John Messara’s impressions of Royal Ascot 2013

I was asked by an Australian journalist if there were any aspects of the Royal Ascot meeting which we could adopt for Sydney racing; I found it difficult to give a response!

The fact is the Royal Week at Ascot is a spectacle of many parts. Its success lies in the sum of these parts – it’s not divisible. The pageantry of the carriage procession, the scope and beauty of the facilities, the testing nature of the track, the quality of the equine athletes, the dress and demeanour of those in attendance and the sing song after the last race, all go to making Royal Ascot an event that cannot be replicated in whole or in part. In other words, we need to create our own, equally original event in Sydney.

This year we attended as owners, again chasing that elusive Group win at the holy of holies – but it was not to be. Dismayed but not deterred, we will try again! It’s that sort of place. Foreign owners are very well treated at Ascot, and receive an extraordinary level of personal attention.

We were enthralled in this Royal Ascot renewal by a number of special moments: the joy of the Queen’s victory with Estimate in the Ascot Gold Cup, a battle royal between two top European 3YO colts in the St James’s Palace Stakes, the victory of Riposte for Lady Jane Cecil after the recent death of the master of Ascot, Sir Henry Cecil, and the sparkling performances by 2YOs War Command and Kiyoshi. These highlights placed the sport of racing, for positive reasons this time, on the front pages of newspapers around the world.

The spoils were shared widely amongst the major stables at Ascot, but the Al Thani family of Qatar was the notable emerging force, with two winners and three placegetters during the meeting.

The pre-Ascot events were also splendid, including the cocktail party at Asprey’s on the eve of the first day, and the luncheon at Highclere Stud on the Sunday. Highclere Stud was established in 1902 by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and is now operated by his great-grand-daughter Lady Carolyn Warren, her husband John Warren and their son Jake. John is Her Majesty The Queen’s bloodstock advisor, and is well known to us in Australia. He is also a director of the successful racing syndication company Highclere Thoroughbred Racing Ltd, owned and managed by Lady Carolyn’s brother, The Hon. Harry Herbert.

I found the Highclere operation to be a highly professional family affair, and the event was attended by a mix of international racing people, including a good number of Australians. A tour of Highclere Castle, a parade of horses and a great luncheon, made for a most pleasant afternoon, leading into the Royal Week.

The five days of super racing in those glorious facilities make Royal Ascot a “can’t miss” destination for enthusiasts from the United Kingdom, Europe and around the world. A total attendance for the meeting of around 300,000 is just one measure of Royal Ascot’s remarkable success.

This is surely one thing we can adopt for the Sydney Autumn – that is, the development of an unmissable week at the end of our Autumn for the racing world, akin to Royal Ascot and Melbourne Cup Week, but infused with our own heritage, style and flavour. The potential benefits of such an event for NSW racing and the state economy are very considerable indeed.

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