Wednesday, May 11, 2011
One of the things I love about living in the UK is how much history there is here. For example, this year Ascot Racecourse—a British institution that will always have a significant meaning for me after winning the Face of Ascot competition my first year in London—is celebrating its 300th anniversary.
I’m hard pressed to think of many American institutions that will celebrate their tercentenary this year, not least because America as a country isn’t even that old. It’s a bit funny to think that a racecourse in England is older than my country, but again, that’s one of the things I love about my adoptive land.
With Royal Ascot rapidly approaching, plans for the celebration of the Ascot Racecourse 300th anniversary are well underway. I had a chance to witness them firsthand on Friday, when I went to the racecourse for its only night meeting of the season.
I went to the racenight to attend a reception for the opening of a photography exhibition that will celebrate the 300 years of the racecourse. Alistair Morrison’s My Kingdom for a Horse stared two years ago at Royal Ascot, when Morrison started taking portraits of people involved with the racecourse. From jockeys to patrons, he wanted to capture it all. It was then that he requested to take a portrait of me as the racecourse’s first Face of Ascot.
Two years later, the portraits were finished and the exhibition was ready to launch. On Friday I took a friend to Ascot for the Transformers and Rectifiers Racenight, where the reception was held.
We arrived at 3:30pm on a train from London to Ascot. It was unseasonably warm outside as we made our way up to the racecourse. When we arrived, I gave my friend a quick tour of the grounds.
The bright green grass of the parade ring was glistening in the sun as we approached, and the grandstand had large “300 years” signs on it to celebrate the tercentenary. On the ground floor of the grandstand building, staff members were setting up tables for the annual Festival of Wine, which was to take place that day during the races.
After the tour, we took the escalator up to the Ascot Racing Club box. Once there, models Anna Carissa and Abi Wickes, who wore bright red Spanish costumes in honor of the event’s sponsor, Tio Pepe, greeted us.
Taking a glass of sherry from the proffered tray, we walked into the long, glass-fronted room. Neither of us was a big fan of sherry, so we quickly swapped it out for Champagne. The Spanish ham, on the other hand, was something our palettes could handle.
Over the course of the next hour, we caught up with people I knew from Ascot that I hadn’t seen in a long time, including the head of public relations, Nick Smith, and the CEO, Charles Barnett. We also tasted various canapes, enjoyed the views over the parade ring, and listened to several short speeches about Ascot Racecourse’s 300th anniversary. Afterwards we moved over to the Ascot Authority Box on the racetrack side of the grandstand.
The sponsor there was Gonzalez Byass, so we switched from Champagne to wine as we entered the new venue. As we sipped, we noticed a small exhibition that featured several portraits from My Kingdom for a Horse, which will be on display at Royal Ascot in June.
After perusing the portraits, we noticed that one of them was mine. My friend wasted no time in making me pose in front of it, which thoroughly embarrassed me. When she finished snapping, I escaped to watch the first race of the day. The Ascot Authority Box was right on the finish line, making it a great location from which to see the action.
After the race we moved back inside to have a Spanish-style buffet dinner. The spread consisted of everything from risotto to salmon, chorizo to cheese. We ate quickly so as to have time to watch the next race, and spent the rest of the evening moving in and out of the box as the races came and went.
At the end of the day we tore ourselves away from Ascot Racecourse and took the train back to London. The day at the races had been a good one, and had gotten me even more excited for Royal Ascot and the 300th anniversary celebrations of one of the world’s most famous racecourses.
From the unveiling of Charlie Langton’s statue of Ascot’s greatest racing legend, the four-time Gold Cup winner Yeats, to the appearance of David Austin’s new ‘Queen Anne’ Rose that will honor the founder of the racecourse, there is much to look forward to for Ascot Racecourse’s 300th anniversary this year.