Drape: Greatest Prize at Ascot is the Honor, Not the Money

by | 06.23.2013 | 9:43am

For trainers who come to Royal Ascot's meet from all over the world, the best part of winning a race isn't the money, writes Joe Drape for The New York Times. Many Americans could run for stronger purses most weekends at home. Instead, the excitement comes from the privilege of winning on one of racing's greatest stages, in a country where the sport is revered by the mainstream press and public.

Racing is constantly visible on British television, with Channel 4 showing 88 afternoons of racing and 64 mornings of a handicapping show through the year–quite a contrast from the fleeting public visibility of the Triple Crown.

A royal presence helps of course, as does the proximity of nearby Windsor Castle. Not since President Andrew Jackson, who ran a stable from the White House, has racing had “such a powerful advocate” for racing as Queen Elizabeth, who enjoyed a historic Gold Cup victory last week.

“Horse racing is in our blood,” said Nick Luck, Channel 4's racing anchor. “It's not just about backing horses with the bookies, either. It's about watching them run and knowing that they are athletes.”

That recognition of horses as athletes rather than simply wagering interests, Drape writes, may be the greatest difference of all between American and British racing.

Read more at The New York Times

  • Roisin

    Drape is on to something when he said recognizing the horses as athletes rather than simply wagering interests may be the greatest difference of all between American and British racing.

    • Hoops and Horses

      In many ways, yes:

      I watched most of the meet live with no betting interest whatsoever and it was still captivating. It is a spectacle unlike any in the sport.

      • John McEvoy

        I’m glad they love their racing. But to compare that former Empire, that “sceptered isle”, with the U. S. fails to consider that the English have no baseball, football, basketball, hockey or golf (with one exception) to distract them. And if you don’t think BETTING on the races is the main draw, please explain the fortunes made by Ladbrokes, etc. etc.

        • snappit

          We do have football, you call it soccer, but most Europeans always call it football. We also have two codes of Rugby as well as our main summer game Cricket. Racing fans are extremely lucky that we have such good coverage here. A huge prescence on mainstream tv as well two satellite racing channels (one free to view), superb press coverage. Nearly all national daily papers give details of all cards with form as well as editorial space, usually at least two pages and, on Saturdays, several papers have a racing pullout section. The attendance figures are slightly misleading as a lot of the people are there for a day out rather than a serious interest in racing although events like the Cheltenham festival are jammed with racing enthusiasts. Although attendance figures are good racing could still be classed as a minority sport compared to the likes of cricket, rugby.and the monster that is football. It also has to compete with other very big televised sports such as snooker. The biggest event for racing with the general public is the Grand National where most people will have their once a year bet and most workplaces will have a sweepstake on the race.

          • Roisin

            I remember the good coverage of racing in the daily news papers. I always followed the races and although some in my family placed a bet or two I rarely did. However, I was a fan as were lots of people I knew.

          • Don Reed

            Very nicely summarized. Why, if you ran TVG, the operation would be well-organized (watchable).

            However. Snooker?!?!?!

            (We use it as a verb to explain our presidential election results.)

          • snappit

            Snooker is very big here and particularly in Asia. The top snooker players who are mostly British are millionaires. The big tournaments attract big viewing figures.

          • Don Reed

            Thanks. And our apologies for making it possible for Denise Rich to pollute your fair shores with her émigré presence.

            (That’s how ancient I am – I remember when people LEFT the UK in order to escape the tax man.)

          • John McEvoy

            Last year for which figures are available show average attendance at British tracks to be a whopping 4,538.

            Are you suggesting that the competition for the sport/entertainment dollar in the UK is compararable to that in the US? I hardly think so.

          • snappit

            Yes, competitition for the sporting/entertainment pound is comparable. I think you are being very insular looking. The English Premier league (football) is huge and is the most popular league in the world. Manchester United are probably the top sporting brand in the world. Both Rugby and cricket are very poular here and again, played and watched in many countries. Racing is considered a sport here and not just a betting interest. This is shown by the fact this countries most prestigious sporting award the BBC Sports Personality of The Year, which is voted for by the viewing public, was won by jump jockey Tony McCoy three years ago when he recieved 50% of the public vote.

          • John McEvoy

            UK sporting dollar competition apparently does not include pro and amateur baseball, football, basketball, or professional wrestling, auto racing, skiing, lacrosse, volleyball, professional bowling, harness racing, fishing tournaments, poker tournaments, etc., yet the average daily attendance at British racetracks is a paltry 4,500 (some of whom probably even go beyond sport for sport’s sake and wager!) Hard to figure, eh?

          • snappit

            In 2012 the total attendance at British tracks was 5,583,215 across 1,369 meetings an average of 4078 per meeting and an average daily attendance of over 15000 per day and bear in mind we also have a number of days when there is no racing due to holidays and bad weather. Pretty good figures I think when you take into account the size of this country, most racing takes place in the afternoon when people are at work, little on a sunday, the high cost here, around £18 to enter a course at a gaff track, big meetings like Cheltenham cost £70 entry per day (racing is not subsidised by slots or a pari mutul system).

            I think you are showing the trait of ignoring what goes on elsewhere in the world. Yes, no one here is really interested in basketball, baseball or American Football but we have plenty else going on. Do you really think fishing tournaments only happen in America ? Auto Racing as you call it is pretty big here too. In fact the two highest attended sporting events in Britain take place this weekend. Wimbledon and The Formula 1 British Grand Prix. Oh yes we play poker as well. I live in one of the smaller cities and there are four casinos each with a poker tournament going on tonight. We may not play the same sports as you but there is plenty going on boxing, cycling ,golf, athletics as well as plenty of other sports. In a recent audit of sporting attendances Dan Jones, partner in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group said: “The
            British public’s appetite for attending sporting events, in absolute
            terms and relative to its population size, is unmatched anywhere in the

            Racing could be in a healthier state here, we do have problems particularly with prize money but we’re not doing bad.

          • John McEvoy

            Sorry, don’t understand 4,070 per meeting and “average daily attendance of 15,000 per day.” Does the latter figure represent the entire nation?
            My ignorance, as you so snidely term it, requires me to ask: do you have something like NASCAR every weekend? How many weeks a year is Formula 1 British Grand Prix conducted? As I understand it, Wimbledon is a once a year event covering a couple of weeks, so hardly a persistent attraction. Unless, of course, I am mistaken.

        • Hopefieldstables

          You miss the point.

          Racing is a sport over there not a gaming business.

          There is massive betting on the sport and that is exactly why Ladbrokes etc make fortunes. It is not a gaming business run by the tracks.

          • Hopefieldstables

            Ladbrokes etc take betting on all sports not just racing.

  • John McEvoy

    Other than Ascot and Goodwood, what are the attendance figures for the other British tracks?

    • Guest


      You can search to your heart’s delight. The population of the UK (includes Ireland) is about 63 million, or 19% of that in the US.

      • Guest

        Umm..Northern Ireland, obviously…

      • John McEvoy


    • snappit

      Goodwood isn’t in the top 10 attended of British Sporting events. The racing events in the top 10 (2012) are Royal Ascot (flat) 280k over five days, Cheltenham Festival (jumps) 237k over four days, Derby meeting (flat) 160k over two days and Grand National Meeting (jumps) 150k over three days. The Grand National is probably the most watched horse race in the world attracting an estimated 500m tv viewers worldwide. The Cheltenham figures are most impressive as the meet is Tuesday – Friday and in winter, as well as the fact that most of the attendee’s are true racing fans which isn’t the case with Royal Ascot. Jumps racing is more popular over here than the flat.

      • Don Reed

        Snap, I’d like to add the following, which might add something useful to our readers’ knowledge of the ins & outs of international sports.

        It starts with the actual title of a book review posted on Amazon Books, by someone who had read a book “written” by a New York Met pitcher who did quite well in 2012 & then went for the big money in 2013, as a free agent for the Toronto Blue Jays).

        The response (mine), I hope, needs no further explanation…


        “I know nothing about baseball, April 10, 2012” (actual title of a book review), “By M. T. Wilson…”

        Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity & the Perfect Knuckleball…

        Comment posted below the review:

        We are delighted to have the opportunity to come to your aid in this matter.

        1) The Ball: The playing instrument, which is not a bow to the fiddle but a sphere to the bat, is round.

        Imagine Columbus sailing around it & arrived at the 3rd heavy stitch on the left side of the orb, which is how he ended up in the Cuban minor leagues in 1957 (before he switched allegiances & went over to the JFK Yankees in 1961).

        2) Forgo learning the players’ names. If they are any good, they immediately leave town as free agents. Memorize the names of all of the good players on the other teams.

        3) Beer should not cost more than champagne sold in liquor stores, but at baseball stadiums, it IS actually that expensive.

        4) If all of the words in the player’s memoir are correctly spelt, the ghostwriter is rewarded with an extra week in Miami during the winter.

        5) If the names of all the players’ mistresses are deleted from the manuscript, he gets two weeks & an upgrade to the hotel’s penthouse (comes with ex-player mistress).

        6) Baseball wives are constantly trying to disprove that dropping out of high school will put them at a disadvantage in the swim of things, later on in life.

        Humor them.

        7) If crass words or rudeness exhibited by one or more louche owners makes the headlines, we have the late George Steinbrenner, former owner of the New York Yankees, to thank for having legitimized churlish behavior.

        8) No. If the games get rained out, you do not get a refund from the parking garage.

        9) Each day, remove, unread, all of the Mike Lupica stories in the NY Daily News sports section. At the end of the year, twine them up & see if the height of the ranting words exceeds the altitude of your unsolicited
        Christmas junk mail catalogues.

        Most years, the Leaning Tower of Lupica wins the contest.

        10) If you MUST watch ESPN, hit the mute button.

        If you fail to do this, by osmosis, you soon will be saying, “a little bit” every 30
        seconds (the disadvantages of the medical lobotomy necessary to reverse this
        affliction should be obvious by the performances of the ESPN anchor who returns to the broadcasting studios after the operation).

    • Hopefieldstables

      You think Ascot and Goodwood are the only principal courses ? they dont even have a classic.

      There is also Newmarket, Doncaster, Epson, York, Newbury, Cheltenham, Aintree etc

  • Don Reed

    Oh, I am quite certain that Queen Elizabeth appreciated being in the same sentence as Andrew Jackson, who, having been born @ a century earlier, would have been a fiery provocateur in the Drury Lane riots.

    Ray, get your best chaps & black tie ensemble together; your invitation to BP is a lock.

  • Don Reed

    To settle the stud question, I say that next year, we put O’Sullivan & Hendry in the Grand National (not as jockeys. Snooker sticks can be used to pole-vault the hedges).

    To be fair to the mares, Denise should also be sent an invitation. Not in seriousness, of course, but with the angle that she just might mistake it for a subpoena, panic & attempt to buy herself a pardon to get out of the race. This might double the purse money & is worth a try.

    We solved the problem of getting away from Piers by signing him up on an American cable TV station that has no viewers.

    He got the job after being the winning contestant on “America Has Hot Air,” much to the disgust of Mr. Paul Potts, a guest judge who further endeared himself to the world, forever, during the first round of competition by casting the lone dissenting vote on the issue of Piers being allowed to continue as an entry.

    Connected to nothing is the thought that you might enjoy David Low’s “Low’s Autobiography.” Take a look-see.

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