Royal Ascot Tour Diaries – Day 1 – Frank, Joe and the Guv

David Downer and Joe Janiak in the Takeover Target bar at Royal Ascot.


London. 4am.

The sun already streams.

Australian trainers would love fart-of-sparrow track-work in such early brilliant light.

My own body clock is either still rooted, or the excitement of Royal Ascot opening day, and particularly Frankel, has me doing form and absorbing video previews and tips at this ungodly hour.

It’s like Christmas morning for racing fans. Or a Laura Ashley discount sale for Lady Brooke.

A jetlag-busting morning stroll around the not-so-mean streets of Kensington culminates in a Racing Post purchase.

An old geezer, hair as white as snow, mans the Gloucester Road news-stand.

It feels I’m on the set of Minder. I stop short of actually calling him “guvnor” (or “old guv”). I assume he’s been selling tabloids, broadsheets and tittle tattle on this same spot since the days of Hitchcock – who lived a few doors down on the Cromwell Road.

Old guv’s swapping today’s fancies with Arthur Daley types, various track-suited spivs, and veteran City boys picking up The Times before heading off on the tube.

I patriotically chime in with Ortensia. The lads aren’t convinced.

He sends me off with a tip in the St James Palace Stakes.

“Power, ‘e’s a class ‘orse. Gotta go with the class ‘orse in ‘dees big meetin’s”.

I take the four tube stops to Westminster, and opt to walk to Waterloo station from there. It’s then about an hour’s train to Ascot.

The older charms of Big Ben and Parliament (opposite the Clark W. Griswold roundabout end), work their magic in the sunshine. And it’s bouncing off at all angles on charms newer, the London Eye.

Upon arrival at Ascot, there’s a ten minute hike up a rising yield to the track. It trends as per the testing straight course itself. The ladies are struggling in heels.

It’s a scene from a Sherwood Forest fairy tale. Shades of green both Kermit and Robin Hood, fill the backdrop. Union Jack bunting lines the entire route.

There’s no mistaking what country we’ve landed in. It all feels an appropriate start to the week.

I’m handed a “Go Frankel” paddle. It fits snugly enough in my suit jacket. Suit jacket of the non-morning non-Royal Enclosure variety, sorry to disappoint. But an eight quid blue trilby is complementing today’s aqua palette. The maturing monkey-bum scon thankful for the UV protection.

The Ascot grandstand proves a striking structure. It dominates the landscape once you top the rise. Like the aforementioned London Eye, or the Lord’s media centre, glass is dominant. If Superman were rebuilding the Fortress of Solitude, the Ascot architects would be consulted.

It’s still two hours before the first race. I meet up with Rooboy Kev on the grandstand terraces. All the bookies are out the front here too. R.Kev’s temporarily absconded his package tour under the guidance of messrs B.Martin, W.Wilson and Terry “TK” Kennedy.

The first beer is ceremonially purchased from the Choisir bar. It’s a Fosters. The international brew a socially acceptable option here.

John McCririck, At The Races’ eccentric old mutton-chopped nutty professor, wanders past towards the plum TV hosting seat of the immaculate parade ring. McCririck is a dissenter of, seemingly, most of the human race, but particularly us “uncouth” Australians. He might be in for a tough week. There are antipodean accents everywhere.

Heads are then quickly turned from beast to beauty.

“Friend of the almanac” Francesca Cumani appears. On her home turf, this is indeed a treat. Far removed from the ills of the Channel 7 megawall, strutting purposefully in lilac.

I recall John Harms’ tale of a lead ballooning joke with Ms Cumani at the Geelong Cup. A fondue platter was mentioned. I will seek other openers should I have the opportunity to crack wise (I won’t).

But the paps move straight past Francesca.

There’s all manner of hullaballoo in front of the betting stand for the Queen’s hat colour. By the way, as per my own headwear, the blue was victorious, at 2-1.

Michael Owen, English football demi-god, and major racing enthusiast, had wandered in. I snap the photo of the commotion, and tweet it. I can’t hear a word, but I suspect the BBC’s vox-pop with Michael concerns England’s prospects against Ukraine at Euro 2012 later that night, as opposed to his runners at the meeting.

“The Australian” bar is downstairs from the parade ring. It features photos of all our Ascot winners. Choisir, Takeover Target, Scenic Blast, Miss Andretti, Sparspangledbanner.

It also features Little Creatures and Tooheys New stubbies. Could you imagine paying for the latter in GBP at Royal Ascot? It’s morally conflicting enough parting with AUD for a New at Flemington.

The picnic tables and lawn area adjacent provide a retreat from the madness of the building parade ring area.

The locals are chugging down Pimms. White English skin is being burned. The top hats and tails set are mingling with, for story purposes, the common folk. The whole scene reeks of snobbery, but snobs themselves seem to be light on.

We line the fence to welcome the Queen’s procession. Rooboy Kev thinks we are waiting here solely for Frankel. He is displeased.

Liz and Phil make their grand entrance among the three royal carriages. I take crap photos.

Some Australian lads are alongside. They’ve either just finished a Contiki tour, or will be pouring beers at the Walkabout in Covent Garden tomorrow. They are “well on the way”.

It’s time for racing. Sheikh Mohammed and his endless entourage now stroll past in their top hats, fitted to within an inch of their life.

“Ay Sheikyyyyy, there he is, there he is. Sheikyyyy, you beauty”, cries said lad.

The Shiekh looks over in complete bewilderment.

For this moment, McCririck’s words are ringing true.

Frankel then wanders past towards the ring. Camera’s again flash wildly. He is not actually that impressive to the naked untrained eye.

Caulfield Guineas winner Helmet, the Sheikh’s charge, arrives last to the ring, to little fanfare. Maybe the Sheikh just burned him off, knowing the embarrassment all runners not named Frankel would soon suffer in the Queen Anne Stakes.

Resuming a spot on the packed terraces for the race itself, all are waiting for Frankel, the world’s greatest horse, to deliver his patented “pop”.

At the three furlong mark the super colt obliges, easing to the front. The cheers begin.

What Frankel then unleashes can only be described as “equine brutality”.

He extends his lead so rapidly, and with such power, you can physically feel his force as he powers past. An hour earlier Melbourne suffered from their own tremors. Frankel dispelled any feelings of homesickness with thunderous ground-shaking of his own.

Frankel’s reverberations are distinct. There’s no one within cooee distorting the perfection. No muffled trampling of the remaining field. For those few seconds, it’s him and him alone. It’s some whoosh.

The Frankel whoosh.

Each thundering stride multiplies the feeling of privilege in witnessing this destruction.

For each point of his odds-on quote, he justified it by a length. Eleven of them.

It’s the first race of the week, and possibly the greatest equine performance of all time.

The toughest act to follow in the history of race meetings.

Eyes then focus on Ortensia in the King’s Stand. She’s firming in the ring, despite sweating up in the yard. There is an Australian victor, the jockey at least. Zac Purton on Hong Kong’s Little Bridge.

Black Caviar’s odds are quickly eased owing to Ortensia’s failure. Idiocy is rampant.

Old Guv’s tip Power then comes a cropper in the St James Palace.

Suddenly we are half way through the day’s racing, and we retreat back to the Australian bar.

A familiar face of modern day Ascot renown, enjoys a Fosters.

It’s Joe Janiak. Takeover Target’s trainer. He the Canberra taxi driver who bought a horse for $1,250 + GST, earned over $6 million, became a Royal Ascot legend, and famously met the Queen along the way. In the grandstand proper, there is also a Takeover Target bar.

I make myself known, and Joe happily obliges my request for a happy snap. We pose a reverse “Blue Steel” in front of a photo of his beloved Takeover Target. It’s Joe and his wife’s first return to Ascot since 2009. I mention our similar hiatus. I was here in 2009 on Jubilee day, seven days into marriage, when his great horse was unfortunately scratched on race morning.

They can’t wait to see Black Caviar on Saturday.

Famously donning the top hat and tails back in the day, I ask if that’s on the agenda again.

“Nah, I’ve done enough of that shit mate!”

Joe is shouted a beer.

“Oh, crikey!”

We return to the terraces for the 2yo Coventry Stakes.

My fancy, Dawn Approach, salutes. My saver on Funk Soul Brother, the obligatory omen bet in respect of my brother’s band name, was not required.

The continued big fields in the final two events ensure punting is a tough gig here.

The bookies boards can confuse as the day’s refreshments kick in also. On some boards saddlecloth numbers run down the left, prices on the right. Others are the reverse. Some then sort the board by price, others by saddlecloth. Some field without the favourite. It feels like a sting – like much of their odds, it must be said.

Most unlike home, patrons are then encouraged to stick around.

It’s Bandstand time. P.J Flynn had ensured me Roll Out the Barrel will feature.

We miss out on song book distribution, the running sheet is unknown. But hands are laid on Union Jack flags. At this point, I’m not sure what year it is. It doesn’t feel like 2012. It feels like we’re back celebrating the liberation of France, or the continued production of Coronation Street.

But the opening song proves music to my ears.

“Oh when the Saints….”

Reality quickly becomes “surreality”.

“Turn it up, you blokes”.

This particular version of When The Saints Go Marching In did not feature the line “I want to be there at Moorabbin”, despite my best efforts.

McCririck is tut-tut-tutting away again somewhere.

The Union Jacks are waving. People are digging this shit. Rooboy Kev, despite possessing the most Anglo Saxon surname possible, engages in some sort of Republican style monarchist diatribe.

I keep the peace as an amiable Commonwealth subject.

Thirty second ditties dominate first.

Pack Up Your Troubles, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, Daydream Believer.

And they romp home with the usual suspects.

You’ll Never Walk Alone, We’ll Meet Again, Rule Britannia, Jersualem, God Save Our Queen.

Indeed, there is certainly no doubt what country we’ve landed in.

The refreshed express soon escorts us back to Waterloo. Warbling on the train turns a little more unwieldy.

The entire day has been an incredible entrée to the week.

We’ll do it all again tomorrow.

Toodle Pip.


  1. Is it just me, or does Dave seem to be having the time of his life?

  2. Peter Flynn says


    Terrific descrption of Frankel.

  3. Andrew Fithall says

    Well done David. I get the vague impression you are enjoying yourself. Keep the stories coming. And keep dropping those names. I love it. I note on a subsequent day you were in twitter conversation with G Whateley. I expect an update (and photo?) of the personal catch-up.

  4. Good seeing a frank appraisal of Frankel.


  5. DD
    It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
    And it may as well be you!

  6. DD – magnificent stuff. Keep the reports coming. I’ll be up at about 12.45am our time on Sunday morning (I hope that’s right) to watch BC run.

    By the way, I wouldn’t walk over the road to look at the Queen but I’d crawl a kilometre over broken glass to get up close to Francesca Cumani.

  7. Terrific tale – as always.
    It’s a long week ahead, and I trust that you haven’t literally peaked too early on Day One.

    PS: Would have preferred to have seen a shot of you in the trilby !!! A fashion delight, I’m sure.

    That is all

  8. …. err, looking a little more closely at the photo I now see the aforementioned trilby.
    Nice work.

  9. Frankel’s win was mind-blowing just on TV.
    SYT had his power back also.
    How good a bloke is Joe?…Elvis, Joc and I had a beer with him at Bogart’s after Darwin Cup 2010.
    Keep sending reports mate, though envy burns deep.

  10. Lovely work Dave, keep up the postings. You’ve painted the picture bew-tiful like. Interesting to hear what top fluc on BC has been this week with their books. Was going to load you up with folding from here but thought better of it once Paddy Power caved in some weeks ago.



  11. Andrew Starkie says

    Oh, DD. Oh, Francesca.

    Minder, Griswalds, funny.

  12. Champagne writing, DD. Or is it called Pimms writing in this case?

    The logic of the connection between Ortensia’s flop and Black Caviar’s fortunes is lost on me. And I see some of the challengers are already dropping off.

    Do it for Dave, Big Girl.

  13. Great report Dave – you’re living it for all of us who wish we were there.

  14. John Harms says

    Magnificent DD.

    So many highlights in your piece – your shameless grin flashes in every syllable (you bass-ted).

    Keen for sightings of John Cleese (trying to back Dragonfly), Felicity Kendall or Cilla Black, and the ghost of Kenneth Williams.

    Also beautiful use of the term monkey-bum [pink]. Always wondered: Hawkes colurs? Cerise or monkey-bum pink. (MBP)

    PS After Ascot coverage finished last night c3am one of the movie channels had Jackass 3 (or something). I challenge anyone, no matter how stern and earnest and educated not to laugh at the Jackass boys.

  15. Dave I feel duty bound to report my two sets of hack punter dreaming on BC this week.

    1. Actual dream – Black Caviar leads at the 200, then kicks long to the square, defender reaches high, ball bobbles over the top of outstretched fingers and bounces through, siren sounds, goal ump signals a major; She wins! (And I wake up bewildered).

    2. Recurring daydream – As BC glides untouched toward the Royal Ascot post, Lukey boy flips the bird in grand style at the top-hat-and-tailed “Pommy Bastads” in true Bazza McKenzie style.

    I hope you packed your Qantas bag of ‘Personal Effects’ for the flight over. Have a great day at the track.

  16. David Downer says

    Thanks for the comments all, appreciate the good tidings (and jealousy!).

    It’s currently around 8:30pm Friday night. Nerves mounting for the big day tomorrow. Feels like Grand Final eve circa ’09 and ’10 for me.

    A day 2 report featuring So You Think’s triumph is in the works, but you know …”refreshments” etc…

    Gave Gold Cup day a miss (see above line), but my previewed tip Colour Vision saluted in the wet. An experience making the bet at a Ladbrokes shop.

    Only one of note today I previously mentioned on a Crio blog was Gatewood. It won also ..was unaware of his presence until the starters gates on the BBC coverage!

    As H.Grant once intoned nearby ..”whoopsidaisies”.

    The 2400 Hardwicke tomorrow is a ripper too. Should gain good coverage coming before the big one. Dunaden v Red Cadeaux rematch. Plus all manner of other Melb Cup hopefuls.

    Dunaden currently 7-1, Red C 8-1. The faves are Sea Moon 3-1 and Aiken at 4’s. SOD and F.Cumani represented by Quest For Peace. Jakkalberry another to watch.

    In five months time it may stand up as one of the form races for the Cup.

    I will probably just back Dunaden by default. Then hold a precious viewing spot for the next.

    Oh lordy be, what an exciting day in store…

    Black Caviar best odds here 2/7 ($1.30)

    Weather been patchy at best the last two days. Typical English stuff. When it rains it pours. Sun out five minutes later.

    Forecast tomorrow is dry and 19. Good enough.


  17. We are there with you DD. Cheer her home mate.

  18. Hi DD, Everyone has said it all. Continue with the joy and happiness. What a blast of a time you are having. Looking forward to reading more of your adventures. Go Saints


  19. Daryl Sharpen says

    Lovely insight DD. I’m very envious. If you get a chance follow the Queen around and see what sort of punter she is. Her first official Jubilee engagement was a day at the races. And this week she’s been to five meetings. A mate reckons she’s a victim (of the punt). He reckons he saw her at Ascot one day sidle up to Jo Coral and have 500 quid on one, on the nod. As a long gone acquaintance of mine (and regular race goer) Dick Moore (Uncle Dick) used to generalise, “Why else would they go.”

  20. A win’s a win but that was scary.
    Luke Nolen almost rode his way into eternal infamy when he arrogantly stopped riding her. Even if he hadn’t she was still only going to win by a length which is a bit disappointing in itself. It’s a pity the Poms didn’t get to see the real Black Caviar but at least she remains unbeaten. I thought she was more stirred up behind the barriers than usual and actually looked to have “lightened off” a bit. Can you be too fit?

  21. Peter Flynn says



    I was concerned with her head thrashing around in the parade ring.

    The King’s Stand would have been an easier kill. They went for the harder option.

    I’ve always thought the 6f at Ascot is equivalent to 7f out here.

    I’ve got a lot wrong lately but I was in the ‘she won’t find this easy camp’.

    When Nolen’s hands dropped I muttered Hyperno. The irony. Moonlight Cloud and Clear Day.

  22. Dips O'Donnell says

    Nolen admitted he’d underestimated the heavier track, but I couldn’t believe what I was watching when he simply stopped the ride. A lesser horse would have lost. Pity she couldn’t do a Frankel.

  23. Not tears before bedtime, but plenty of gasps.
    If I were a betting man I’d take 1/3 that she’s run her last race. Nothing left for her in Australia. Weighted out of handicaps.
    I stand by Manikato. Won them on courage and ability, not just intimidating challengers. She only gets 7f when they dawdle to the turn. He nearly won an Australian Cup at 10f, fighting off Family of Man and getting nailed by Dulcify.
    She is obviously very good and very well placed. But the media hype comes from the streak more than the quality of performances.

  24. We’ll agree to disagree Peter. I’d rate Vain ahead of Manikato but would make room in my stable for any of these!

  25. Just saw replay of Offsiders.
    GWhateley (who I normally rate) redefines the term “talking your own book”.
    Where was the conflict of interest disclaimer before that sycophancy?
    That nose was worth the royalties on 10,000 copies.
    (Vain was before my time Budge)

  26. Skip of Skipton says

    Manikato’s Australian Cup run was huge. I doubt many people remember that when considering the great horse.

    Black Caviar is the best sprinter we have seen. I understand Peter B’s sentiments, but once she got into ‘unbeaten’ territory, the connections have worked to protect that. Had she have lost one or two races early on, then I’m sure we would have seen her contesting mile races, cox plates etc.

    As for Nolen’s ride? Hmmm.

  27. Skip of Skipton says

    Manikato was born and bred in South Australia. So there’s something for the parochial Croweaters to jump up and own about, as they like to do.

    I saw in todays Herald-Sun that BC is the only horse that has run a sub-10 second 200m sectional since the metro tracks have been recording that type of stuff (last 25 years?) In this years Lightning Stakes. Cop that.

  28. Correction Skip. The first digitally timed sub 10 second 200m. That would narrow the field down.
    Also I’m originally from SA and was actually working at the sale when Manikato was sold as a yearling. Loved him but still rank BC the better sprinter.

  29. Skip of Skipton says

    Cheers Budge. When was that, 1977? I know you and crio and also Peter B are Adelaide blokes. Manihi-Markato. They didn’t ponce around with naming him. Manikato was a genetic freak, had the longest barrel/torso on a horse backed up by some serious hind quarters.

  30. Yes 77 SA Yearling Sales. Sounds like they named him in the bar. Good horses names always sound OK. He had a bigger arse than BC.

  31. Skip of Skipton says

    I was just reading about Manikato on wikipedia. $3,500. I don’t like the name ‘Makybe Diva’, although I do like ‘Sunline’. ‘Northerly’ was a great name etc.

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