My cousin's wife (is that a cousin-in-law?) won a competition a few weeks ago where she received a very fancy Longines watch and a couple of VIP tickets for Ascot Races. Neither my cousin or his wife could make it to Ascot last Saturday so they very generously offered them to me and the missus. Accepting the offer was probably the easiest decision I've made this year.
Free 4 course meal in the restaurant, free champagne, free racing papers, free wines, free afternoon tea, free bar, free after racing party with Paloma Faith and a FREE LONGINES WATCH. This really was turning out to be the greatest prize I've never won. Oh wait a minute, what's that? Oh, scratch the last one, apparently the watch stays with the Cousin-in-law. "Just the tickets, Gavin, just the tickets!"
Not to worry, the tickets are more than enough and if I need to know what the time is I've always got a clock on my mobile phone. Plus, unlike my cousin, I get a day off from selling calendars to watch the best horses in Europe run around the best racecourse in the world.
Life is good........
And if you're feeling sorry for my Cousin then don't worry too much, he and his wife have won competitions this year to the Cannes Film Festival, Wimbledon Finals and an Ashes Test. Going racing to Ascot as well would have been bordering on greedy.
I hastily arranged cover for my shop for the day, bought myself a new suit, withdrew my month's wages and spent 5 days picking out my selections. It was all systems go for a day at the races......
As we were living the high life for the day we decided to upgrade to First Class on the train and arrive in style. Aaaahh, the quiet, the comfort, the free tea and biscuits and a table. Well worth forking out a tenner for but even better when you get that for free too. Apparently due to the rugby being at Twickenham that evening the train was packed so the conductor waived the upgrade fee as there wasn't anywhere to sit in the other carriages anyway. Mark that up as the first result of the day!
We gained swift entry into the course, saw the Queen arrive, had a quick look around the grandstand before watching Sylvester De Zouza get his Champion Jockey Crown along with a cheque for £25,000! Like that was his motivation in riding all those winners!
We located our restaurant and after convincing the girl on the door that we were Mr and Mrs Hackett who had won a competition prize we were shown to our seats. Actually there wasn't much convincing needed as the girl just asked our name and that apparently was proof enough. I must have an honest looking face.
We were seated on a round table made up of 10 other competition winners and we were the last couple to arrive. We introduced ourselves to the table which consisted of a mother and daughter, a pair of young female friends and two couples. They had already begun their meals but my immediate thought was that for a group of prize winners they were awfully subdued.
The reason for this was soon apparent as we realised to my right we had a drunken idiot who had appointed himself the head of the table (despite it being round!) and was treating everyone else as his 'guest'. Arthurian legend was obviously lost on him. His wife seemed nice but was very quiet. She, like the rest of us, couldn't get a word in. I didn't get his name, as far as I knew he could have been any old Tom, Dick or Harry, he was too busy name dropping all the stars he'd been on holiday with.
He then turned his attention to us and started off by calling Sam (my other half), Blodwyn all afternoon and speaking to her in a terrible Welsh accent. How we laughed. Every question or conversation he ended with 'boyo'. Oh, please stop. You're killing us.
Then as we asked for the salt or pepper to be passed over, take a bread roll or help ourselves to any of the free wine on offer we were informed that they were 'his' and it would cost 50p. The first time was mildly amusing, the second time slightly annoying but by the 10th time I was about to erupt.
But at least one thing was now clear. He was not Tom or Harry, he was a Dick!
I was saved by the waiter who brought us our starters just as the runners came under orders for the first race. Starters orders indeed. There were plenty of screens in the dining hall but I couldn't hear the commentary due to the noise in the room. Not to worry I glanced at the colours in the racecard and cheered home Litigant and my £40ew bet all the way to the line. What a start......
My joy was short lived as it flashed up that it was in fact Flying Officer that had won and not Litigant (he hadn't even made the frame and there were more horses in front of him that behind). Colour blindness or sheer stupidity had led me to inexplicably mix up the colours. Just goes to show what a great job these race commentators do, especially in the big 20+ runner races. At least the food was excellent. More than could be said for my worsening mood.
By this time the pair of friends had eaten their main course and had left the table never to return. Couple number one also made their excuses and left leaving us, the mother and daughter along with Dick and his wife.
The mother and daughter had decided that alcohol was the only way forward. It was a plan we thought had a lot of merit and decided to join them.
We had our main course before setting off to explore Ascot and watch the second race from the grandstand. I have to say that the food was exceptional and my chicken was cooked beautifully. The wine was pretty decent too.
My good friend Matt was also at Ascot making full use of his press badge and we met up under the Royal box. It's interesting to note that the Queen's personal box at Ascot although very fancy is nowhere near the finishing line. The people who own that particular box and have the best view are the Coolmore gang. Make of that what you will.
We were all in favour of Strath Burn winning the sprint although I covered my each way stake (£120) with a saver on the favourite Muhaarar (£50 at 5/2).
Muhaarar showed them a clean pair of heels, Strath Burn ran no race at all and I was £5 up on the race. The tide was turning in my favour. Matt went off to have his lunch and we went back to our table for our desserts. Once again this was cooking at it's finest.
I'd had enough of drinking Dick's wine and had moved on to the Budweiser which was not under his jurisdiction. Sam though continued defiantly to plough her way through Dick's Red and White. You can take the girl out of Wales but you can't take Wales out of the girl!
In the fillies and mares I was ignoring the pundits and the trainer who all said that Bocca Baciata probably wouldn't stay and struck a £40ew bet on the filly at 20/1. What do they know? Quite a lot actually as Bocca closed up at the furlong pole and then faded away to finish 5th. If you're looking for a horse that's going to stay it's probably best to look at the St Leger winner as the perfect sort. Hindsight. It's a beautiful thing (especially in betting). Anyway Bocca ran a pretty decent race but as the bookies weren't paying out on those that ran OK I had another losing bet to add to my betting ledger.
At least the best bet of the day was running next.
I'd been hoping all morning and through the early afternoon that Aiden O'Brien would finally decide to run Gleneagles in the QEII. Not because I wanted to back it but because I wanted the odds against on Solow. Aiden said yes, the bookies went odds against and I went in for £250 at 5/4. Sam wanted to back Belardo with her fiver so I joined her with a tenner each way on that one too at 50/1.
Solow strode out imperiously to win from a staying on Belardo. The perfect result. Well, not quite as the exacta paid over £50. Some people are never satisfied.
We headed back to the restaurant for afternoon tea and found Dick was the only one left at the table. Even his wife had deserted him. It seemed he'd spent the time we were away getting through another couple of bottles of white and was now well past the inebriated stage. As the other couples had also left I texted Matt to come and join us. He gladly accepted and Sam and I now had some pleasant company to accompany our sandwiches, scones and cakes. We ate, drank and mulled over the Champion Stakes.
I was really keen on the mare Ribbons but had tipped Fascinating Rock for the trends guide and had backed him the evening before at 16/1 (£40ew). The alcohol inside me had raised my bravado to an unparalleled level and as we headed to the betting ring I counted out £200. The first bookie offering 20/1 or better would get my £100ew bet. Most were 14/1, the odd few were 16/1 and some were even 12/1. I walked up and down the long line of bookies and back again but nobody was going 20/1.
Then some brave bookie chalked up (well electronically changed the display) to 17/1 and I was in like Flynn. I've never backed a horse at 17/1 before.
Unfortunately she was another of my fancies to run out of puff in the final furlong but the good news was Fascinating Rock was staying on nicely at the front, under a fine ride from Pat Smullen, to score at 10/1. All's well that ends well.
Except it wasn't quite over just yet. There was still the little matter of the 20 runner handicap to sort out.
All week I had been gearing myself up for a massive bet on Fiftyshadesofgrey but as 2nd reserve he had failed to make the cut and it had been back to the drawing board. I had settled on Musadas as the new selection and had backed him the evening before at 14/1 (£10ew).
Now back in the restaurant with Matt and Sam, and with wine and a plate of scones in front of us, we decided to watch the race from the table. By this time Dick was borderline conscious and mumbling on about something or other. His wife was still awol. I placed another £40ew on Musadas with the tote and stood by the TV to watch the race unfold. Being a Godolphin horse there would be no mistaking the colours this time and being in front from the start helped my ever blurring vision keep track of him. A pillar to post victory under decent 5lb claimer Edward Greatrex was all set to add another £800 odd to the Priestley coffers.
But, in what was a bit of a shock to me, the winner returned a heavily gambled 7/1 (8/1 on the Tote) meaning I didn't collect quite as much as I had hoped for. I really had no idea he had been gambled on throughout the day. Some people are never satisfied!
We tipped the tote girl and our waiter for the afternoon and left the now sleeping Dick and his wife, who had returned to escort him home, to head to the main grandstand for a drink. Refuge was found in the Premier enclosure where we drank, danced and discussed the day while listening to Paloma Faith on the decks. We caught the last 5 minutes of the Wales rugby match in the now deserted Qipco sponsors room. Sam was not best pleased with that result!
Aware of the rugby match being played at Twickenham we decided to head for the station and catch the train home before the fans caught us up. Matt did the same and we said our goodbyes. The journey home was quick, uneventful and once again free in First Class.
What a truly fantastic and hugely profitable day at the races.
Ascot is now Sam's favourite track and dining in the restaurant is now her preferred way of going racing. I have a feeling this free day at the races is going to cost me dearly........
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