Friday, June 25, 2010

A Day at the Races

The Royal procession on “Ladies Day."
Ascot Royal Enclosure on “Ladies Day”
By W. Douglas Dechert

The most social day at Ascot race week has always been “Ladies Day,” and this week was no exception. I had the opportunity on this occasion to get an inside view of the most exclusive event of the season, because my friend Heidi Leiser is part owner, along with her trainer Wesley Ward, of a thoroughbred named METROPOLITAN MAN, one of a handful of American horses to ever be invited to run in the meet’s illustrious 400-year-old history. That unique circumstance engendered a coveted invitation to join The Queen at her pre-race luncheon at the Royal Lodge, just across the high street from the track.

The Royal Lodge itself is the only traditional structure left in the new $300,000,000 half mile-long stadium complex. The Queen’s luncheon was a traditional affair, serving hearty English staples such as roast beef with Yorkshire pudding with all the trimmings. Her Majesty was joined by Prince Philip, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, as well as the inevitable Saudi sheik in full tribal headgear.
Dr. Michael Galvin and Heidi Leiser.
Marina Zeller and James Taranto.
Con O'Callaghan and Amanda Zetterholm. Bianca Brigitte Bonomi and Douglas Dechert.
Roger and Tricia Baker with Robert Bartella.
Ed O'Dwyer, Peter O'Shaughnessy, and Gerry Lonsdale
Con O'Callaghan and Amanda Zetterholm. Mark Murray and Beata Boman.
Heidi Leiser and Beata Boman.
David Wachman and Miss Nomer.
After lunch, the action shifted to the track itself for the start of the day’s racing. The stadium itself is an unfortunate four-year-old legacy of Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” modernism. My friend Richard Mineards, the world’s foremost authority on the royal family, told me that it’s often been described as “an anonymous airport waiting lounge." In all fairness, I found that once I got used to its jarring atavism, it is, in fact a very well designed, light and airy structure with extremely efficient access and egress for the 15 or 20 thousand people who visit each day.

The ancient class structure of the sceptered isle is reflected in the divisions of the complex. Regular ticket holders picnic al fresco at the southern end of the long front straight by the starting line. It’s a densely packed mélange of thousands of well-lubricated revelers. The southern half of the stadium itself is populated by the more formally clad higher echelon, which is almost as crowded as the plebeian section. Finally, in the north end of the structure, by the finish line, is the Royal Enclosure.
Metropolitan Man.
Couldn't resist touching the track.
Princess Beatrice in the Royal procession.
Royal presentation winner's box in the paddock with the Queen pictured below in the lavendar hat.
American Idol’s Simon Cowell was the celebrity host in this exclusive enclave. It’s a testament to the rigorously enforced dress code that one of his entourage, a famous English actress, Jackie St Clair, was turned away from the entrance because her dress was too short. Luckily for her, there was a theater in nearby Windsor where she was performing with a prop department that loaned her more suitable attire, and only then was she allowed to join Simon and friends.

Among the many footballers and pop stars on hand was the eternal Joan Collins (whose uncanny resemblance to my much, much younger date, Bianca Brigitte Bonomi was much remarked upon during the course of the day). My pick for the most well preserved of the royals in attendance was the ever-affable and charming Princess Michael of Kent.
The Queen and Andrew Parker-Bowles.
Princess Michael of Kent with Prince Michael of Kent behind.
The result a few “punters’ bets netted me some exorbitant winnings (the sum of which I won’t disclose, just in case Tim “Turbo Tax” Geithner is reading this column) and I celebrated the afternoon away with The Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto and bottles of Champaign at the private table of Robert Bartella (possibly the world's last Greek tycoon, who conveniently had his helicopter parked at the edge of the track!)

I have to say that the people watching at this affair was some of the best that this writer has ever witnessed. The crowd was splendidly dressed with the men in de rigueur top hats and tail coats, while the women appeared to be Britain’s finest. The fashion statement of choice was a vibrantly colorful dress crowned by the most fanciful millinery on earth.
Mark Murray, James Taranto, Beata Bowman, Marina Zelle, Douglas Dechert, Amanda McVeigh, Heidi Leiser, Michael Galvin, and Dr. John McVeigh.
After the last race, it was impossible not to notice the voluble enthusiasm of the roaring crowds, who waved their miniature Union Jacks in a mass demonstration of patriotic fervor, as befits the newly hip traditionalism of the age of David Cameron and the Tory party.
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