For most of us – myself included – the word ‘Ascot’ tends to be synonymous with the Royal Ascot meeting in June. But that’s far from all that Ascot has to offer. It’s easy to forget that the course has meetings all year round and that some of them – including the King George weekend at the end of July, and Champions Day in October – also offer fantastic racing. It might not have quite the same cachet or fame as the royal meeting, but the King George is still one of the country’s most prestigious flat races, and with a stonking great prize fund to boot.
I suppose it’s a good thing that the major races have such large prize pots (although a shame that some of this doesn’t filter down to the lower levels of racing) – especially when you consider the amount that some owners invest in their horses. On the eve of Royal Ascot, the thoroughbred auction house Goffs hold an annual sale at Kensington Palace. This isn’t just any sale, though. 19 out of the 20 horses in training that were in this year’s auction held entries at that week’s royal meeting; if you want to own a Royal Ascot runner, this is the place to be. Since the Goffs sale began in 2014 it has achieved the highest average price in the UK for a thoroughbred auction – this year, that average was £377,083 – up 26% on last year. Whatever else people have to say about Brexit, it certainly didn’t seem to put off these big spenders.
Why does the Goffs sale attract such high prices? Well, the obvious answer is that it’s an easy way of achieving the prestige and excitement of having a Royal Ascot runner. No worries in the run-up to Ascot week about your horse going lame or being balloted out. Simply put down the cash on the Monday night and – unless something goes terribly wrong – that new purchase will run in your name and colours in whichever Ascot race it was already scheduled to run in.
One new investor who turned heads was Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Thai owner of Leicester City who famously pumped millions into the football club after buying it in 2010, and was rewarded by seeing them win the Premier League last year. Horses aren’t a new passion for him, though. Srivaddhanaprabha has his own polo club in Bangkok and a high goal polo team in the UK, which doesn’t come cheap. Last year his team King Power Foxes won the Gold Cup – probably the UK’s most prestigious polo tournament – for the second year running, with his son Tal forming part of the team. They’re having a go at making it three years on the trot this year, after reaching the subsidiary finals of the Cartier Queen’s Cup earlier this year. Do the Goffs purchases mean that the King Power name is likely to become a frequent sight at racecourses as well?
A couple of weeks ago, I headed down to Goodwood for the last of their ‘Three Friday Nights’ evening meetings. I hadn’t been racing at Goodwood since I rode there in the ladies’ charity race, the Magnolia Cup, at last year’s Qatar Goodwood Festival. But the moment I saw the parade ring, the memories all came flooding back and I felt sick with nerves.
Looking down the green expanse of straight – which I’ll be racing up again on August 3 – was even worse. I’ve been to plenty of racecourses since last year’s Glorious Goodwood, and watched dozens of races – including charity ones like mine. But it would appear that Goodwood racecourse has become my ‘trigger’.
In a way, last year’s Magnolia Cup preparations seemed easier than this year’s. I knew that I had to pass my fitness and riding test at the British Racing School, so that gave me a target to aim for. I started riding out at the beginning of April 2016, specifically to prepare for the race. This year, my only target is August 3, and I’ve been riding out three times a week since April of last year. I might be more prepared than I was last year – but if I am, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Perhaps most worryingly, it’s now just over three weeks until my charity race. I suppose all I can do now is keep up my training, and cross all of my fingers and toes!
Camilla Swift is riding in the Magnolia Cup at Glorious Goodwood on August 3, raising money for children’s mental health charity Place2Be. You can sponsor her here.