Saturday 17 March 2018

Majestic day out at Ascot a rite of passage

'I taught him everything he knows' - yours truly with Dermot Weld at Royal Ascot
'I taught him everything he knows' - yours truly with Dermot Weld at Royal Ascot
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

I didn't even know he was the Queen's bodyguard. We had been held up in the Royal Enclosure while herself was on her way to the Royal Box. I was eventually let through when Her Majesty was safely in the inner sanctum.

I couldn't see where I was going, what with all these giants with tall hats walking in front of me. The flow landed me accidentally at the Queen's front door. I was almost in when this tall man turned and said ever so politely but with some authority: "You are not expected."

It was the Queen's loss and, yes, I am big headed. My top hat didn't fit. I was getting headaches. Anne and Steve Barry from Knockanure lent me a tall headpiece. Thanks too to Cathal and Mary Henigan from Listowel for the lovely digs.

The day out was all good. Darina Allen was on the plane and she produced goat's cheese on brown bread with little tiny tomatoes like those red snooker balls that flew off the mini- table on Christmas Day and landed in the turkey soup.

We were greeted by green baize-clad ex-soldiers at the gates of Royal Ascot. I was stopped from going in the Royal Gate. They must have known the grandmother was in Cumann na mBan. Coincidentally, it happened to be Ladies' Day.

The women of England were beautifully togged out.

The Royal Enclosure dresses are just above the knee. Thousands of beauties lie out in The Front Lawn. The skirts here are hitched higher and it was plain to see, even though we weren't looking, the women wore underwear to match their outfits.

The crowds go right up to about a half a mile from the winning post and the further away you go from the finish the shorter the skirts. By the time you get to the four-furlong marker, the entire collection wouldn't keep a bicycle saddle dry.

There is the delicious waft of perfume all over Ascot. This place is fragrant and floral. It is the colour and the scent of summer.

I was more or less going to slag off the pompous and the slappers, but Royal Ascot is really special. The varying entry levels reflect what was, and still is, the different tiers of society within a manufactured class system designed to sustain an empire, but I can honesty say I encountered no snobbery or loutishness.

Brough Scott explained it to us: "It's a mix of royalty, fashion and racing. And the racing is very good here."

This year's Ascot Gold Cup was one of the finest races we have ever seen. You just had to be there to appreciate the duel in the hot summer sun between Dermot Weld's Rite Of Passage and Aidan O'Brien's Age Of Aquarius. They battled side by side, neck and neck, sticks like pistons, heels kicking, thighs squeezing, with 40,000 punters cheering as if they had backed them both, even though most didn't.

There was no let-up. Murtagh on Aquarius hit the front a long way out. He knew he had to turn the last few furlongs into a long-distance sprint that would suck the oxygen from his pursuers. Smullen on Rite was calm in his head, manic yet controlled in his drive. Murtagh too gave his all without losing his rhythm.

Age Of Aquarius fought back to briefly lead with the line in sight. Then Rite Of Passage, game and classy, got back in front, barely.

After two and a half miles of no let-up, the length of a horse's neck decided who would lift the 2010 Ascot Gold Cup.

Aquarius and Rite are progressive horses. They will surely meet again in the autumn and many more times. These long-distance champions are only sent to stud when the mileage is up. This is the start of what could become one of racing's great rivalries.

Afterwards, Weld said he took on the triumphant Rite Of Passage because he liked her grandmother and that Melbourne was on the agenda.

"That was some race," we said.

"Ah yeah," replied Weld. Short words, but the 'a' in the 'ah' and the 'ah' in the 'yeah' stretched out like the Curragh.


There was communal singing after the racing in a grassy amphitheatre under the stands to the sound of the Band of the Royal Grenadiers. Some 5,000 people waved miniature Union Jacks and sang 'Land of Hope and Glory', but it was Ireland's day.

Champagne and bacon and egg pies were served from trunks in the car park when the bars closed. Women danced barefooted to car stereos and men shed their tails. I saw a slender girl drink pink champagne out of a fat man's hat.

We met Kieren Fallon, who beat the Queen's horse by a short head, and welcomed him back from his ban.

Mick Channon was surrounded by fans and we sampled his hospitality under an old oak as evening shadows brought a new beauty.

A well-heeled woman on stiletto stilts lost her hat as the wind picked up. She was jarred and couldn't bend down. The feathers ran away from her like a chicken trying to escape the pot and she fell over in the pursuit.

Her legs went up in the air, perpendicular to the grass, with left parallel to right like goalposts. And guess what? She was wearing down-to-the-knee Union Jack passion-killer panties.

The Irish won, but this was a very British day. A day that you should all sample if you get the chance, but please, send word to Her Majesty you are on your way.

Irish Independent

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