There are relatively few occasions when one does not look incongruous in a linen suit. Last Friday morning on the district line at nine o’clock is definitely not one. Squeezed in amongst the bleary eyed masses stinking of last night’s jaegerbombs I stood out like a busy firefly minding his own business in an onyx Amazon night.
Three hours later I was under the effervescent English sun at Glorious Goodwood in a vast sea of linen clad brethren.
The day began with the usual shower and shave. However, I decided against my usual racing gear of grapefruit and red trousers and set off in a wholly different route. The linen suit framed a pink shirt and Paisley tie; bold blue and yellow dotted socks were slotted into my favourite tassled loafers.
Breakfast was a mountain of glorious protein on a plate in a pub washed down with Guinness. I took my first meal of the day with my dear friend and marvellous actor Samuel Ruane, who was coming with me to the races. He sadly wasn’t in linen but looked resplendent, channelling his inner Bruce Forsyth, in a duck egg blue blazer and Scarlett cravat.
A full English and a few drops later we found ourselves swilling champers on the train to the aptly named Glorious Goodwood. After hurtling through such illuminating suburbs as Crawley and Gatwick, the sudden endless horizons and languid ox bow lakes of the Sussex Downs took on a shimmering beauty.
After a natter with a man in cycling gear we landed in Chichester, with what seemed to be the rest of the race ticket holders. Linen and Panamas dominating the mob. As opposed to National Hunt fixtures there is less buzz about horses and more about going and having a knees up in the sun! Aside from meeting John Gosden a few weeks ago I know a finite amount about the flats so I’m a fully paid up member of the drinking team!
The transit bus takes one through the snakelike uphill roads nestled in the gorgeous grounds of Goodwood. Once confronted with the racecourse one is immediately struck by how much it resembles a Victorian Pavilion.
A sense of laid back summertime conviviality was doubled with the boisterous atmosphere of a racecourse. Sadly for the aesthetics of the place, compared to Ascot, there was a distinct lack of young overly dressed women! As it was Friday, most of the crowd were in a very vibrant mood.
The ever so slightly cramped grandstand sat beside a sumptuous, though rather complex, track – there is a six furlong straight with a range of loops at the end, which are too convoluted to explain here.
The splendid thing about a race crowd is that there are, in horse knowledge and fashion stakes, those in the know and those not – but both have equal opportunity of winning a bet.
The first race was a classic example – midway through the race Samuel dismissed the merits of the evergreen Frankie Dettori and wondered whether he should be unceremoniously sent to the knackers. In came Dubday with Frankie onboard and a rather surprised Ruane scuttled off to collect his winnings and praise Detorri.
The racing is always of a decent level but, on those days when there is no top class horse such as Frankel or Canford Cliffs, one’s attention is inevitably drawn to the elegantly designed bars surrounding the parade ring.
The poorly staffed lager tent became an equally unwanted space before until we discovered the fabulous Hendricks bar dispensing jugs of gin and tonic.
We found a sanctuary in what one could only describe as a small cove in which the unrelenting English sun brazenly showed off. The drinks flowed steadily and the bets became more based on names than form. I turned one corner and had a pot of strawberries and cream thrust in my hands to my delight.
Surveying my scene I need not have dreamt of England for I was there; a jolly swing band sending out semi quavers, clipped pink roses adorning the parade ring, prized colts strutting, and me nattering away with strawbugs in one paw and a strong gin in the other. The sun hung like an Egyptian painting, dazzling its audience into a stupor. All around me decent members of society flailed and groped at the ether…and the less than decent revelled in the booze, blood, and thunder.
A much needed winner in the last was just the tonic to go with our gin. I spent the winnings on yet more gin to compliment the marvellous vistas of Goodwood. These views are what the place is about – lush green hills set deep in the Sussex downs are the perfect setting for an international sporting event.