THE week after the Grand National feels like the official start of summer so it’s time to dust off your picnic hamper, book an appointment with a financial adviser to discuss payment plans for a jug of Pimm’s at Royal Ascot, and start mapping out your racing itinerary.
Summer racing traditions have changed a little over the years. In the pre-horsebox era, equine stars had to walk between meetings – a logistical nightmare that would have made Golden Horn’s 2015 campaign, for example, much harder work for both horse and handlers.
In Gentlemen and Blackguards, a book about the 1844 Derby scandal, Nicholas Foulkes writes: “After walking from Malton to Epsom and winning the Oaks on 20 May 1836 the filly Cyprian immediately set off to Newcastle upon Tyne, where on 22 June she won the Northumberland Plate.”
These days, such epic pilgrimages are performed only by devoted fans of Mick Hucknall, who casts a long shadow over the websites of racecourses plugging their summer wares.
Simply Red have wintered well, Hucknall’s mane is gleaming and he’s ready to show his best form this summer at tracks as diverse as Cartmel, Chelmsford, Chepstow, Doncaster and Newbury. Full tour dates and the latest stable news are available on simplyred.com.
Another harbinger of summer is racing at Windsor (windsor-racecourse.co.uk) which hosts its first meeting of the season tomorrow. “We’re back!” the website declares, and there is the usual packed summer schedule at the riverside course.
The May 16 meeting is a tribute to a local girl done good – HRH Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday racenight – while there are family fun days, a jazz night and, on July 11, a Cuban night featuring live music from Los Cabrones and Cuban food and entertainment.
That should be worth attending, if only for the sight of Barack Obama and Raul Castro exchanging awkward small talk as they wait to announce the winner of the best dressed lady award.
The improved relations between the US and Cuba attracted plenty of media coverage but there is news of an even more remarkable rapprochement on thejockeyclublive.co.uk (“an innovative and exciting event entertainment promoter specialising in combining live music and racing”).
In July, Sandown and Newmarket will apparently play host to “the reunion they said could never happen”. No, it’s not Tony Blair and Gordon Brown setting aside musical differences to reprise their critically acclaimed Simon and Garfunkel tribute act – it’s Busted! You must remember Busted – they were like John the Baptist to McFly’s Jesus.
Who knows what high-level negotiations were required to bring about this elusive reunion, but I’ve heard whispers that the deal-clinchers were an all-you-can-eat offer at the hog roast van and a £10 Placepot voucher.
Nostalgic pop acts are the safest bet for racecourses looking to boost summer attendance figures but it’s nice to see a track such as Pontefract (pontefract-races.co.uk) taking a more imaginative approach.
Ponte Carlo is brimming with local pride, which is reflected in its themed racedays. An 80s night with Bucks Fizz isn’t the most groundbreaking event (although shrewd Yorkshire folk may be interested to know that “those who book in advance will pay the same price they’d have paid in the 80s”) but then comes a rugby league evening on June 6 with players from Castleford Tigers, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, Huddersfield Giants and Featherstone Rovers “mingling with the crowds”.
It’s hard to picture rugby league stars mingling – jostling seems more their style – but there is no place for stereotyping at Pontefract. Especially not on flat cap whippet day on June 19, with whippet racing before the horses get going and a free racecard, betting voucher or drink for the first 500 people to arrive wearing a flat
If that isn’t quite northern enough for you, head to Doncaster (doncaster-racecourse.co.uk) on July 30 for an appearance by Bolton lad Vernon Kay.
Big Vern’s been having a rough time of it lately, so let’s hope the racing community can rally round and support him at Donny.
He’s certainly excited about a repeat of last year’s DJ set: “The course is brilliant and the crowd were so up for it!” he tells Doncaster’s website.
“I never realised a day at the races could be so much fun. I am so looking forward to playing at the racecourse in the summer of 2016. Perhaps in 2017 I will take it one step further and be the tallest jockey in history.”
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