Pageant will be a Festival prelude

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The Independent Online
RICHARD EDMONDSON

The Sunday meetings that have fallen flat this year have been blamed on either poor racing or poor attention to attracting the first-time racegoer. If Ascot's meeting later this month, the second day of the course's Festival, does not succeed neither excuse will be applicable and the future of the sport on the Sabbath will look very bleak indeed.

The action, as is customary at the Berkshire circuit, is of a high standard, with the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the Royal Lodge Stakes the centrepieces of Saturday's card (23 September) and the Fillies' Mile and Diadem Stakes the pillars for the following day. In all there are five Group races and prize money totalling almost pounds 1m.

While that should satiate the people who have clusters of old badges hanging from their binoculars, the Ascot executive are mindful that others have to be attracted. To ensure the bedrock support is not dismayed, the larger displays will be limited to the period before racing, and, once chocks are away, the entertainment will be contained behind the stands.

The big visual numbers will be trick flypasts by the Army Blue Eagles Helicopter Display team who, on the evidence of yesterday's rehearsal, when traffic was at a standstill in Ascot High Street, will be a popular attraction, and a Pageant Of The Horse. The latter will feature the usual celebrity suspects (on this occasion Royal Athlete, Master Oats and Mr Frisk) and horses from various breeds including the smallest, the Fallabella, through to the the largest, the Shire.

Willie Carson and Lanfranco Dettori did their promotional bit for the weekend yesterday when they arrived to partner an example of either breed: the Scot on 29in high Chico and the Italian aboard Brookfield Albion, who, when the tape measure is finally unravelled, goes in at 18 hands. Dettori gave a running commentary on his massive mount, the sort of thing many owners may have heard over the years. "I like this horse," he said. "He should be sent to Dubai this winter. He'll be good in time."

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