Following the biggest ever sponsorship deal in British horse racing, this year’s Ladies’ Day officially took place at the Qatar Goodwood Festival. Despite the name change, people will still keep referring to these five days in July as Glorious Goodwood. Now established alongside the likes of Ascot and Longchamps, as one of the world’s most stylish race meetings, it didn’t just have a new moniker, it also underwent something of a personality change as the Qataris influence appeared to permeate almost everything.
From the off, racegoers were greeted by women wearing maroon and gold abayas offering red carnations, 35,000 more of which adorned the two walls of Qatar Tourism’s impressive pavilion. What with the sun-drenched weather and all the Qatar branding, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d just stepped foot in Doha. But this was Goodwood in West Sussex, home to the county’s most glamorous event, and on Thursday’s Ladies’ Day it’s as much about the hats and the shoes, as it is about the runners and the riders.
For the men it was an opportunity to give the panama and the linen suit an outing, for the women it was about strutting one’s stuff in fancy hats and teetering stilletos. And these days it’s not just the horses that are paraded. First introduced last year, there are now awards for the best turned out ladies with regular reports on who was wearing what appeareing on the big screens.
The fashion however isn’t just the preserve of the punters. As is now customary for Ladies’ Day, things got off to a glamorous start with the Magnolia Cup, a celebrity ladies race for charity. The ladies themselves made a suitably stylish entrance, rolling up in a convoy of Range Rovers each bearing their name. For many onlookers that probably proved helpful as none could really be described as celebrities. With their silks created by fashion designers including Vivienne Westwood and Bella Freud they at least looked snazzy and it was no surprise they attracted more media attention than anything that followed.
The race itself was rather less elegant. Four of the ten runners bolted as the rest of the field were assembling at the start line. In the end, we had what amounted to two races. The first four racing on their own, before the other six followed some minutes later in what then became the real race. Fortunately for the photographers, Camilla Henderson, the jockey with the most colourful silks and the biggest smile took the trophy.
Now if her name isn’t familiar (she happens to be the daughter of the Queen’s racehorse trainer) and the only Camilla you know is the Duchess of Cornwall, there was another royal name in the winner’s enclosure. It was always going to be an impossible mission to top last year’s trophy presenter, Tom Cruise, so this time Goodwood turned to the Queen’s youngest granddaughter, Eugenie. The 25-year-old Princess was all demure smiles as she handed out the trophies, although much of the time her face was hidden by the silver Nerida Fraiman hat she jauntily sported on her head.
Eugenie apart, it has to be said celeb hunters would’ve been disappointed with the turnout this year. Those who were around were keeping a low profile: the best I spotted on Ladies’ Day amounted to Clare Balding, the bass player from Genesis and a couple of Gladiators!
It was perhaps fitting then that the two most celebrated people at this year’s Glorious both happened to be jockeys. Now no jockey is more flamboyant than Frankie (you don’t even need to say Dettori to know just who we’re talking about) and he had several of opportunities to perform his famous flying dismount as he won more races than anyone else.
Now at Goodwood, that distinction is usually the preserve of Richard Hughes. The Irishman has ridden the most winners at Glorious and this was his last ever appearance in the saddle. At 42 he was calling time on an illustrious 27-year-long career during which he bagged no less than three Flat titles and rode more than 2,440 winners. Whilst he added to his tally over the five days, he couldn’t quite edge Frankie as the meeting’s champion jockey. A new career as trainer beckons, so it’s not the last we’ve seen of Hughsie. He’ll be back, just not in silks.
As in previous years, the longest queue at Goodwood wasn’t for placing bets, but for the complimentary strawberries and cream. It’s a nice touch by the organisers as complimentary anything is rare at events like this and I can vouch that they don’t scrimp on either the strawberries or the cream! But while Glorious Goodwood or #QGF as they’d have us call it, is still a wonderful day out – confirmed by sell-out crowds – it’s a day at the races that’s no longer quite as quintessentially English as strawberries and cream.
The influence of the sponsors was clear to see. Alongside the parade ring was an area set aside for half dozen or so TV crews covering the event for the Middle East. Apart from all the additional branding, Arabs seemed to own most of the horses, sponsor most of the jockeys, and present most of the prizes. This year even saw the introduction of a race for pure-bred Arabian horses.
With his other Goodwood events, Lord March has proved he can get the balance right between the need to boost commercial revenue, yet still retaining the unique personality of both the Festival of Speed and Revival. Over at the racecourse however, whilst there might be a far bigger purse on offer than in the past, one has to question whether it has come at a cost.
By Gary Marlowe
Follow Goodwood Racecourse at @Goodwood_Races
Photos by Images Out Of The Ordinary