The sky merrily unfolds its light upon Ascot Racecourse, weathered old men set up the Racing Post stands and ruddy-faced stable lads ready the horses for the day’s action. It’s half seven on a crisp February morning but already there’s a tangible sense of excitement and buzz within the gleaming new interiors. A high class card, jockeys at the top of their game and the prospect of a sunny day’s racing to lift the Home Counties gloom.
Unfortunately I am not here to punt or enjoy myself in any way. I am here to serve drunken East End wideboys bog standard food at the kind of price that only the crass masses of the nouveau riche could find acceptable. To a true racing fanatic, the spectacle of suited and booted troglodytes and the garish, hard-faced slatterns by their sides glugging away mediocre champagne with their underwhelming silver service meal whilst the sport of kings passes them by without captivating so much as a passing comment is not only incomprehensible but thoroughly reprehensible.
After signing in at the makeshift desk in the morning a jovial steward escorts us to the Pavilion, my prison for the next 10 hours or so. A large woman, whom it will be silly to ignore, beckons us to sign in again with her. Nothing in the signing process suggests that we're going to swap telephone numbers at the end of the day and for the next few hours we shine cutlery and generally try to avoid being anywhere within sight of this bovine metamorphosis, industriously polishing a knife for the fifth time if she comes our way. She catches my eye as I foolishly amble past her. She gives me a task, to count how many big knifes are missing from the tables. Unsurprisingly I get the number wrong, tentatively suggesting 37. It turns out more than 40 are needed. I incur the wrath of the leviathan for the day.
At 12.30 the "guests" arrive and swiftly snatch at the complimentary glasses of Chateau Ripoff without so much as a grunt, looking down upon the waiters with supreme condescension and waddling gracelessly to their tables. Invited by companies for this booze and food jolly, they have no notion of the beauty or intricacies of the sport and seem to take positive glee out of displaying their ignorance in this most hallowed of racing sites.
The first race is off at 1.10, a decent handicap hurdle to get the day started. I have an each way bet riding on the Venetia Williams-trained Flying Falcon and head to the window to try and get a good view. We have already served starters and there is no need to just stand looking into space, but, as Overstrand swept majestically to the front two out and the roar of the crowd outside swept into our sterile box, I knew that not only would Flying Falcon not be winning this race but that I would not be allowed to watch the finish. A red faced vision of comical fury was headed in my direction, an ode to The Beano and its ghastly matrons.
"Oy Mate, we're not paying you (a fiver an hour, breaks not included) to watch the f****n' racing, you're 'ere to work". I hastily put on a diligent face and reach to grab a few paltry empty glasses at the table nearest to the television, clapping my eyes on the epic four way equine struggle up the straight, watching them take the last only to be foiled yet again and sent to the unholy recesses of the kitchen.
I unfortunately miss the 2nd race but am lucky enough to be serving wine during the third, a fascinating Grade 1 chase, with Monet’s Garden standing out a mile for me. At 11-10 I thought this was the bet of the day as he clearly stood out on form against his rivals. Whilst Irish raiders Fota Island (with the unstoppable Tony McCoy on board) and Central House briefly raised a doubt in my mind as to just how solid a betting proposition this was, Monet’s Garden straightened up impressively and there was never any doubt as to the outcome as they reached the final fence. The grey put his disappointing King George performance behind him as whoops of joy from the stands could be heard in the distance.
As the afternoon progressed, the guests got increasingly blotto and careless with their money. Men who had not paid the slightest interest in the preceding races would blindly back favourites without studying the form, the women became screeching 20 quid clutching harridans who've lost the volume control and the knack of making a half way accurate meeting between lips and lipstick. Well, that's racing today. Yet another exercise for companies to ferry their drones to a venue that has a connotation of class and heritage to get them drunk and forget their miserable lives.
In our advertising culture, racing is seen as just another marketing opportunity, another chance to sell products to air-headed consumers. It is in real danger of going the way of football, with money ruling the sport, creating bloated egos and raising entry prices until it becomes fundamentally a social event rather than a sport, a sort of grotesque bar/eaterie with the racing as only a partial distraction. Like Global Warming, Corporatism advances relentlessly upon the Sport of Kings. And like Global Warming, everybody seems too busy on a jolly to take any notice.