Royal Ascot: A day in the life
Sport news Aug 7, 2019 at 04:03
(CNN)Royal Ascot may be known for its glitz and glamor but plenty of work goes on behind the scenes to make it such a spectacle.
From the race stewards with decades of experience to the specialized fashion team who maintain the event’s strictest of dress codes, the annual race week is full of people working hard to keep it running smoothly.
About 300,000 spectators are expected to descend on the famous track this week, to soak up the history, buzz, world-class horse racing and spectacular setting.
More than 20,000 flowers and shrubs have been planted specifically for the week and three miles of bunting have been hung on every imaginable surface to ensure each guest has a magical experience.
Now, with Royal Ascot in full swing, CNN Sport met some of the characters who make the event so special.
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The Dress-Code Assistant
Fashion is certainly the order of the day at Royal Ascot.
Guests are sent the strict dress-code before attending and their entry depends on whether or not they adhere to the policy.
At every entrance to the course, a team of specialized staff — think dress-code assistants rather than fashion police — checks the outfits coming in. Guests are asked to hire suitable items of clothing if something doesn’t fit the bill.
Rules are strict and depend on which enclosure your ticket allows access to.
“Fashion and style are an integral part of the Royal Ascot experience for all of our customers,” said Juliet Slot, chief commercial officer of Ascot Racecourse.
“The annual Style Guide provides valuable support and inspiration when deciding what to wear for a day at the Royal Meeting.”
However, the event is keen to keep up with the times and occasionally adds new items to the list — including jumpsuits for women two years ago.
“As the Style Guide enters its eighth year we continue to respond to our customers’ requests for fashion-forward looks that work for each of the four Enclosures, ensuring every racegoer enjoys this special occasion with style.”
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With all the pomp and ceremony swirling about, it’s sometimes easy to forget the racing is supposed to be the centerpiece.
But once the horses make their way to the parade ring for the first race, attention certainly shifts to the track.
Central to the racing operation is, of course, the bookmakers.
These men and women take bets from the thousands of punters and compete against each other to provide the best odds available.
Many of the bookmakers on the circuit have been in the business for decades and the trade often gets passed down to different generations of the same family.
Bookie Peter Norris has been coming to Royal Ascot for 12 years and knows more than most just how lucrative the day can be.
“There is plenty of money at Ascot, it’s good business and you’re dealing with nice people,” he said.
“There is far more money placed here, much more money than everywhere else. It’s sort of on a par with Cheltenham Festival.”
With online gambling becoming more prevalent, traditional bookmakers are finding it harder to make a living but moving with the times is pivotal to staying in business.
Ricky took over the family trade from his father and has been working as a bookmaker for more than 40 years.
“In those days we had a man calling the bets and clerk with a book and a pencil,” he told CNN Sport. “But things changed so much, now there are computers and you’ve got to move with the times.”
Despite enjoying his work, Ricky doesn’t have a positive outlook on the trade’s future but says Royal Ascot is a chance to simply enjoy the spectacle.
“It’s a special occasion. Most of us [bookies] don’t dress up normally but I’m here in top hat and tails. It’s wonderful,” he said.
“It’s all part of the scene, it’s brilliant and I wouldn’t want to change it. It’s just a magic week.
“‘Till the day I die, I hope to be coming here, I really enjoy it.”
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The Race Steward
It’s hard not to notice the race stewards at Royal Ascot. Dressed in all black suits and matching bowler hats, these men and women are the heartbeat of the operation.
They are responsible for keeping the hordes of visitors safe during their stay and add a personal touch to the operation.
Graham has proudly supervised the iconic grandstand for 25 years since retiring from the British Army, and looks forward to this week every year.
Taking great pride in his job, he stands at the entrance of the grandstand for much of the day — even in this week’s torrential rain — welcoming each and every guest as they come through.
“We deal with lots of people out here, especially on the nice days,” he told CNN Sport.
“People come into this huge place and they look around and feel totally lost. That’s where I come in.”
To him, Royal Ascot is a celebration of all that’s good with horse racing and he particularly enjoys watching the young generations fall in love with the sport as he did all those years ago.
“It really is special. I think it’s one of the biggest racing occasions in the world, if not the biggest,” he said.
“No one does things better than the British.”
He added: “They [young people] feel freedom on this course. Racing needs that sort of thing to keep it alive.”
Experienced stewards, such as Graham, have earned the right to wear classic black bowler or “coke” hats, a tradition dating back to 1849.
He believes such fashionable traditions make the event what it is.
“The Queen introduced these hats, she loves them,” he said.
“It gives us a special place on the racecourse. Hopefully, we are all knowledgeable and we can help people with anything they need to know.”
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In many ways, Royal Ascot is a show and entertainment is pivotal to creating the spectacle.
In between races, when visitors are stocking up on food or heading for a refill of champagne, the Coldstream Guards brass band provides a fitting soundtrack.
Playing a range of tunes, from classical pieces to the latest pop hits, the group helps lift the spirits of the passing crowd.
“It’s good for us to show the public face of the army, her Majesty is here today so it’s great to have a presence,” Major Paul Norley, director of music for the Coldstream Guards, told CNN Sport.
“We are entertainment for people when the races aren’t on. Especially when it’s raining, people can get under the umbrellas and have a sing-along.”
The band has the huge responsibility of playing the national anthem for the Queen’s arrival in the Royal Procession, a honor the group is proud to be a part of.
However, after such ceremonial duties have finished and the last race has been won, the band can loosen up and have some fun.
The bandstand sing-along is the featured entertainment of every evening at Royal Ascot where spectators gather around to enjoy the show.
The band blasts out a medley of songs that keep the guests singing way into the night.
“It’s been really good fun, we’ve been very well received and well looked after by the Ascot team. We’ve really enjoyed ourselves,” Norley added.
The International Visitor
For one international guest, Amy, who traveled from the United States to be here, the music provides that quintessential British touch she was looking for.
“One of the things I love about coming here as an American and being an outsider is that this is not really a tourist event, this is a British event,” she said.
“They [brass band] play everything from Frank Sinatra to Robbie Williams and Oasis, it’s amazing!”