Ascot’s image is all champagne and fascinators, high society and high rollers. Said Art Buchwald: ‘Ascot is so exclusive that it is the only racecourse in the world where the horses own the people.’ But there is another Ascot — one entirely comfortable with tweeds, corduroys, cloth caps and woolly jumpers. It might not have been. Bernard Fitzalan-Howard, the 16th Duke of Norfolk and the Queen’s doughty representative at the course from 1945 to 1972, allegedly declared that jumping would be introduced at Ascot only over his dead body. Fortunately it didn’t require his early demise. There has been jump racing at Ascot since 1965 and I doubt you could have a better day’s racing anywhere than the feast of feelgood emotion and exciting future prospects provided by last Saturday’s card.
Trainers are the only people who moan more about the weather than farmers and there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth from Somerset to Scotland about the long dry spell which is keeping soft-ground jumpers back in their yards instead of going racing. My regular racing companion even called to check I was still going as the first two races featured only seven participants between them and just two contests on the card provided the minimum eight runners required for the each-way bets beloved of British punters. It was, though, instructive pleasure from the start.
The opening novices’ hurdle went to the Paul Nicholls-trained Flemenstide, in the See More Business colours of Paul Barber. A big, raw type who will come into his own tackling three miles over fences, he was clearly learning on the job under Bryony Frost, who also steered home Jeremy Pass — another Nicholls-trained six-year-old — in the following novices’ chase. Both will win more races.
The three-mile mares’ handicap hurdle brought into the winners’ enclosure the Tequila Tipplers, a joyful bunch of syndicate owners. Their Tequila Blaze, tackling a handicap for the first time, reminded us that there have been few race days this season without a winner trained by Fergal O’Brien and ridden by stable stalwart Paddy Brennan. Sally Randell, Fergal’s partner and assistant, explained afterwards that last time out they had run Tequila Blaze over an inadequate trip, trying on the last day she qualified as a novice to pick up a £20,000 bonus. Sally had rung Paddy during the week wondering if they were in too hot a contest but the jockey insisted the horse was up to it. ‘Be patient and do your thing,’ she told him in return before the race and so he did, holding the mare in the rear and travelling smoothly up to the leaders before the last to win at 8-1. As for the Tipplers, ‘We’ll be having a right old drink,’ said Sally.
Racing folk love a good comeback story and Lostintranslation, trained by Colin and Joe Tizzard, could not have provided a better one in the Grade 2 Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase. Everything hit the Tizzards last year. Joe’s sister Kim, the life and soul of the yard, died of cancer at only 43. The horses ailed with one of those infuriating bugs that offered few obvious symptoms and resulted in them looking fine but failing to finish their races. Overall the Tizzards dropped to a mere 37 winners and Lostintranslation, the winner of the 2019 Betfair Chase and once seen as a potential Gold Cup winner, ‘bled’ in every race, being pulled up in the King George and the Gold Cup. ‘Today was the comeback,’ said Joe, who will take over the licence from his father next year. ‘If it didn’t work we would have been scratching our heads.’ He had been sending the owners videos of Lostintranslation’s spectacular jumping at home and the horse looked back to his best, jumping with elan and finishing the race off well. Tizzard winners are flowing and his owners, Paul Taylor and Richard O’Dwyer, are dreaming of Gold Cups again.
After diverting to the Flat and taking the Cesarewitch in style, the grey Buzz, at evens, lived up to expectations by taking the 2m 3f Grade 2 Coral Hurdle for Nicky Henderson and jockey Nico de Boinville who could be seen with a handful two furlongs out before cruising away from his field. Another joyful crowd streamed into the winners’ enclosure, this time in the shape of the triumphant Thurloe For Royal Marsden Cancer Charity syndicate. One of the first and best of such operations, the Thurloe team give 25 per cent of Buzz’s winnings to the charity, which will shortly collect a cheque for more than £50,000 from this year’s exploits.
Another feature this season has been the stride forward as a trainer by Sam Thomas, formerly one of Paul Nicholls’s jockeys. Ridden by another with that qualification on his CV, Sam Twiston-Davies, Thomas’s Before Midnight, already the winner of a Cheltenham Chase, took the Hurst Park Handicap Chase although not as fluently. He was nearly caught in the dying strides by Amoola Gold and trainer Sam reflected: ‘You see things differently as a jockey. I didn’t enjoy a moment of that.’