Racing: Regal pageant on the 10.05 Cattal truck

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It was always asking for trouble affording horseracing's greatest parade of horse and human flesh the curious title of Royal Ascot at York.

It was always asking for trouble affording horseracing's greatest parade of horse and human flesh the curious title of Royal Ascot at York.

The five-day meeting comes to a close today with the Queen Alexandra Stakes, the longest race on the Flat at the end of the longest week of the racing year for many people.

York has become used to clearing up after strangely adorned hordes have come to town. The centurion's Coolus helmets have gone, so too the Viking horns and soon the braying troops in their toppers will cease to be part of the landscape.

Royal Ascot returns to the eponymous track in 12 months' time after a £185m redevelopment and now we must assess how the one-off in old Eboracum passed off. It certainly did not do what it said on the tin.

Royal Ascot at York possessed neither the splendour of the Berkshire course nor the earthiness of a typical meeting on the Knavesmire, the common land where they hanged Dick Turpin in 1739 for horse stealing. There were, though, some delightful oddities.

The end-of-day communal singing before the bands of the Irish Guards and the Blues And Royals included the sons and daughters of the Ridings rendering "Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner". There was good reason to hang around, as traffic flow was slightly problematic.

It took a year for the masters of vehicle management to come up with an alternative to the gridlock which affects all roads into York for a normal meeting. They removed all the small jams by creating one huge one down the A64.

The shrewd and the discerning among us stayed 15 miles west in the garden town of Harrogate, home of Bettys Tea Rooms and the bulging creamed scone known as the Yorkshire Fat Rascal. Harrogate, unfortunately, had not escaped hoteliers'-event syndrome and rooms had developed a price of their own. The Moat House advertises two-night special deals for a couple at £129, but charges £135 for a single evening for one during Royal week. Go figure.

The Old Swan was cheaper, with reason. This was where Agatha Christie once stayed and guests today can investigate the case of the missing hanging space.

Best of all, though, Harrogate offered the prospect of an unhindered run to the course aboard the Leeds to York train. The 10.05 was the service to be on, for the first and last time on day one. The platform was three deep by the time the already full two carriages pulled in. Most got on, but if we had been farm animals there would have been pensioners with placards protesting at such cruelty. The stops included Hammerton, Poppleton and, naturally enough, Cattal.

Racecourse security tightened as the week drew on because someone from The Sun had been dressing up as a soldier, but the forces were powerless to stop the main prize of the meeting being stolen away. Jacques Chirac has found a way to eat into the British rebate judged by Westerner's repatriation of £130,000 for France for winning the Gold Cup.

There were the absences. Bookmakers, the pickpockets who allow you to use your own fingers, noted a marked downturn in business, largely because an element of the Home Counties set could not be bothered to make the journey north, even with Frobisher at the wheel.

There was no appearance either from the man who epitomises British racing despite his continental roots, Frankie Dettori. The laughing Italian is holed up in Sardinia after earning a six-day suspension for careless riding.

It could have been revenge about not coming to see your correspondent at work. I did the same when Frankie created one of the great moments of the turf by riding all seven winners on an Ascot card in 1996. I left after Mark Of Esteem won the main race of the day, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and uniquely know in the feat as the "Dettori Four".

There was no Dettori and no essential atmosphere of the Royal Ascot we know because this is an event which has to take place in a particular acre of Berkshire. Otherwise it is like staging the US Masters at Baltusrol, the Wimbledon tennis championships at Eastbourne or the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Nevertheless, York got away with its own version and complaints cannot be entertained from any quarter.

There is a notion abroad that this solitary meeting is the glossiest part of a racing correspondent's champagne lifestyle. The uncluttered view of the winning post, access to the legends of the sport, the press-room platters, gâteaux and J Lemoine champagne itself; nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes you even have to write about it.

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