Thursday, 31 May 2012

#AscotAsks Chris Stickels, Clerk of the Course at Ascot

This week #AscotAsks Chris Stickels, Clerk of the Course at Ascot, ten questions about his role at the racecourse and what he is most looking forward to at this year’s Royal Ascot.



Name: Chris Stickels
Location: Ascot, Berkshire
Occupation: Clerk of the Course at Ascot Racecourse

1. Chris, as Clerk of the Course at Ascot Racecourse, could you explain what your job role entails?

As Clerk of the Course, my fundamental role is to ensure that the Racecourse and track complies with all of the regulations set by the British Horseracing Authority, making it a safe environment for horses, people around them and jockeys.  From about ten days before a meeting, I assess the track and report on the Going and on a raceday I oversee the various racing operations.

2. What was your career path to becoming a Clerk of the Course?

I first started at Folkestone Racecourse as a Groundsman in 1996, then progressed through to Head Groundsman.  From here I progressed into the position of, Clerk of the Course.  I then joined Ascot Racecourse as Clerk of the Course in 2005.

3. A range of terms can be used to describe the ground conditions on a raceday ranging from heavy to firm/hard in some cases. Could you briefly explain the difference of these terms and how it can affect a race?

The Going is the term used to describe how the track is going to ride, which is important to ascertain as it can definitely influence the outcome of a race.  Whether the going is heavy to firm, it will affect a horse’s motion and speed on the track.  For Royal Ascot we aim to start the meeting on Good providing the forecast isn’t wet for the coming week.

4. What are the highs and lows of your job?

The highs are definitely seeing some of the top class horses in the world running here at Ascot and unfortunately the low of my job is when a horse or jockey gets injured racing.

5. In extreme weather conditions, is there much that you can do to protect the turf?

As you can expect, conditions can range from very sunny and hot periods to the freezing lows of winter and torrential rain, so I can give a few examples of how we would try to protect the track;

If we are expecting large amounts of rain there isn’t a whole lot that we can do.  We have used rain covers in isolated areas on occasion; however they aren’t the most effective as they drive the rain into other areas of the racecourse.  It may also be worth noting here that when the weather is very hot, water collected from rain falls in to the top of the grandstand and is pumped into a reservoir.  This water is then used and to irrigate the track to stop it drying out and becoming too hard.

In the colder months we can lay down covers on various parts of the track to protect it from the frost.  Using this cover then maximizes the opportunity for racing to go ahead in the winter.

6. As the job of looking after the racecourse and specifically the track is so vast, you must have a team who you work with?

Yes, we have a team of 13 full time staff including the Head Groundsman and his staff who impeccably look after the grounds around the racecourse, as well as the Stable Manager and of course myself and my PA.  In the summer months we recruit additional staff to help around the racecourse and on a raceday we can have a team of up to 60 ensuring the whole day goes smoothly.

7. Could you give us your daily routine on a Royal Ascot raceday?

I arrive at the racecourse by 5.30am and conduct my first walk of the course to check everything is Ok.  I’ll then head back to the office to announce the Going and deal with any racing enquiries that have arisen.  I will then go and check all the equine facilities and stables before I have some breakfast ready to walk the track again just before racing.
I will also ensure that everyone who needs to be here is onsite, including the officials, doctors and vets and that racing starts on time, overseeing the movement of horses.  Once racing is over, I check the track is fully prepped and repaired for the following day.

8. For someone who is interested in a career in Clerking, could you advise a good way to get into it?

As there are only 60 racecourses in the country, there aren’t too many Clerk of the Course jobs going.  However, I would suggest getting a job in racing and learning about how a racecourse operates in many different ways.  Your interests may then lead on to other thing – you never know!

9. Briefly, what will be your plan of action in the three week lead up to Royal to make sure the track is perfect? (Weather permitting!)

We will be assessing the track daily, monitoring the forecasts and carrying out the final turf management practises.  When we are 10 days out we will water the track accordingly, depending on the forecast and ground conditions, to ensure we have our optimum Going.

10. Finally, what are you most looking forward to at Royal Ascot 2012?

I’m looking forward to seeing last year’s star, Frankel, to start the Royal Meeting with a bang followed by Black Caviar, which will top off what is set to be a fantastic week.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Interview with Michelin Starred Chef, Mark Sargeant

Mark Sargeant, former head chef of Gordon Ramsey’s Michelin starred restaurant at Claridges and owner of seafood restaurant, Rocksalt in Kent, brings his unique take on modern British cuisine to Royal Ascot.

Collaborating with Executive Head Chef, Steve Golding, Sargeant has devised signature seafood dishes that will be served in the Parade Ring Restaurant throughout Royal Ascot.

Below is a sneak preview of his interview from the Royal Ascot Magazine this year, in which he talks about his passion for food, store cupboard essentials and collaboration with Royal Ascot.

Tell us a bit about your involvement with Royal Ascot this year…

I’m very excited about it. I have known David Mulkay, Craft and Food Development Director at Sodexo, who are the sole caterer at Ascot Racecourse, for some years. I met him when I won Chef of the Year. He got in touch and we had a really great meeting. We decided that I would create a series of signature dishes, which could go into many of the different restaurants. A lot of hard work later, here we are with Royal Ascot rapidly approaching.

I wanted to keep the food to the sort of produce-led style that I do in my restaurant. We are very passionate about using fresh, locally sourced produce. The food is not overly fussy but because of the quality of the things that we are using, you need to do very little to it. We just let the ingredients shine but enhance them slightly. The dishes that will be served at Royal Ascot are very tasty but very simple.

Top highlight of the menu you’ve devised?

My favourite, which has become a bit of a signature dish at Rocksalt, is the salt and pepper squid. We do it in an Oriental way with a citrus dressing that’s sweet, salty and sour. I was really keen to get that on the menu because people don’t really think of squid as being very British. People would never usually eat squid at home, but as soon as they go to Italy or Spain, they order deep-fried squid rings with mayonnaise and think they’re being very European. But there’s lots of really beautiful fresh squid in our waters. It’s sustainable, delicious and people should eat more of it.

Your top three store-cupboard essentials?

Condiments! Worcestershire, Tabasco and HP Sauce. It’s amazing what you can do with those three things. You can very quickly make a gravy to go with your roast dinner with a bit of Bisto, a glug of HP and some Worcestershire sauce.

Any new projects in the pipeline?

I’m currently filming a new TV show called Saturday Cookbook. As the name would suggest, it is a cookery show which I co-host with Nadia Sawalha on Saturday mornings 8.30am on ITV. It is very relaxed with simple, tasty recipes that you actually want to cook. Plus, you can buy all of the ingredients from your local supermarket. Cooking should be a pleasure not a chore!

For the full interview, purchase the Official Royal Ascot 2012 Magazine from for £7.50 in advance.

To book a table and sample the delights of Mark Sargeant’s dishes, visit, call 0844 346 0346 or email

Friday, 25 May 2012

Lisa Armstrong #AscotStyle

In a series of twitter takeovers we’ve invited fashion insiders to advise on style ahead of Royal Ascot.

The series begins with Lisa Armstrong, Fashion Editor of The Daily Telegraph. We’ve invited her to take over the @AscotInsider twitter feed for one hour at 4.45pm on May 30th where she’ll be sharing her expert advice and answering any style related queries live on twitter.

Lisa Armstrong (Zac Frackelton)
With her regular fashion columns and features, four novels, honorary doctorate from the University of the Arts London and Fashion Writer of the Year award, Lisa Armstrong is an authority on fashion and perfectly placed to advise on all of the hot trends for the summer social season.

Tweet your questions @AscotInsider using the hashtag #AscotStyle and Lisa will reply to as many questions as she can during her hour long guest slot on May 30th from 4.45pm.

Follow @AscotInsider on twitter for more information –

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

#AscotAsks The Hon. Harry Herbert, Managing Director at Highclere Racing

AscotInsider was lucky enough to have a chat with the Hon. Harry Herbert earlier this week as part of the #AscotAsks series and find out how he first got into racing, what his highlight of racehorse ownership and what he’s most looking forward to seeing at Royal Ascot this year.

Name: Hon. Harry Herbert
Location: Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, Newbury, Berkshire
Occupation: Managing Director

1. Harry, how did you first get into racing?
My father owned and bred horses here at Highclere and he was also racing manager to HM The Queen so racing was spoken at pretty much every meal.  Initially, I wanted to be an actor before working in the city for four years for a stockbroking company called Rowe and Pitman.  By this time the racing bug had really got hold of me and I decided to head off to Kentucky to learn about the racing business.  I stayed in America for three years returning to set up syndicates in 1987.

2. A number of syndicates, which you manage, are described as being some of the best in the world. Could you explain briefly how a racehorse syndicate works? 

We put together small groups of people - usually between 10 and 20, to own parts of a number of horses.  We act as Racing Manager to each shareowner keeping them fully informed as to the progress and running plans of their horses wherever they happen to live in the world.  Our level of communication, combined with the consistent success of our horses, has enabled Highclere to be the leader in the field of syndication since I founded the business in 1992. 

3. What would you say is the best part of having a share in a racehorse?

The best part of having a share in a racehorse is watching your horse develop from being broken as a yearling through to that magical moment when he or she wins their first race.
4. What has been your highlight of racehorse ownership?

We have been fortunate to have had many highlights over the years.  The best moments would be Petrushka winning the Irish Oaks to become the first syndicate owned classic winner, Motivator winning the Derby for the Royal Ascot Racing Club and of course Harbinger winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes by eleven lengths and becoming the highest rated horse in the world.

5. Have you ever had a favourite horse and why?

It is hard to have a favourite horse but I would have to say that our wonderful stayer Distinction would be right up there as he raced until he was nine and was the most wonderfully consistent stayer winning the Goodwood Cup and being placed twice in the Ascot Gold Cup.  We still see him now on our visits to Newmarket as he is Sir Michael Stoute’s hack. Our seven Champions would also rank very highly, especially Harbinger!

6. What would be your advice to any new racegoer wishing to become part of a syndicate?

My advice would be to choose carefully which syndicate or club you join, looking carefully at their terms and conditions as well as their track record.  The RSACA (Racing Syndicates and Clubs Association) is the syndicate association that ensures that its members abide by a clear set of terms and conditions, their website is

7. As an owner, which is your favourite race meeting and why?

My favourite meeting is, without a shadow of doubt, Royal Ascot as to me it embodies everything that is stylish, fun and glamorous about owning racehorses.  To win a race at the Royal Meeting is unbelievably exciting and over the years we have been lucky enough to win ten.  Two years ago we won The Norfolk, The Albany and The Hardwicke and we were beaten a short head in The Queen’s Vase – that really was the week of all weeks!

8. What would you say is your favourite racecourse and why?

My favourite racecourse is Newbury as it is my local course and therefore where I first went racing as a child.  My father was Chairman for a number of years and I am now a Director so it really is very close to my heart. It has great viewing and is a wonderfully fair track for all horses.  My other two favourite racecourses would be Ascot and York.

9. What do you most look forward to when you have a horse running at the races?

I look forward to meeting up with all the owners in the Pre-Parade Ring and then getting that first look at their horse in the paddock.  Any syndicate manager in the world will tell you that the thing we most look forward to is watching shareowners’ faces after their horse storms to victory! 

10. Finally, what are you most looking forward to at Royal Ascot 2012?

I think that we have a really exciting group of horses this season and whilst it is too early to know for sure which of them may be good enough to run at Royal Ascot I would hope that we would have a couple of two year old runners such as Mysterial and Tassel.  We have been lucky enough to win the King George V Handicap four times and this year we will be aiming horses like Commitment in that direction. We usually have five or six runners in the week but right now we are still very much in the planning stage!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Heirloom Tomato and Basil Salad With Mozzerella Ice Cream and a Tomato And Lemon Thyme Tea

From today until Sunday 27th May it’s National Vegetarian Week in the UK, which aims to raise awareness of inspirational vegetarian food and the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle.

As we’re fast approaching Royal Ascot we’ve taken this opportunity to highlight a popular vegetarian dish prepared by our Head Chef Gemma Amor which is served during the Royal Meeting. 

"Sometimes vegetarian options appear an afterthought on menus but at Ascot we deliver exciting, vibrant and innovative dishes whatever your dietary requirements. A particular favourite of mine from the current Royal Ascot menus is the Heirloom Tomato and Basil Salad with Mozzarella Ice Cream topped with a Lemon and Thyme Tea. A twist on a classic dish the ice cream is particularly tasty!"
Gemma Amor, Head Chef

Please find below the recipe on how to make this tasty vegetarian dish:

Serves 8

Mozzarella Ice Cream
5oz buffalo mozzarella
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (you can add more sugar later, to taste)
4 egg yolks
A few basil leaves
A dash of salt and pepper, to taste

Cut up the mozzarella into small pieces. Put them in a blender with the cream and milk. Put the blended mixture in a saucepan on medium heat.

While the cream mixture is heating, whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt and pepper.

Once the cheese/cream mixture is hot but not boiling, pour about 1/2 cup of the hot cream over the eggs and sugar to temper the eggs.

When the cream mixture almost reaches boiling, stir in the eggs and sugar. Cook over medium heat for another 3 minutes or so. After 3 minutes, taste the mixture to see if you need to add any more sugar. Just keep in mind that the final product (ice cream) will not be quite as sweet as the hot cream mixture.

Take the cream mixture off the heat and let it sit for about 15 minutes. When the mixture has cooled a bit, throw it back in the blender with about 6 or 7 basil leaves. Pulse the blender until the basil is fully incorporated.

If you have a strainer or food mill you might want to strain the mixture before you put it in the refrigerator. If you don’t have a strainer, just pour the mixture directly into a bowl and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

When the ice cream base has fully cooled, follow the instructions on the ice cream maker and voila! You will have mozzarella ice cream.

Tomato and Lemon Thyme Tea

10lb Ripe tomatoes
1 large bunch of basil
2 tbsp of salt
1 bunch lemon thyme

Wash tomatoes under cold water and then dry. Cut tomatoes in to quarters then add to picked basil and season with salt.

Prepare colander with muslin about 3 layers of the cloth pour cold water over so that it is damp. Place colander in a deep bowl so that it catches the liquids when draining.

Blend the tomatoes and basil on high speed for 30 seconds then place in to the colander now cover and place in the fridge over night.

The next day, discard the pulp of the tomatoes from the colander and you will have left in the bowl the tomato water (Please note you may need to place onto the stove to reduce and intensify the flavour of the water). If you are happy with the taste then add the lemon thyme to infuse when serving.

Tomato Vinaigrette 
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 small (4oz) tomato, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard with seeds
1 small garlic clove, crushed with salt

In blender, combine all ingredients; blend just until puréed.

Transfer dressing to a bowl or jar. If not using right away, cover and refrigerate up to 1 day.

Mix well before serving.

Tomato Garnish

500g Small Heirloom tomatoes yellow and red
1 ball of mozzarella

Place pan of water on to boil.  When boiling add the tomatoes and cook until the skins start to split.  Take the tomatoes out and place into iced water and when cold peel the skins from them. Once peeled, place on to a cloth to dry, slice the mozzarella into small disc place to one side.

To serve

Place a slice of mozzarella in the middle of the bowl, on top place 2 red tomatoes and 2 yellow tomatoes; around this place a couple of teaspoons of the tomato vinaigrette, then add a small ball of the ice cream on the top, garnish with baby basil cress and balsamic syrup. Place tomato water into a glass tea pot to serve.

To book a table during Royal Ascot, call 0844 346 0346, visit or email

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

#AscotAsks Racehorse Trainer Andrew Balding

After AscotInsider was lucky enough to have a tour round his yard, Park House Stables, #AscotAsks racehorse trainer Andrew Balding a few questions which include what his routine is before a day’s racing, what his favourite racecourse is as well as what he is looking forward to at Royal Ascot this year.

Name: Andrew Balding
Age: 39
Location: Park House Stables, Kingsclere, Newbury
Occupation: Racehorse Trainer

1. Andrew, how did you first get into racing?

Having had a Great Grandfather, two grandfathers, two uncles and a father as a trainer, I was well exposed and followed the family tradition. I was also a pretty average amateur jockey so saw that side of the game too.

2. What was your career path to becoming a trainer?

I was assistant to Lynda Ramsden in Yorkshire for a while before coming home to be assistant for my father for three years before taking over the licence in 2003.

3. What do you think are the best and worst parts of your job?

The best is naturally having winners, the worst, without a doubt is all the injuries.

4. What would you consider has been the highlight of your career?

Winning 3 International Group 1’s with Phoenix Reach from 2003 – 2005 is still the highlight. He took us to some great places with the three triumphs being in Canada, Dubai and Hong Kong.

5. Could you let us into your routine before racing?

I get up and have cup of tea and look through the Racing Post, watch the 1st and 2nd lot, back in to the office for entries / declarations and a cup of coffee. Back out for 3rd lot and fly back in, change (quick shave if I have time) and off in the car. 99% of the journey I will spend on the phone, thank goodness for mobile’s!

6. What would be your advice for those interested in becoming a racehorse trainer?

Get as much experience world wide as you possibly can, watching, learning and seeing how every one does it differently.

7. Who was your role model growing up and why? 

My Father, and Uncle Toby – both great trainers and between them won the Derby and the Grand National.

8. What is the highlight of your annual racing calendar and why?

The highlight is the Epsom Derby meeting. I have always been a Derby anorak and just think the history of the race, the unique atmosphere and the fact that it is still the Premier flat race, make it very special.

9. What is your favourite racecourse and why?

Epsom, Ascot and Chester – all very different, offer some good prize money and our owners love running horses there.

10. Finally, what are you most looking forward to at Royal Ascot 2012?

The prospect of seeing two serious champions in Frankel and Black Caviar is very exciting.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Royal Ascot Tips Its Hat to Afternoon Tea in Celebration of Stephen Jones and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Celebrated milliner Stephen Jones has a long standing affiliation with Ascot, and this year we’ve created an exceptional afternoon tea inspired by his stunning designs. Throughout the week of Royal Ascot, afternoon tea will be served in the Royal Enclosure on a chocolate top hat developed by our Executive Head Chef, Steve Golding.

Furthermore, Jones has collaborated with top pastry chef, Simon Jenkins, to create a Diamond Jubilee and Royal Ascot inspired afternoon tea to be served throughout the month of June at Coworth Park, the Dorchester Collection’s luxury country house hotel and spa that is perfectly positioned within 15 minutes of Ascot Racecourse. Sweet treats illustrating British associated icons - such as the Queen’s Crown, a top hat, jockey’s cap and a ladies’ floral hat in Jubilee colours – will be served alongside a glass of champagne and the new, Coworth Park Royal Blend of tea that combines lavender picked from the grounds and a delicate blend of Ceylon, Assam and Darjeeling.

Stephen Jones will also be hosting the annual Coworth Park Hat Salon on Monday 14 May 2012. Bringing his boutique to Coworth Park he will be on hand to offer advice on the best way to choose and wear a hat and the latest 2012 millinery trends.

To book tickets for Royal Ascot, call 0844 346 3000 or visit

For more information on rooms and events at Coworth Park, call 01344 630544 or visit

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Ascot Announces Full Weekend Contingency Plans

Following recent heavy rain and with more forecast for the next 24 hours, the Ascot Executive has asked the BHA’s Racing Department to ensure that six races take place on the straight course on Saturday, May 12th, to give the fixture the best chance of going ahead.  The going on the round course is currently soft, but the forecast overnight rain may render it unraceable. Therefore, the BHA has added an additional race to Saturday’s card and one of the existing races will be divided.

The extra race, a maiden race for three years old and upwards over five furlongs, will close at noon on Thursday, May 10th, while declarations must be made by 10am on Friday, May 11th.

In addition, the Betfred the Bonus King Handicap (Class 4) at 5.10 will be divided at declaration.

Also, in order to safeguard racing at Ascot on Friday, May 11th, two races will divide on the straight course, in the event that the round course becomes unraceable in the next 48 hours. Whichever two races out of the 5.25, 6.00 and 7.45 receive the most declarations will be divided. This will result in 8 races being scheduled, with the round course races moved to the start of the card. 

Nick Smith, Head of Communications for Ascot, said:

“With racing on the round course highly questionable, we took the step of approaching the BHA this morning to look at options to create six straight course races on Friday evening alongside the two round course races, which we may lose. Splitting two races, whilst arguably not ideal, will enable us, if necessary, to provide a six race card as required by the rules of racing.

“In addition we asked the BHA Executive to ensure that six races take place on the straight course on the Saturday. As a result, an extra race has been programmed, and a further race will divide at declaration.

“We’re very much supporters of the dynamic race planning initiatives that are more and more being adopted by the racecourses and the BHA in situations like this, as demonstrated last week by the quick work all round to move our Sagaro card to the all weather, which was co-funded by the levy board, Ascot and Kempton.

Ascot Announces Straight Course Programme Contingency Plan For Friday 11th May

"With racing on the round course highly questionable for Friday, we took the step of approaching the BHA this morning to look at options to create six straight course races on Friday evening alongside the two round course races, which we may lose. Splitting two races, whilst arguably not ideal, will enable us, if necessary, to provide a six race card as required by the rules of racing."

"We’re very much supporters of the dynamic race planning initiatives that are more and more being adopted by the racecourses and the BHA in situations like this, as demonstrated last week by the quick work all round to move our Sagaro card to the all weather, which was co-funded by the levy board, Ascot and Kempton."

"We will look at how Saturday might work and will announce plans in that respect in the morning."

Said Nick Smith, Head of Communications, Ascot Racecourse.

Friday, 4 May 2012

#AscotAsks James Oldring, Operations & Events Director at British Champions Series

James Oldring takes the hot seat in the first of our new Q&A series, #AscotAsks. As Operations and Events Director at TheBritish Champions Series (BCS), James gives us great answers including what exactly the BCS is and what’s new for 2012, how he got into racing and what he’s looking forward to seeing this year at Royal Ascot.

Name: James Oldring
Age: 32
Location: Holborn, for work. Home is in Chiswick, West London
Occupation: Operations & Events Director, British Champions Series

1) How long have you been involved with British Horseracing?

I guess my first involvement came because my Dad used to be one of the doctors at Leicester Racecourse and I used to go along with him in school holidays from the age of about seven. I was hooked almost immediately.

I started riding out at a local trainer’s yard from the age of about 13, and by 16 I was riding in point to points. I actually spent three years after I finished my A levels working in racing yards and riding as an amateur (mainly point to point) – I did OK, rode a few winners, but it eventually became clear that I was never going to be the next AP McCoy, and I struggled with my weight and a dodgy back, so I headed off to Nottingham University to read English.

After graduation I managed to get a place on the British Horseracing Board (as it was then) Graduate Scheme, based with Jockey Club Racecourses, and spent time at Newmarket, Nottingham and Huntingdon, as well as in the head offices in London. I ended up working at Newmarket for a while, which I loved as I could ride out for William Jarvis each morning before heading to the office. However I hadn’t been there long before I got a call to say that there was a job opportunity at the BHB that might be of interest to me…I got the job and I ended up working for BHB/BHA for the next seven years in various roles (despite being a complete country boy at heart and swearing I wouldn’t be in London for longer than two years…), winding up my time there as Corporate Projects Manager, reporting directly to the Chief Executive and Chairman.

I started working at British Champions Series as Operations & Events Director in February 2011.

2) Could you briefly explain the British Champion Series to some of our readers who may not be very familiar?

It’s an initiative that links together the best thirty five races that take place throughout the course of the British Flat racing season which culminates in a finale day at Ascot in October – QIPCO British Champions Day, which is the richest raceday in British racing history, with £3m on offer in prize money.

We’ve split the races into five categories: Sprint, Mile, Fillies & Mares, Middle Distance and Long Distance, which we hope makes it a little easier to track the progress of the best horses competing in the best races.

The main aim is to try and showcase the very best the sport has to offer to as wide an audience as possible.

3) What is your role at the British Champion Series?

Although I get quite involved in the commercial negotiations behind the scenes, my primary role is to work with the racecourses involved in the British Champions Series, the broadcasters (both terrestrial and satellite) and the participants, to try and differentiate the races, and the racedays, from the other racing product that people are used to seeing, and maximise the commercial value of the Series.

4) What are the highs and lows of your job?

I love being out on a racecourse on a big raceday, especially when there’s a clash of reputations – for example Frankel and Canford Cliffs in last year’s QIPCO Sussex Stakes. There’s a real tingle on course, and there are few better sounds in sport than the roar of an enthusiastic racing crowd as a would-be-champion moves up to challenge.

For the most part I can’t think of too many lows – I’m very lucky that I work in an industry that I love, with people that are passionate about the same things that I am. There are definitely days when you can be witness to (or on very rare occasions, be part of!) heated clashes of opinion – but that’s part of racing’s appeal – it’s a sport that inspires so much emotion in those that follow it.

5) Following the success of British Champions Day last year, what can we expect for Saturday, 20th October 2012?

We tried really hard to make British Champions Day all about the racing in 2011 – and that will be the focus again in 2012. On ratings, it was probably the best raceday in the world last year – not bad for an inaugural event! 

So the aim has to be to match that again this year and to be a day that is mentioned in the same breath as events such as Wimbledon, the FA Cup Final and the British Grand Prix.

We’ll definitely look to make the stars more accessible, so we’ll try and do more of the autograph signing with great jockeys, we’ll make sure that we try and get even more ‘behind the scenes’ interviews via Ascot TV, so that the people that come to the event really feel like they’re getting something special.We’ve had an amazing amount of interest from celebrities wanting to attend British Champions Day as well, so I expect you might get a little star-gazing done if you’re at Ascot in October. 

6) What’s new for British Champion Series 2012?

We’ve introduced Sectional Timing for 63% of British Champions Series races this year – this is technology where every runner carries a ‘chip’ which allows us to see how fast they’re travelling, how much ground they cover and a whole host of other information.

It’s my hope that this technology becomes for horseracing what Hawkeye is for tennis and cricket, as I honestly believe that sports fans have a real appetite for hard facts.We’ve launched a great Fantasy Racing game which plays out across the entire Series -more detail on that later on though.

We’ve also developed a range of British Champions Series merchandise, which you can buy online or at our on-course store at any BCS event.

7) Following the success of our champions last year, for example Frankel, do you think they have competition this year from other horses in the UK and internationally?

Frankel is probably the best horse I have ever seen. I was lucky enough to be at every one of his races last year, and he seemed to get better with every performance.
However, horses are not machines, and if he was to have an off day then Excelebration looked a real star – take Frankel out of the equation last season, and Excelebration is a multiple Group 1 winner. He’ll be an interesting horse to follow, I think.

It’s a real shame that Deacon Blues is out for the 2012 season, as he was improving at a rate of knots – although I have to be honest and say that had he lined up against the Aussie superstar filly Black Caviar, I’m not sure he’d have seen which way she went!

The clash between Frankel and Black Caviar is what all racing fans are dreaming of…will it happen? I honestly couldn’t say – but QIPCO have put a huge financial incentive on the table of a guaranteed prize fund of £1m if both horses line up in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.

I’m already looking forward to the Champion Stakes on British Champions Day – you could potentially have Cirrus des Aigles coming back to defend his crown, being taken on by Nathaniel and Twice Over, with Camelot representing the three year olds and potentially even Frankel having stepped up in trip.

8) How would you suggest is the best way to follow the British Champion Series if you aren’t going to attend every race meeting it falls on?

Every race in the British Champions Series is televised on TV (BBC or C4) – so you won’t have to miss any of the action if you can’t make it to the track.

We’ve also launched a great Fantasy Racing game with the Daily Telegraph and the Racing Post – it’s Fantasy Football Manager for horse racing. You pick five jockeys and five trainers for the season, and then for every BCS race you get to select two horses – points are scored according to the odds of the horses, so just picking Frankel every time he runs might not be your best strategy!

There are some great prizes on offer, and you can enter at:

9) Where do you hope to see the British Champions Series in five years time?

I hope that we’ve reached a stage where we have effectively created something that is viewed as horseracing’s ‘Premier League’ – something that is instantly recognisable as standing for the very best of the sport, and something that sports fans and not just racing fans will talk about in the pub, and aspire to attend.

You could perhaps instigate a ‘wild card’ system, whereby the top three highest rated horses globally that hadn’t already qualified for British Champions Day were issued with invitations to run.

The current sponsors (QIPCO) are extremely innovative and passionate about British racing – they are never short of ideas as to what might improve the Series either.

Commercially, I’d like to see the British Champions Series secure a long term sponsorship deal, bringing more money into British racing. 

10) And finally, what are you most looking forward to at Royal Ascot 2012?

There are probably three things that I’m most looking forward to – firstly, seeing Black Caviar in action in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. 

Secondly, seeing Fame & Glory come back to have another crack at the Gold Cup; he’s a class act and I’d love to see him win again (and then come back to British Champions Day to defend his Long Distance Cup crown, obviously!).

Finally, I’m actually bringing my girlfriend’s Australian parents to the Royal Meeting on Saturday. It’s going to be a very different experience for them compared to their local track, where the standard dress code is shorts and flip flops!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Scotty the Ascot Mascot runs in the Mascot Grand National

On Bank Holiday Monday 7th May, the Mascot Grand National will take place at Kempton Park Racecourse and our very own Scotty the Ascot mascot will compete to be crowned winner of the track.

Earlier this week Scotty took some time out of his busy schedule to put some training in ready for the big day next week, starting with a few lunges to get his muscles warmed up.

He then took to the track to do a couple of laps minus the specially made hurdles which will be on the track on the day at Kempton.

After a couple of minutes of training Scotty was exhausted and needed a rest and a large bucket of water!
We must remember that not only is this just a bit of fun but it’s also to raise money for this year’s nominated charity, Heart FM’s Have a Heart charity. The charity aims to improve the lives of disadvantaged children living in our local communities and this year is fundraising for ChildLine.

The Mascot Grand National is going to be a great day out for all the family and it would be great to see some of you there to cheer on Scotty. To book, visit or call 01932 782292.

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