June 18, 2012
With the conclusion of the Triple Crown series each year, racing in America, at least at the top levels, experiences a sort of lull. This year, however, while we in American don’t have one or two great heroes in the sport to watch closely, the same can’t be said in Europe and the British Isles, where at least three great racehorses are getting plenty of ink and will draw a lot of attention.
In England, where soccer is called football, horse racing is horse racing, except it’s almost exclusively on turf. That is about all which separates it from the American sport. The big difference this year is that they have the big horses to watch. This week they get to see two of them in action in what has become the world’s leading racing festival, the Royal Meeting at Ascot in Great Britain.
As much as the attention will be focused on the two superstars in action this week, Frankel and Black Caviar, much of the fuss of Royal Ascot will be about new dress codes, which seek to retain the tradition of the heart of British racing. You won’t recognize the apparel at Ascot, if you’re an American racing fan. The very proper British elite have imposed some sever restrictions on what can and cannot be worn to the races at Ascot this year, depending largely on where you sit. In either case, suits for men and hats for women are virtually required and there will be special dress code assistants at all entrances, style guides are published and substitute garments will be available for those who fail to meet the minimum standards. All of that wouldn’t go over well in the United States.
But what would go over is the racing. There are 18 stakes races, seven of them Group 1 events, over the five days of racing and, fortunately, Americans get to watch all of the action over the TVG racing network, the same network which began covering all of the Oaklawn races earlier this year.
American racing fans will get to see the horse generally acknowledged as the top-rated horse in training on Tuesday, when Frankel takes on a talented field of 10 rivals in the one mile Queen Anne Stakes, kicking off the great festival. One of his rivals will be the only Arkansas-bred scheduled to race at Ascot this year, Strong Suit, from the barn of highly-touted British trainer Richard Hannon. Strong Suit had raced with success and exclusively in England until brought to the U. S. to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last season. He ran poorly on that occasion, but he is expected to compete well for Hannon in Great Britain this year. Strong Suit has won five of his 10 career starts, including both efforts at Ascot. Frankel is unbeaten in all 10 of his starts, including three stakes at Ascot. Frankel will be odds-on, while Strong Suit will be a longshot, to say the least. But at least Americans will get to see that race and the other important races of the Tuesday-Saturday festival.
The other superstar competing at Ascot this week is Black Caviar, who has ventured from Australia, where she has won a record 21 races in a row. She is a pure sprinter and will compete in the six furlong Diamond Jubilee Stakes, which highlights the closing day (Saturday) card. She, too, will not lack for competition, since there are still 20 others nominated to take her on. The lure of racing at Royal Ascot may be as strong to the British as running on Kentucky Derby day is to Americans. They don’t seem to mind losing as long as they’re seen.
In the aftermath, the British have created their own British Champions Day, which will be raced on October 20 at Ascot this year. The biggest single day of racing in Great Britain may very well clash with Breeders’ Cup and minimize the impact that the best of the runners from Europe and Britain have on the big American racing days.
There are a number of fine races with great horses scheduled for this week at the Royal Ascot meet, but they are overwhelmed by the superstars in action. For American racing fans, it will be worth watching all of the races. Out of many of them will come horses which race at Arlington on Arlington Million Day and a number will find their way to America and Canada for the major turf races of the Fall. They may not be the superstars this year, but they figure to be big-time players when they race against our best.
The domination of European and Arab interests at American equine sales is certainly beginning to tell. They love to beat Americans and are doing so when it comes to turf racing. We’ve raced some awfully good turf runners at them in recent years and seen the Europeans and Arabs go away with the trophies.
This may be a down time for the big horses in America, but it should not be a down time for racing geeks like me. Thanks to TVG, we’ll get to see Royal Ascot in the comfort of our own homes. The telecasts start at 8:00 a.m. daily, which pretty much corresponds to my first cup of coffee. I hope you enjoy those races as much as I do. I admit that my first interest in European racing came many years ago when I was a student in Paris. I hope it doesn’t take you as long. The races are different, but very entertaining and they will show you a whole new cast of characters to make racing all the more interesting. I hope this is only the beginning of internationalizing of our sport. It will make horse racing equal to many of the other sports which are showing increased interest now that there is an international feel to the presentation.
Enjoy Frankel and Black Caviar. There is another star named Camelot who will appear with that duet soon. We’ll keep tabs on them all. Hopefully we can see them in person at some point.