A day of fantasies and feudalism

Ken Jones takes note of the social form guide much in evidence at Ascot
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The Independent Online
When the 11.40 from Waterloo pulled into Ascot, a number of the alighting passengers were dressed formally. The remainder can be described as genuine racegoers. Possibly, in deference to historical tradition, the genuine racegoers were tidily turned out, but a line had been drawn at sartorial extravagance.

In contrast to what an acquaintance in the street-snapping trade calls a "sprauncer" - "Picture with the lovely lady, sir" - the genuine racegoer is not at Royal Ascot to be seen, but to find winners. This is a problem approximate to that encountered annually at the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival. Life is made difficult by the quality of the racing.

Royal Ascot offers true punters remarkable value, perhaps the best presently on offer in British sport. For pounds 1 you can get on the Heath and indulge all sorts of fantasies - the most common of which is turning a profit.

Populated by the proletariat, the Heath is a clear indicator of residual feudalism. It cannot be imagined, for example, that American racegoers would so readily tolerate Royal Ascot's social distinctions. The arrival of the royal party caused the usual flutter of excitement and a surge to the rails, but this was lost on Reg Probert, a retired joiner from Billericay. "Seen it all before," he said. "Haven't missed this meeting in more than 20 years."

Characteristic of a hard breed, Probert came armed with one of the racing prints, more knowledge than was good for him, and the customary supply of optimism. As a combination, this is almost as lethal as information received from a jockey.

Probert was not alone in making a case for Shahid in the first. The impetus gained by John Dunlop on the opening day helped to make Hamdan Al Maktoum's brown colt an attractive proposition, if not great value.

When they went off in the first, business was still brisk around the boards with a great deal of support for the Godolphin colt, Options Open, but as with other popular selections, it proved to be yet another illusion.

A gross personal error was to wander on to a balcony overlooking the members' enclosure without a jacket. "Sir, you're improperly dressed," a green-blazered steward said sharply.

Irritatingly, it seems that in matters of form, there will always be an England.

Racing, page 25

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