Watching horses under a cloudless sky and swilling champagne is usually associated with Royal Ascot. Splendidly this exquisite combination was on show at Aintree last Thursday.
My dear friend James managed to bundle me into the Jockey club box for the excellent first day of racing. It was an unprecedented day of success; with 7 winners romping in between our pale fingers.
We went to Liverpool on a Virgin train which has a rather discombobulating pendolino system – more rollercoaster than railways. They also provide – solely for the National meeting – free racing posts and a half bot of the prosseco and a bacon butty for £2.50 – gleefully gobbled up by this racegoer.
This was my first foray to the stage of the National – the home of that race of the populous – and to Liverpool. I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful architecture, the exceedingly chatty people, and the dressed up mob on their annual Aintree pilgrimage.
The marvellous Grand National is run on Saturday but we had four grade one races and four courses of food to devour before that.
It is a sartorially complex day because one is yearning to wear the National Hunt uniform; but sadly April doesn’t lend itself to tweeds! I instead decided to brighten up my suit with orange socks, an unnecessary Barbour, and a plum tie with flying ducks on it. The locals really make an effort to dress up; a sea of shiny three piece suits, stilettoed tangerine legs, and hem lines that are definitely not for Royal Ascot.
Aside from outfits and horses the most important part of a day’s racing is food and drink – in this department I was thoroughly blessed. The moment we graced the lily coloured room a glass of champers was thrust into my paw and was kept refilled throughout – my sort of gig!
The canopies included lobster bisque in an espresso mug (a personal favourite), however I did my damnedest to burn my oesophagus by guzzling it down, paradoxically, like John Mills in Ice Cold In Alex. Sea food seemed to be the theme of the day with a splendiferous ice bar full of varying concoctions of shell fish and smoked delights. We gleefully gorged on the pink victuals, finding them to marvellous bed fellows to the bubbly – the generous langoustine tail with shrimp salad was particularly memorable.
The main course was a fillet of beef, perhaps a snif overdone, with a trio of purees – squash, pea, and celeriac – a fondant potato, and three large juicy king scallops. Splendid stuff.
We refused dessert because one is always keen to bathe in racing at a day’s racing. And stay afloat we did – first the Cheltenham maligned stayer but master of the flat tracks Silviniaco Conti powered home, then the masterful McCoy on a ride of supreme patience hosed up, and all of a sudden I was cheering on the elegant Nina Carbery for three!! If I was wearing a hat I would have thrown it high, but settled for a purposeful stride to the bookies.
Orange ladies wobbled on tall shoes, men’s noses began to fry, and the whole of Aintree was drinking like it was New Years Eve. Joyful scenes filled with garrulous people.
We took afternoon tea of finger sandwiches and scones – which the chairman was rather keen for all to eat! An excellent and underused meal is afternoon tea – the cucumber sandwiches a delicious highlight.
We had time for another snifter and a stand on the balcony to see a sea of smiling squiffy faces. The final race denied me but gave James a final windfall – drinks were on him!
As I thundered towards home I began to think what a peculiarly unique meet Aintree is. The racing is strong but not Cheltenham, it’s at a season of change, it’s formal without being stuffy, and being alone up North it doesn’t quite have a true familiarity with the sport. There is less romance and leaning on history, like at Cheltenham, but more living the moment and cheering in horses that half the crowd don’t know!