We all have our idiosyncrasies that galvanize our spirits, and one of mine dating back to my pre-teenage years, is an early morning run. The knees are a bit more brittle these days, but the heart is strong and the impact on the endorphins and bio-rhythms is irresistable. On the last day of our UK "flip", I ventured out from the palatial comfort of England's Jockey Club Chambers in Newmarket to the stage for the Two Thousand Guineas, the Rowley Mile. The approach to the racecourse is as grand as any in the sporting world, ringing bells in my mind of the long walk down Landsdowne Road to the home of Irish rugby. The images of the former greats, Frankel, Rock Of Gibraltar, Footstepsinthesand, George Washington, Henrythenavigator, Sea The Stars, Makfi, Camelot, Dawn Approach and Gleneagles, etched upon the banners which adorn the several furlongs of this historic avenue, had me finding paces my body had forgotten, the quicker my heartbeat and the closer I came to the parade in the lee of the grandstand.
A furlong and a half out, I was about to change gear once more, when I was engulfed by an armada of Range Rovers, BMWs, the latest English "fad", a stream of Audi TDIs, and one big bus, bulging with press and TV cameramen, and all the paraphernalia that accompanies an event of such moment. I've always fancied myself as a bit of a runner, and I wondered why it had taken more than five decades for anyone to appreciate my talents, yet here they were, clambering from their vehicles and like destiny's wave, rushing to engulf me. Imagine my surprise when this great throng whistled right by in the direction of a rather nonchalant chestnut colt and his "brown job" of a companion, both of whom I had passed with a minimum of effort a minute earlier. The emergence from the one flank of the mob of the familiar faces of Mark Player and Johnny Weatherby, instinctively said there was something altogether bigger than my morning jog at play here, and that this bright chestnut was the real reason why so many had leapt from the sanctity of their beds at such an ungodly hour.
Turns out he was last year's American Triple Crown aspirant, California Chrome, former hero of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, here to strut his stuff for this army of worshippers on the eve of his shot at this week's Ascot showpiece, the Prince Of Wales Stakes (Gr.1).
In common with routine international racing practice these days, this trackwork session preceded the morning's press conferences to which I returned via Hyperion's memorial at Jockey Club headquarters. What made this one different to the buildup to a Breeders Cup or a Dubai World Cup, is that Newmarket's 3000 horses are trained over approximately 2500 acres and 100 miles of marked gallops on the Heath encircling the town. A carefully managed timetable was in place for the magical mystery tour from Lady Cecil's Warren Place, which embraced the Japanese raiders Spielberg and Supermoon, Gai Waterhouse's Wandjina and fellow Australian raider, Chris Waller's Brazen Beau, as well the Hong Kong superstar, Able Friend.
We've said it before, but its worth recalling that the Royal meeting at Ascot, was the idea 304 years ago, of Queen Anne. It is without peer the best sporting idea the English ever had, and while the Aussies rightfully claim that the Melbourne Cup is "the race that stops the nation", this week at Ascot "stops the world". I was more than mindful of this as I watched "Chrome" flash past his work companion when squeezed on by Godolphin's retained jockey, William Buick, a typical sign that the Americans were here not just for the sport, but to transact some business, too.
Back at the Rooms, the media storm was already in full swing. Our dinner companion of a few evenings earlier, the celebrated Australian trainer, David Hayes was in thoughtful conversation with CNN's perfect "face of racing", Francesca Cumani, while across the way, Gai Waterhouse and "Chrome's" conditioner, Art Sherman, were expressing their satisfaction with the English arrangements before another brace of cameras. The Aussies have upset the odds at Ascot more than once before, and its clear they're here to do the demolition job again.
No doubt about it, the English have got this one absolutely right, a comforting thought for those of us who've dedicated our lives to this sport and the legion of fans who'll be glued to their TV's starting tomorrow.
Columbian/London Service (p)