the race last year at 14. Do horses grow whiskers and ear hair? He and Mustard could swap some decent yarns at the bar.

Coverage back home I assume will consist of the excellent At The Races feed on TVN, featuring Matt Chapman (“the arrogant pom”), and the very eccentric John McCririck – who does possess whiskers and ear hair. Plus mutton chops, the dress sense of a mad professor on acid, and a cup of tea always handy.

Bruce “Snowy” Clark will also be roving the packs.

David Raphael will provide “man on the spot” updates on Sky Racing World.

Channel Seven chime in on Black Caviar night. I presume it will include Neil Kearney poetry, the megawall, and Lindsay Gilbee providing pre-race comments live from the Grandstand’s Royal chalet.

So with an amazing support card to complement, we await Black Caviar to further her legend, and add to the Australian Ascot winners role.

Her profile on name alone is favourable. Our previous victors at Ascot have sported names representing flavours more international. Starspangledbanner, Miss Andretti, Haradasun. (US/US/Japan). Interestingly, all were ridden by Johnny Murtagh. If L.Nolen falls ill, J.Murtagh must step in.

My suggested simple all-up bet is Frankel – Ortensia – So You Think – Black Caviar. That might get you about 20-1. Throw in Colour Vision and we’re into triple figures.

I am hoping to provide reports throughout the week, including song lists from the Bandstand of course. This will depend on the intensity, and duration of, activities that are inherently “refreshed” in nature – to coin a P.J.Flynnism.

The salmon and black tie, and cuff-links, are at the ready.

Go Nelly go!

Late breaking…
The coat-tugging late mail on the flight suggested Black Caviar may actually run on the Tuesday, also. Wowee indeed. But I don’t believe it.

* Diamond encrusted leave passes of this nature can stimulate such commentary and actions.


  1. Dave,
    You are indeed living the dream. Does your wife have a sister?

    Now that you are our official correspondent on the spot, your first job is to find Neil Kearney and knock him out so he can’t deliver the anticipated (and inevitable) “poetry” as colour for the TV coverage. Does anyone else think this is a style that ran its course about a week after it started??

    As for Frankel not capturing the imagination of the public – well maybe not here but try making an argument on any racing website suggesting that the Cav would beat him and you will be inundated by the “true believers” over there telling you he is a reincarnation of Mill Reef/Shergar/Nijinsky/Sea The Stars etc. The trouble is that usually their “super-horse” is a Derby colt like those previously mentioned who then dominates the staying ranks (e.g. Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, etc). They don’t usually rank a great miler/10 furlong horse but I sense they see him as a superstar.

    I look forward to your regular updates on proceeding over the next week. Go Nellie!!

  2. Skip of Skipton says

    Is funny Frankel being Race one, Day one. Would be good if all the connections see sense and return Black Caviar to Australia in foal to Frankel.

  3. Great stuff Dave. Cheering with you mate. They’ve changed the order of the days and rejigged this to a standout meeting since the reno. The mail over here is that BC will run just once and head back for Melbourne and then HK.
    Enjoy. And keep posting. You are living our dreams too.
    And bless St Brooke.

  4. Peter Flynn says

    Well played D Downer,

    Aaahhh the Bandstand. Crikey!

    What’s the ground going to be like? This is the big question. I reckon it’ll be good to soft soft in places.

    I prefer BC racing on the Tuesday. You need to be a miler to win on the Saturday. The 6f at Ascot is testing.

    I saw Takeover Target race on the Saturday. The 4300m Heritage Hcp is a highlight. I saw Distinction win it. A mile to the post and a lap to go.

    Raphael’s syrupyness grates.

  5. Peter Flynn says


    I don’t mind Matt Chapman. Theatre.

  6. Peter Flynn says

    I’m refreshed.

    ‘Roll out the Barrels’ is 1/3 for the Bandstand.

    Sorry to be a terrible pedant. The Hardwicke is 12f.

  7. Looking at UK racing sites confirms that there really is incredible hype re BC.
    and Frankel’s been backed from 1/5 in to 1/6 and shortening.
    It is OK to have more than one good horse. They needn’t be compared. Good for racing.

  8. p.s. – Flynny…the 3s on looks a monty for “the Barrell”?!

  9. John Harms says

    DD, Outstanding opening report.

    Spotted J. McCririck at the Adelaide Test. Grumpy old bust’d. They are a marvellous set of bugger grips though.

    Check out his grumpiness here.

  10. David Downer says

    Cheers for the comments gents.

    Budge I’ve seen them ark up re Frankel too. But in terms of non-racing folk jumping on the bandwagon also, obviously not to BC’s heights. I will say your English racing knowledge has me covered by furlongs!

    Skip – “Nelly” could be in foal to the point of having commuters offer her a seat on the train, and still be winning.

    Flynnie – yep you got me on the Hardwicke. Metric to Imperial converting became difficult in dim light over the Bay of Bengal. D.Raphael can lay on the mayonnaise, but I don’t mind it. I also like M.Chapman, good theatre.

    And not sure any of BC’s opposition would be considered capable milers either?

    The ground is currently “good to soft” in all areas of the track. Expecting some dry conditions towards the end of the week.

    Crio – agree on BC and Frankel and the endless comparisons. What’s the point of it? Fills pages I guess. Should be happy to have two superstars. And whoever lost a match-race would have the blemished record, and then complaining about giving up too much to the other – distance compromise, travel, track etc. Would always end in tears!

    JTH – thanks for the many belly-laughs there. McCririck is a different cat.

    Footnote on SOD’s Ibicenco – leading UK form analyst Lydia Hyslop likes it at 40/1 in the Ascot Gold Cup.

    Now to Lord’s for Middlesex v Sussex 20/20 action. Admittedly will be the first “shorter form” match I’ve ever attended. Not a bad place to start! #rubbingitin #sorry

  11. Skip of Skipton says

    Cheers for that link John, but I’m sticking with Peter Donegan.

  12. Did a Gold Cup Day sometime in the mid 80’s. Lady Di and the Queen Mum were there. I reckon they outrank ‘Nellie’. BThomson on an Irish invader and a 10/1 winner in the last were the on course highlights. Watching the toffs singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ from the tiers of the grandstand after the last, and the Sloane Rangers passed out on the grass in their ballgowns were other highlights. I think At Talaq got rolled in a minor event before going to the great CS Hayes.
    As someone who only takes a passing interest these days due to the perils of the punt, I remain to be convinced that she is a better sprinter than Manikato. Better placed yes. But other than a couple of slug fests with Hay List, she has mainly beaten welter horses. He raced the best all the times in handicaps and not just set weight processions.
    If there are decent locals going around, she is a realistic even money chance.
    There’ll be tears before bedtime.

  13. Stephanie Holt says

    Dave, did I read “leading UK form analyst Lydia Hyslop” right? I can’t keep a straight face even just reading that. It just sounds so funny …

  14. DD – love to be over there. I’m really looking forward to the BC run. Don’t mind saying I’ve been sucked in by all the hype.

    Lady Brooke is a star.

  15. Peter B – it must have been 1985 you were there, as was I.
    Gildoran, with Brent Thomson aboard, made it back to back Ascot Gold Cups that year. Pretty sure he eventually made his way out here as a stallion (probably NZ) but he was a bit dour even for NZ breeders.
    I also loved Manikato but truly believe he couldn’t beat the wonder mare. As for being even money, well there are no decent locals (rarely are in the sprinting ranks) so I wouldn’t expect her to be any better than 3s on.

  16. DD,

    Wouldn’t mind seeing a pic of you in the top-hat and tails.

    Good punting.

  17. Great report mate
    Crio and Budge are having “flashbacks” and the rest of us wish we could be there

  18. Some poor bastard will spend his life’s savings and lob behind DD….in a topper that will be about 7ft. Same result as getting in a shout with him!
    Keep the updates coming.

  19. DD – love yer work. How do we know she aint a miler? As I think Ian Craig once intoned about Emancipation when she dispelled any 1600m doubts: “Run a mile? She could run it up a hill!”

  20. John Harms says

    Are you in Ladbrokes punting on the English equivalent of Donald today DD?

  21. David Downer says

    Thanks for the follow up comments, punters…

    Re-hashing my tweets here, but it’s a beautiful sunny day (for now) so the track will continue to dry out.

    My tips today, based on my own form, others’, various scuttlebutt, local knowledge, and coat tuggers…

    R1 – Enjoy the Frankel show
    R2 – Ortensia – patriotism important at times like this!
    R3 – Power (courtesy of my Gloucester Rd news-stand geezer). The roughie that a few have also spruiked is The Nile (20-1)
    R4 – Dawn Approach. And better save on Funk Soul Brother (name of my brother’s band!).
    R5 – Ashbrittle is being tipped by various sources in a very open race (7’s the field)
    R6 – Another open race, big field. Bungle InTheJungle maybe. That is a genuine name.

    Heading off now. Frankel leads us off at 11:30pm Melb time. HM trots down the straight at 11pm.

    Happy punting,

    Tally hooooooooooooooo….


  22. I’m really confused with Ortensia. They set her for Ascot and then decide that its a track where you need to be ridden on the pace!! Don’t see how she wins unless she is held up which the trainer says won’t happen.

  23. WOW !!!
    Frankel by the lazy 11 lengths – goes alright!!

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