Tied in knots at the races 

The recent article by Bruce Millington, the ever wonderful editor of The Racing Post, on the question of dress codes at race meetings has got my hackles up.

I acknowledge that this was a well measured piece written in retaliation to an over-zealous, uniformed Goodwood steward who tried to eject jockey George Baker from its exclusive Richmond enclosure. To make matters worse Baker had only just returned to fitness following a life threatening head injury during a race in St Moritz. 

The reason for the convalescing jockey’s near exit: his lack of a tie, which is a prerequisite for entry to the enclosure. Thankfully common sense reigned supreme, eventually, and Baker was allowed entry. 

Millington took this episode as an opportunity to argue, correctly, that ties are becoming superfluous in 2017. Even writing that previous sentence was akin to a thousand daggers to my heart.

Nevertheless Millington went on to contend that it was “frankly bizarre” that it is necessary “for men to have to wear a tie to enjoy a day at the races” and continued to satirise the sartorial issue by complaining about “having to dress up like I’m in Downton Abbey” when he visits the greatest sport in the world.

I think he is blurring two issues. Common sense clearly suggests that dress codes should be applied with common sense and intelligence – clearly not the case in the episode involving George Baker.

But that is not argument for saying that no courses in the country should employ any rules about what you wear.

Now I am a young man in my early 30s and on the right occasion I can do as scruffy as you like.

But, I think Millington is woefully off the mark. And, Ascot’s Royal meeting only reinforces my point of view.

One of the many joys of going to all the different meetings in this fair and pleasant land is the variety of outfits available to the racegoer. Like horses, some are better suited to certain tracks. It is utterly splendid that one can decipher the locale of each track by the chaps’ suits on display as easily as the architecture of the stand or the camber of the track.

Indeed racing can be stuffy but so can soccer and rugby: there are prigs the world over. That said, the obvious point that Millington neglected to address, dear readers, is that at the right event dressing up is bloody good fun as it creates a sense of occasion. 

What would the aforementioned Goodwood be like without the seas of crushed linen suites or the 2,000 guineas be without the light trilbies, fedoras and plumes of cuban cigar smoke. The Cheltenham Festival needs chaps in tweed or trousers chosen without concern for colour co-ordination. Ascot’s attire speaks for itself, while the Barber jackets at Newbury are often a necessity. 

All of these wonderful get-ups come with a side order of wearing a tie. 

Distinct clothing certainly adds to the rich tapestry of the gorgeous, unique scenery of a race track. Furthermore, I would suggest that rather than scare away the new racegoer away the somewhat eccentric dress beguiles and intrigues them. It makes them feel part of the day – dressing in their finery – and allows them to slip into what is a peculiar sport with its collection of esoteric idioms. 

In my humble opinion, the affection that the sport of kings is held in by the wider public rests to a large extent on heritage and tradition. It is a delightful world apart, where people dress smartly and take great care in their appearance – at least until alcohol takes its inevitable effect by the fourth race.

In a world so increasingly obsessed with being avant garde for the sake of it and appearing only to enjoy it when taking a selfie, a sense of occasion is a tonic to the trainers and jeans. Although there are some who rebel against the idea of a tie there are huge numbers that relish the chance to put on their Sunday best. It is unquestionably a chance for one to look one’s finest.

If that doesn’t suffice, lest we forget that people watching is a Great British pastime: racing is perhaps the pre-eminent sporting occasion for this in the country.

When I spy a jolly gent with a swollen red nose, trilby, a gauche Ferangarmo horse print tie and a dusty old hat in the betting ring I see a glut of interesting stories, and perhaps some less interesting tips!

I can assure you, my dear readers, that to slip on a hat and some lovely leather shoes will enhance a day at the races, if not it will add some elegance as you continue to pay for the bookmakers holiday home in St.Tropez


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