Royal Ascot is widely considered to be the best five days of flat racing anywhere in the world, but with all the talk of hapless goalkeepers, free-scoring Germans and annoying vuvuzelas, you wouldn’t know it was happening this week. Even the BBC, which is giving it secondary status on BBC TWO, has struggled to accord it much promotion with all the excitement over the World Cup.
In truth, this week highlights the contrast between the beautiful game and the sport of kings. While football is the world’s most popular sport, embracing all colours, classes and creeds, racing is becoming evermore dated and elitist.
Royal Ascot, with its pomp and ceremony, its top hats and tails and queen riding in on her horse-drawn chariot is just not that relevant in this day and age. And it hardly helps itself by preserving its antiquated and exclusive rules. If you want to get into the royal enclosure, for example, it’s not enough to pay, you have to gain the sponsorship of someone who has already been there on at least four occasions. In other words, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
For those in general admission a ticket costs at least £56 and that won’t get you off the ground floor, where your view is restricted and where you are segregated from the more worthy twats in hats, so that they can get to their Daimlers and Mercs without having to rub shoulders with the riff-raff.
Of course the organisers insist that, unlike the Derby, which saw a 20% downturn in betting revenue compared to the previous year, numbers will be up this week. “I think we will have a slightly bigger crowd than last year,” said chief executive Charles Barnett. “We are now sold out in the grandstand and silver ring for Saturday. While enclosures are sold out we still have space for people on the heath.” The heath. Erm, no thanks. If I want to feel unimportant I’ll just spend the day getting it in the ear from the Missus and save myself £60.
And it’s a shame really, too, because in terms of flat racing quality you can’t beat this meeting. Last year saw an extraordinary display by Yeats, who confirmed his place in the history books by becoming the only horse ever to have won the Group 1 contest on four consecutive occasions – and this year promises to be just as appealing, with Goldikova strongly fancied to win her ninth Group 1 race in a cracking Queen Anne Stakes tomorrow.
Of course, I know that comparing racing with football is a bit like comparing apples and oranges – and there are many within racing that don’t want to take the more populist route. I’m not saying that Ascot should become overrun with chavs or vuvuzela-honking hoodlums, but if the sport is to survive and not depend so heavily on handouts from the betting industry, it has to move with the times.