London, Goodwood, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Nice and Paris

Here’s a recap on my latest journey.

Tuesday, London

London’s becoming a regular destination for me, whether for a theater run or as a stopover on my way somewhere else. This time I’m meeting close friend Gary Conrad, who took his 11-year-old Philadelphia grandson Owen Conrad on a four-day see-everything trip to London. And by “see everything,” I mean it. Gary has recounted the amazing list of sites and experiences he shared with Owen. and it was impressive. When I arrive, Gary has deposited Owen on American Airlines for a solo flight back to Philadelphia using American’s unaccompanied minor program. Now he has to put up with me for four days.

Unlike New York, where I’ve kept count of the number of hotels I’ve stayed at (I’m up to an amazing 81), I’m not sure of the number in London…probably around 30. This time I’m staying at The Goring, where the Middletons and their family and friends and townfolk were lodged during William and Kate’s wedding. While you maybe wouldn’t describe it as luxurious, an accurate capsule description would probably include the words elegant, stylish, polished. (It’s a place Alison would like a lot.) I booked the cheapest room in the house and it was spacious and comfortable, my street exposure bright and airy, the decor traditional but fresh and colorful. The lobby is somewhat ordinary, but the bar is very nice (and popular). When Gary and I meet for a drink, all of the tables in the bar are “Reserved”. At first the host insists on sitting Gary and me outside on the far corner of the lawn, but as soon as he realizes I’m a “resident” one of the reserved tables magically became available and we have a drink. Sounds slightly snobby and unwelcoming, but I think it was just one of the facts of life at the Goring. Overall I really liked the place and recommend it.

That evening we go to a play in Southwark (pronounced “Suth-ark”), London’s trendy neighborhood across the Thames near Southbank. We saw a play called “Sunset at the Villa Thalis”, about a loud, pushy, rarher obnoxious American couple who invite themselves to a villa in Greece rented by an English couple Terrific dialogue if you enjoy Americans being mocked. Very, very good first act, the second act not as cogent or entertaining. But we agree we liked it and we’re glad we went. Dinner afterward was at The Wolesley, a place Alison and I went during our last trip to London and which continues to win raves as one of London’s hottest restaurants (GQ rates it #1). Great menu, good food, the best table in the house. Loved it.

Wednesday, Chichester

We train down ninety miles southeast of London to Chichester in the morning, then check into the Chichester Park, a 3-star property that we are forced to stay in after the Goodwood Hotel cancelled all reservations since the Qatar folks, sponsors of Glorious Goodwood, insisted on taking over the entire hotel. There apparently is quite a furor over this by the longtime Goodwood Hotel regulars who had been going there for years, and then even more furor when it turns out that not all of the rooms of the hotel are filled by the Qatar guests. The Chichester Park is a cheaply built ‘50s English quasi-country hotel– a dull, bland place (at least it’s clean) occupied by a fair number of t-shirts and tattoos.

At all of our events during Glorious Goodwood, we are picked up by taxi, all of which I prearranged due to our extreme difficulty in getting cabs on short notice last year. This year we have friendly, courteous drivers who are always on time, while others we meet are being told “no taxis until midnight”.

Out at the Goodwood Racecourse, we enjoyed the rather extravagantly priced 90-GBP three-course luncheon at the Sussex Bistro, which provides Gary with a look at the “better” English people. We spend another 40 GBP on admission to the Gordon Enclosure, the “middle class” section of the grandstand where you climb a steep flight of stairs to your seating area and fight for a seat before each race. At least you’re sitting rather than standing all day. The racing turns out to be good, with the featured turf mile $1M GBP Sussex Stakes won by The Gurkha, a horse with part-American ownership that might be brought to the U.S. for the Breeders Cup Turf Mile. Betting-wise, the day was mostly a loser for both of us until I score with a $140 winner in the last race.

Dinner was had at a deserted restaurant in the town of Chichester (for some mysterious reason the entire town was deserted…right in the town’s busiest season…no explanation) chosen by EnglishmanTipster/Journalist friend Neil Morrice, who was accompanied this year not by his omnivorous buddy Angus, but by “Jerry”, a former 15-year professional soccer player in the English Premier League, generally regarded as the world’s best. Alas for Jerry, the Premier League didn’t land a big TV contract until the year after he retired, so he never really cashed in on his sports stardom. We had a great time, and it turns out the food at the “restaurant with almost no customers” was really good.

Thursday, Chichester

Day Two at Goodwood starts out with a gorgeous blue sky and slowly degenerates into a weather disaster. The largest crowd of the year has come ready for the party of the year, gaily spread out on the back lawn and the paddock enclosure seating areas.

Suddenly, dark clouds creep ominously toward the racecourse, eventually producing a steady drizzle followed by rain followed by an all-encompassing fog that made it impossible to see the horses circling the course, leaving the huge crowd with nothing more than the announcer’s call. Even the track announcer demurred at times. making it clear to the audience that he often had no idea which horses were where. Meanwhile, the tens of thousands of smartly dressed patrons who had assembled this Ladies Day, the dressiest day of the meet, were packed together inside the humid grandstand interiors , milling around and bumping into one another and spilling beers and drinks on each other. All the while, Gary and I, who had purchased seats in the Richmond Enclosure, the upper class potion of the venue, sat high and dry with a finish line view (at least we could see the closing seconds of each race) and having a very successful betting day, cashing four winners in the first five races.

That evening we travelled out to a classic countryside pub called The Fox Goes Free, which has become a go-to après race destination in West Sussex, where we had drinks out in the backyard and a delicious dinner.

Friday, London

We have to hustle this morning, taking an early train back up to Victoria Station, then heading over to the Chesterfield Mayfair to check in, then rushing over to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for the matinee performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which in all actuality turned out to be A Midsummer Day’s Nighmare. I’ve been to London maybe thirty times, go to all kinds of sites and events and theater productions and this ranks as the absolute worst thing I’ve ever done in that city. The Globe, which was reconstructed by wealthy American donors, the Philadelphia Wanamakers, an attempt at a replication of the original, with a large open space for “groundlings” (who have to stand for the entire ordeal) and ringed by three tiers of cramped wooden benches (one of their most lucrative concessions is the rental of seat cushions and seatbacks). The performers are the most amateurish of amateurs, pratfalling and mugging their way through scene after scene, their diction unintelligible, their dancing (yes, there are repeated choreographic episodes inserted into the Shakespeare classic) was dreadful, their acting awful, their humor humorless (although some patrons inexplicably laughed from time to time). Luckily I had brought along a sweater and a jacket, which I converted into a makeshift cushion, but even that double layer of padding couldn’t alleviate the numbness of my rear end as the first act dragged on and on and on. There is no second act, at least not for us, as we instead opt to walk along the banks of the Thames (where Gary runs into one of his Pasadena cardiology patients) for the next hour.

The evening’s scheduled event is to be a performance by a classical (or so we thought) guitarist from Denmark at the Italian restaurant inside the Royal Albert Hall. Turns out he is a jazz guitarist accompanied by a heavy-handed piano player who drowns out much of the guitar music with his frenetic, over-eager imitation of Dizzy Gillespie. As mentioned, the performance was given inside a section of Verdi, the hall’s restaurant, and a crowd of about 40 jazz enthusiasts were gathered in the room. The guitarist struggled to be heard over the soundings of the piano player and the clatter of glasses and plates as the audience ate their dinners. Gary and I end up seated next to a Jazz vocalist and the violinist partner who bob their hears and wiggle their shoulders to the jazz beat. We eventually engage them in conversation during the breaks and enjoy their company (although not so much that we stay for the entire performance. It was starting to get late and cutting into our pub time.)

Saturday, Nice, France

Saturday was to be a day of surprises. Gary departs early that morning to catch his flight to Philadelphia on his way to L.A., so I take the opportunity to sleep in the first time on the trip. In the afternoon, I fly from Gatwick to Nice, where I am planning to attend the races at a small track called Gagne Sur Mer. I’d been dreaming of visiting this track for years, and planning it for months. Cagne Sur Mer…the name conjures up images of men in seersucker suits and white hats, in the company of beautiful young blond women in flowing dresses and wearing elaborate hats or fascinators, all just off their yachts or away from their villas on the Riviera. Names can be deceiving.

Surprise No. 1 on this Saturday appears when I arrive at my hotel, the 5-star Boscolo Exedra, only to discover that it sits in front of two blocks of construction fencing. Inside I can see monstrous digging equipment and construction supplies. Turns out that the City of Nice is building a new subway from the Port to the airport, and the current jobsite is right in front of my hotel. Fortunately my stay will be for Saturday and Sunday nights, so there will be no construction activity over the weekend. But still, what an eyesore.

The Boscolo Exedra is a gorgeous hotel, all brilliant white inside, minimalist except for the enormous nude on the main wall in the lobby. The theme is carried over to the rooms, which are impressively large, with a low-slung white king bed floating in a sea of white carpet, white desk, white bath…you get the idea. They have me on the Fourth Floor in the front, directly over the construction site. Normally the scene outside would have immediately disqualified the room, but somehow the room’s ambiance is so soft and lovely that it cancels out the distraction outside, so I settled in.

One of my (many) quirks is that I like…read need…to have a small electric fan in my room, not for coolness, but for “white noise”. The pleasant hum eliminates the stark stillness of a completely silent room and sings me to sleep. Virtually every hotel I stay in is able to accommodate this request, so I asked the front desk attendants, twice, to arrange for Housekeeping to put a fan in my room.

On my way back from the front desk, I stop by the Concierge Desk to check on my arrangements for the next day at Cagne Sur Mer… transportation, my reservation at the posh Le Paddock restaurant, etc.

Time for Surprise No. 2. “Tomorrow’s racing has been cancelled,” says the Concierge. What!!!? I’ve travelled halfway around the word to go to this track and now there’s not going to be racing there? I asked the Concierge to call the track to double-check. “No racing tomorrow. He continues: “They are racing tonight at 8:30.” Tonight? It’s 7:00 P.M., but I’ve got time to run upstairs and change, catch a train over to the bucolic town of Cagne Sur Mer, take a taxi to the track and be there in time for the first. So off I go.

I get to the train station at 7:45, catch a train that will get me to Cagne in 18 minutes, and everything will work out. I have negative vibes as the train pulled out of Nice Ville. Along the way are the suburbs of Nice, containing those dreadful projects that in France produce the terrorists who feel they have no place in French society. Out the window I see endless graffiti and laundry hanging from grubby apartment back porches, a scene reminiscent of the old South Bronx. As we get within five minutes out of Cagne, I begin to wonder: how much is this scene going to change in five minutes? Answer: it doesn’t. I disembark at Cagne to find a worn-out town with quite unattractive residents. Worse, a town with no taxis. So, map in hand, I hoof it over to the track, a mile to the track’s outer entrance, then another kilometer from the outer entrance to the ticket booth. A half hour wasted. Oh, well, at least I make it in time for the second race. I enter through the gate and go through the clubhouse and out onto the track, where I see…well, I see Surprise No. 3…


Trotters!!!!!!!!! Trotters!!!!!!!! I hate trotters!!!!!!!!! It’s against my racing religion to watch, much less bet on, the trotters. I abandon my principles. I’ve come all this way and endured the rush over here, so I might as well stay and get as much out of the experience as I can.

The Cagne Sur Mer racetrack, more formally known as the Hippodrome de la Cote d’Azur is not much to look at, although maybe in the daytime it looks a little better. It is, in fact, right on the sea, which one can see from the upstairs seats and restaurants, but the grandstand and racecourse themselves are very homely, reminiscent of a fairgrounds track in California. In the end I stay for three of the remaining six races, lose thirty Euros, have dinner not in Le Paddock restaurant but at a food stand specializing in Merguez sausages, drink a couple of Carling beers, and wave goodbye.

Back at the hotel , Surprise No. 4 arrives. When I check my email, I am advised by Air France that various of their crews are commencing a five-day strike and that my flight from Nice to Paris has been cancelled. There is, however, an alternative. There’s one flight later in the afternoon that will be going, but the fare is 475 Euros. Or, if I decide to take a train or bus, they’ll reimburse me up to 120 Euros. The train it will be.

Still another surprise. No fan in my room. I walk downstairs and talk to Lorenzo, the night manager, who to his enormous credit, arranges to get a fan for me. At midnight! Borrowing it from one of the hotel’s housekeepers! Exceptional service from the kind of employee every hotel should cherish. I plan to write the hotel’s CEO.

Sunday, Nice

In the morning I walk back over to the train station to buy my ticket. Obviously a lot of Air France flyers have received the same message, because the waiting time in line will be about an hour. A kind woman helps me use the machine, which knows only French. I can get a 1st Class ticket ton the TGV to Paris for 167 Euros if I’m willing to leave at 7:03 a.m. I book it.

So, with no racing on the schedule, what am I going to do for a day in Nice? It’s a gorgeous blue-sky day, albeit very hot and somewhat humid, so the logical thing to do is to go down to the waterfront, along the beautiful Prominade des Anglais (where the terrorist mowed down the crowd on Bastille Day). Now lining the road are short, thick metal poles that have been installed to safeguard the sidewalk pedestrians against similar catastrophes.

At the beach it’s a dream day. Perfect azure sky. Nice breeze. Not that the beach itself is much of a dream, because it’s not a sandy beach, but one made of stone pebbles, some pretty large. Sunbathing on this beach requires a pretty thick beach towel, maybe two thick beach towels if you’re that girl sunbathing topless atop this rocky bed.

A young Russian couple at the hotel tells me about a hamburger restaurant I MUST try. The TRYBurger. So on my way to Nice’s Old Town, I “try” it .It’s one of those gourmet burger places founded by a former 2-Star Michelin chef who adorns his burger with foie gras and bacon and charges 22 Euros. Rating? Average.

The day gets hotter so I decide to go to a movie…something I love to do in Europe. The Concierge advises that there are no English-language films unless I want to take a train 30 minutes away. Sorry. I opt for the French version of the apocalyptic “Independence Day II,” which I can’t fully comprehend, although I would caution you that if you are planning a visit to Hong Kong, London or Washington, DC, forget about it. They’re all totally destroyed.

Monday, Paris

The five-and a-half hour TVG train ride from Nice to Paris traverses the French Riviera for about 70 miles until it turns north toward Paris. It’s a beautiful ride.

In Paris I’m lucky enough to have a certificate from Leading Hotels of the World for a free night at the Hotel Bristol, where, despite the fact that I’m a freebie, they treat me royally, giving me a huge room on the fourth floor overlooking their world-famous garden and comping me to a very nice bottle of Chablis. I’m going to treat this as a relaxing day, since (a) it’s August, when so many things in France are closed, and (b) it’s Monday, when so many things in Paris are closed. I take a stroll over to the newly opened Ritz, where Alison’s CEO group will be holding a get-together sometime in 2017 or 2018. The hotel’s group events manager gives me a tour of the property, including the various dining rooms and their very special backyard garden, then shows me a representative “Executive” room…very, very lovely, but a tad small for a room that costs 1,400 Euros a night. I spend the day walking around some of my favorite places in Paris, then veg out at my hotel enjoying the bottle of Chablis before going to a local brasserie for a dinner of l’entrecote and frites.

Tuesday, New York

An uneventful day. Fly from Paris to New York, where I am writing this and where I will go to a half-price TCKT play tonight, then fly home on Wednesday.



To my racing friends:

As you know I wander the world going to interesting racetracks and races. In recent years Goodwood has become a fixture on my calendar because I have always regarded it as the prettiest track I’ve ever been to. Next come Deauville, Baden Baden, Keeneland (where I’m going this weekend to Breeders’ Cup!), Saratoga, Chantilly, Del Mar, Happy Valley,and well, the list could go on.

In recent years, however, whenever I have mentioned to knowledgeable racing folks how much I like Goodwood, I’ve had the name “Cheltenham” whispered in my ear with a tone of authority that said that THIS was the ultimate beauty. So this year when I knew I’d be going through England on my way to Amsterdam (to visit not a racetrack, but reputedly the most spectacular city hotel in Europe…the new Waldorf Astoria*) I set aside a day at the end of my trip to go out to Cheltenham, about a 2-1/2 hour train ride out from London.

I should have recognized that something special was up when the boarding notice went up on the board at Victoria Station and a virtual stampede ensued toward Track No. 9 for the train to Cheltenham Spa. On board, out came the Racing Posts and the cheers and beers as we journeyed westward.

Cheltenham Spa is located in the Cotswolds, more specifically in Gloucestershire. It’s a city of about 100,000, a lovely town with a tidy downtown and classic old English churches and stately homes, and its pride and joy is the Cheltenham racetrack about a mile outside of town. It is a gleaming white palace that overlooks an endless expanse of emerald green lawns and white fences in the foreground, and in the distance a towering hill replete with farms and steeples and country houses. The closest thing I can compare it to is an Impressionist painting where your eye is drawn to an immense array of color and beautiful muted figures. The fact that I was present in late October with the accompanying autumn colors only added to the mystique.

This was “Showcase Saturday”, the end of a two-day racing festival in late October that kicks off Cheltenham’s fall and winter racing calendar, a preview to its vaunted Gold Cup in November. Inside, a crowd of approximately 40,000 was squashed into a facility probably designed for 20,000. The English are prodigious daytime drinkers—a pint in every hand– and the tweedy well-dressed mob of
(mostly young) revelers was definitely up for a party. The races at Cheltenham fall into the categories of steeplechase and hurdles, an unfamiliar world for me which makes my limited handicapping skills even more tenuous. Nonetheless, I persevered and eventually got the hang of it a little bit…well, actually, I just decided to go with the winning jockey of the first race all day and hoped that he would have a hot day, which he did, winning three our of the six races, putting an extra $100 or so in my pocket. The races were thrilling. The crowd was enthusiastic (and well lubricated). The atmosphere was electric. It was a ball.

The gaiety, however, belied the fact that “jump racing”, as it is known there, is in a state of serious decline, mostly owing to the paucity of horses that are trained as jumpers and that have the stamina for their 2-1/2 mile to 3-1/2 mile marathons up and down hills and around sweeping turns and into a grueling stretch run that seems to go on forever as the field surges toward the finish. Adding to the sport’s distress is that the leading trainers and jockeys in England much prefer to concentrate their careers on flat racing, where there is significantly greater prestige and much larger purses.

So, my parting word on this subject is: do yourself an immense favor and someday go to Cheltenham. It is truly the most beautiful racecourse in the least of all the ones I’ve seen.

*Footnote No. 1: As for the Waldorf Astoria in Amsterdam, it is a stunner, maybe the most gorgeous property in any European city. They will NEVER recover their investment in furnishings and decor, no matter how much they charge.

**Footnote No. 2: In the How-Dumb-Can-You-Be Dept., I booked tickets in London to the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” at the Royal Opera House and to the Bob Dylan concert at the Royal Albert Hall…ON THE SAME NIGHT! The solution? Saw the first act of “Romeo and Juliet”, then raced out and hopped a taxi to the last hour of the Dylan concert. Bob Dylan was in some respects a caricature of himself with his trademark mumble and his distinctive intonations, but on the other hand he wasn’t just some has-been star of yesteryear pouring out his oldies-but-goodies, but instead has adopted an endearing new style that included several “soft” classics such as “Autumn Leaves”. Bob’s 74 now, and the audience in the packed-to-the-gills 5-tier Royal Albert roared their approval and probably made him feel like he was 25 again.

Racing-Europe Trip, July 2013

The Set-Up

There are ten of us in all, me from Pasadena, the others from Long Island, NY, Baltimore, MD, Ann Arbor, MI, Las Vegas, NV, Chantilly, VA and Buffalo, NY, all under the direction of our fearless leader, Doug Thompson, the founder of Racing-Europe, now in his tenth year of assembling private and group trips to the racing meccas of Europe. The majority of the group are horse owners, and all are fans of the sport with Jeopardy-esque recollections of horses, races, sires, dams, and the history of the sport. Literally at all times, conversations center around great horses and races and experiences at tracks all over the U.S. These folks are racing encyclopedias, although I’m proud to say I hold my own pretty well. If one is not into the history and trivia of the world of racing, this trip is not for you. Personally I’m in heaven.

The key attributes that Doug Thompson brings to a tour of this nature are: (1) access, access, access…to seats and tables and areas where you would have a very, very difficult time getting tickets on your own, (2) careful research as to the interesting sights in both the racetracks themselves and the towns in which they are situated, and (3) very creative selections of super-authentic pubs and restaurants you would never find on your own, each of which provokes an “Oh yeah!” reaction upon arrival. Plus, the presence of private cars and vans at every stop along the way makes the journey incredibly comfortable.

Day 1: We Gather

For our introductory get-together, Doug has arranged an early evening boat ride up the Thames. We are staying at the Oakley Court Hotel, a country 4-star featuring nice-enough rooms, a lovely setting, an always-on-the-phone concierge and arguably the worst hotel chef in England, who at breakfast each morning serves up an inedible swill straight out of a Dickens novel. The Oakley’s most impressive feature is an expansive lawn stretching down to the banks of the Thames, which at this point—about 25-30 miles north of London—becomes a narrow river that resembles a tranquil stream, its rambunctiousness harnessed by dozens of locks upstream and downstream, its banks populated by rowing clubs and expansive mansions, each with its own luscious lawn and gazebo with occupants enjoying evening cocktails. Our pilot Brian provides us with a narrative of the history of the area, pointing out the celebrity residences along the way, while we make introductions over cocktails and canapés.

A telltale moment: to give you an illustration of the intensity of the interest of this group in the sport of horseracing, there comes a moment when we are gliding upstream, when suddenly one of our crowd, staring at his iPhone, calls out: “Unbridled Song just died.” (For the benefit of the uninitiated, this horse was the son of Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled and went on to win the Breeders Cup Juvenile and become a very good sire in his own right; a very nice animal, but hardly a horse for the ages.) The reaction is a murmured gasp from all around, similar to what one would expect upon hearing that a beloved legend such as Jimmy Stewart or Bob Hope had just died. I mean, these people really care about this stuff.

Day 2: Ascot

The “new Ascot” is a super-modernistic glass-and-steel colossus that looks as if it could have been designed by Frank Gehry. Doug has arranged for tickets for entry in the Royal Enclosure on the structure’s fourth floor where the crowd can mostly be described as elegant due to the dress code (and the cost of the ticket). Our ladies are decked out in fancy dresses, hats and fascinators, and all the men wear spiffy coats and ties (including a blinding white suit, black shirt and black tie by our Las Vegas colleague).

Today’s card looks interesting, and the handicapping shouldn’t be all that tough, should it? Let’s see, there’re 16 horses in the 2nd race, 29 in the 3rd, and 16 in the 5th. Hmmm. But we’re primarily here for The Big Race–The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a race equivalent in prestige to one of our Triple Crown races. The race has been won the previous two years by wonderhorse Frankel, who retired undefeated and is considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time. This year’s favorite is the runner-up to Frankel in last year’s race, Cirrus des Aigles, but this isn’t his day as he is beaten by a German star, Novellist, who runs the mile-and-a-half in a course record 2:24 (that’s equal to the time Secretariat posted in his legendary Belmont, considered my many to be one of the greatest performances of all time. And bear in mind this was over a European course; I usually find that the Europeans run their route races in times about 3 seconds slower than U.S. horses owing to the uphills and downhills and course undulations they experience in their racecourses). I tell you, this is one great racehorse*. (Results of the day: Lost 60 GBP.)

Day 3: Jersey

Early this morning we hustle by van over to Gatwick and fly to the Isle of Jersey. Upon landing we are treated to a tour of the island, which functions as a combination resort destination and tax haven for wealthy Brits. The island is bounded by beautiful coastline and features beautiful farms and residences and lovely little villages. Stunningly nice—is has sort of the look and feel of Bermuda– it’s a definite “go-back-to” place.

We’re here to attend the Jersey Derby, the island’s signature racing event, held at a cozy little racetrack overlooking the English Channel out on a far point on the island, where you watch the races from a hillside (“The Stand”). Doug has made arrangements for a table for us in the “Members’ Enclosure”– actually a tent with dozens of tables and Jersey’s swells in their racing finest– where an absolutely delicious buffet is served. It is a five-race card, starting off with a contest in which one of the horses stubbornly refuses to face forward for the start, prompting the (superb) racecaller to comment publicly: ”I say, I have never seen an animal so uninterested in running.” (Footnote: Mr. Reluctant finally turns around and, after the jockey on the horse leading down the stretch suddenly fell off his mount, actually come on to win.)

The mile-and-a-half Derby is won by 8-1 Major Maximus, upon whom I have bet because his sire, Domedriver, completed a big exacta for me in the Breeders Cup Turf Mile at Arlington many years ago. (When you don’t have that many big winners, you remember them.) (Results of the day: Won about 40 GBP.)

Day 4: Royal Windsor

They race at night at Royal Windsor, so our day is free for lunch in town and then a tour of Windsor Castle and Eton College. Doug’s ctop-notch ontacts are apparent once again as our tour guide, Amanda, is greeted cheerfully by every single palace guard and docent as we bypass long lines and go through the castle’s chapel, residence and presentation rooms in the express lane. After the tour, on to the track.

You arrive at Royal Windsor in a manner unlike any other anywhere: by water. After our tour, we catch the river boat in downtown Windsor and float up the Thames to the quaint dock alongside the grandstand. Our seating at this event will be in an outdoor garden., where we have a table for ten under umbrellas.

It’s Irish Racenight at Royal Windsor, and the place is filled with Irish bands and folksingers, followed by a concert after the races. It’s an odd night weatherwise, with ten-minute rainstorms followed by an hour of blue sky, then rain again. Another oddity is that the track is configured in such a way that there is a period in each race in which the entire field completely “disappears” for 15-20 seconds as they negotiate a loopy figure-8 course before heading to the stretch run. As for the races themselves, the horses here tend to be second-tier, several notches below the world-class Group 1 and Group 2 runners we’re seeing at our other stops, but the merry party atmosphere still makes this a special night of horseracing. (Results: Won about 30GBP.)

Day 5: Goodwood

We’re here for “Glorious Goodwood”, one of this gorgeous racetrack’s racing festivals which attracts the social racing elite of England. We’re staying at the exceedingly nice Goodwood Hotel, where the parking lot is filled with about a hundred cars, a good 30 of them Bentleys, the rest Mercedes, BMWs and Range Rovers. It’s a very “clubby” scene, since most of the hotel’s guests are owners and trainers who know each other and who renew acquaintances each evening at a bar that’s so crowded it takes twenty minutes to order a drink.

Goodwood itself is, to put it simply, the most beautiful racetrack in the world. You look out over the racecourse to miles of farms and rolling hills that go on for miles and miles, just the way the English countryside looks in paintings. Today the weather is dicey, with cool temperatures and a bothersome windy mist that drives us indoors to a restaurant. Only problem: the majority of the Goodwood restaurants are private, reserved for the Annual Members. The only two non-reservation indoor restaurants are the Charlton Enclosure (lunch for two $650) or the Caviar House (my lunch of half-lobster and Pepsi is 96GBP, or about $150). The only other option is “van food” from a cluster of food trucks parked down the back lawn.

Seven races on today’s card, including a Group 3 and a Group 2, and because of the weather the course will be rated Good/Soft, which is the way a lot of Euro runners like it. Again, some big fields today…12 horses in the 2nd, 14 in the 3rd, 13 in the 4th, and then a couple of whoppers, 20 in the 5th, 26 in the 6th. I’m betting win/place (here they pay off for second or third for place), but I’m missing ‘em every race, having my horses come in fourth or fifth or down the track. But it’s not a miserable experience, since everyone else is losing ‘em all, too, even the Long Island horseplayer who really knows his stuff and is being confounded by these foreign horses. So we remain a merry bunch, knowing that a good dinner is on the way and tomorrow will be another day.

As we depart the track, we are serenaded by the English Marine Band playing lots of old WWII standards and marching music…a great sight that makes you forget all about the ones that got away. (Results: Lost about 50 GBP.)

Day 6: Goodwood

Day 2. This is a much nicer day than yesterday, slightly overcast but clear, so that the hills and farms shimmer in the distance and the Goodwood turf looks like the greenest green on earth.

I can’t afford those $150 lunches, so I opt out of the group and head over to the food vans to sample the local offerings, staring with a Roast Hog bap (sort of a bun sandwich) with sage stuffing and applesauce (godawful), a Goodwood sausage (tasty, but look out for those onions…hot, hot, hot!), and a small portion of fish and chips (delicious).

The day starts off with one of the highlights of my entire trip—a 2-5/16 mile race in which the horses traverse a scenic Goodwood course that’s shaped like a bent safety pin, traveling left, then right, then left across the panorama…one of the most beautiful and interesting sights I have ever seen at a racetrack, made better by the fact that I had the exacta. This is the day I’d been waiting for, as I proceed to win the next three exactas as well and then a win bet at 14-1. I’m cookin’! One of those exacta wins is in the feature race, the Group 1 Sussex, billed in the Racing Post as the ultimate showdown between two big-time archrivals, Dawn Approach and Toronado, with another dangerous horse, Declaration of War, lurking in the shadows as the possible upsetter. A fabulous race ensues, with Toronado winning by a neck in a furious finish. (Results: Won about 150 GBP. The only problem is, our group dinners are no-host and we split the cost of food and drink pro rata, and all of my profits are immediately eaten up by my share of the costs. I do the math, and I’m down about 300 GBP!)

The end of a wonderful experience.


The Racing-Europe tour having concluded, Doug arranges for a car to drive me from Goodwood to the train station in Reading, where I catch a train out to Moreton-in-Marsh so that I can meet Alison in the little village of Lower Slaughter. We’re staying at the Lower Slaughter Manor, a Relais et Chateaux property where we have a gorgeous room with only a few minor flaws—the toilet doesn’t work, the cold water faucet emits only warm water, and it’s impossible to adjust the scalding water coming out of the showerhead. Oh well, nothing’s perfect. The next day we go into London and fly to Deauville, where we stay at the beautiful Hotel Royal Barriere in a seaview room. Deauville, with its unique and colorful version of Norman architecture, ranks in my opinion as one of the loveliest towns on earth, and Alison loves it, too. On Saturday I go to Deauville’s “minor” track, Clairefontaine, a little gem that looks like it was created by Disney, for a day of steeplechase racing. I don’t usually think of myself as a fan of the jumpers, but a win/place on a 35-1 hot may have changed my views on that. On Sunday, Alison and I go to the main Deauville track and have lunch in the charming Paddock restaurant and watch a Group 1 race won by one of the powerhouse horses in Europe, Moonlight Cloud, after which Alison takes her 50 Euro profits and goes home., while I stay for the remaining races and fritter my money away. Everything back to normal.

* Footnote: If by some chance they bring Novellist to Santa Anita for the Breeders Cup Turf, bet the house. If they decide to go for all the marbles in the Classic, at least bet the garage. Unfortunately, it’s not likely to happen. That’s because the Brits have been advised by some racing-ignorant consulting firm to cash in on the “championship” phenomenon by instituting their own “Champions Day” in October (I’m going to it this year), which has infuriated the Americans and French because it dilutes the field of horses available for Breeders Cup in America and Arc Day at Longchamp. But the Brits are about to get theirs, since the Irish have announced that they are going to create their own Champions Day. Greed is good? Not in horseracing.