Hawwaam. Picture: JC Photographics
“Every star, celeb and Twitterer is here.
Everyone who should be here is here.
What a smashing, positively dashing spectacle
On L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate day.”
Apologies to Lerner and Loewe, composers of the musical My Fair Lady, for adulterating the words of the Ascot Gavotte, but the prospect of Saturday’s Queen’s Plate at Kenilworth puts one in mind of the famous scene in the 1964 movie.
In South Africa, nothing is as reminiscent of Britain’s Royal Ascot race meeting as the Queen’s Plate.
There’s the obvious royal connection through the big-race trophy itself, a large silver salver donated by Queen Victoria for a mile-long race in Cape Town back in 1861.
And there’s the social cache and dress code. You must wear only blue and white to Kenilworth – under threat of being turned away at the gate – which reminds us of the strict rules at Ascot, not to mention the mosaic of black and white costumes designed by couturier Cecil Beaton for My Fair Lady’s racecourse scene.
For all the airs and graces of a posh event, a day at the races is inevitably a rumbustious affair with some choice language and rowdy behaviour. Even at Ascot on Ladies Day, or at Kenilworth, once men in suits and women in fanciers get stuck into the libation things unwind. They might even rival Audrey Hepburn’s character Eliza Doolittle, who yelled: “Come on Dover! Move yer bloomin’ arse!”
There’s no Dover in this week’s 10-strong Queen’s Plate field, but there are blooming horses – in the best sense of the word. The line-up includes the likes of boom horse Hawwaam, defending champion Rainbow Bridge, dual Durban July victor Do It Again and precocious young-gun Vardy.
The Queen’s Plate has become the model for how to put horse racing to rights, giving back to a battered old game its old aura of high-life, wealth and style.
The contest was always important in a pure racing sense, but the occasion used to be a rather run-of-the-mill affair. Then Gaynor Rupert and her L’Ormarins wine estate stepped in with sponsorship, waved a wand of magic and money, and transformed the event into the envy of party organisers everywhere.
Apart from the blue-and-white challenge inspiring people to heights of sartorial elegance, the inevitable marquee-village debauchery is also brushed with high-society glitz and class. Prestigious partner sponsors are on board: luxury jeweller Cartier, beer maker Heineken, art-ceramics studio Ardmore and the UK’s Glorious Goodwood race meeting.
And the meeting has become a two-day festival, the party getting started on Friday with the Grade 2 Sceptre Stakes sprint and the Listed Jamaica Handicap over 2000m. The former looks likely to be fought out between brilliant fillies Celtic Sea and Clouds Unfold, while the latter is more of a puzzle with Kelpie, Fortune Flies, Sleeping Single and Shamrock Wind all drawing support.
On Saturday the supporting features are both over 1800m: the Grade 2 Peninsular Handicap and the Grade 1 Paddock Stakes for fillies and mares at weight-for-age. Both races are highly competitive, with many runners seeking to qualify for the Sun Met at the end of the month.
Altogether a bloomin’ affair.
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