My very first summer in England (June 1997), I got a ticket to the races at the Royal Meeting at Ascot Racecourse. I won it in a raffle at an American women's club event. I didn't know what to expect. I went alone. It was raining which completely ruined my hat. I didn't know how to bet. I was horrified to witness numerous women ending the afternoon by drinking far too much champagne and mud wrestling topless. I was not directly involved (or indirectly for that matter).
OK, so my experience wasn't great and I was so disappointed as I had been looking forward to it virtually all my life. It was in my top 50 things to do before I died. And I never wanted to do it again. I hate it when that happens.
But the years have moved on and I've become ever so slightly more English which means I know how to approach these occasions. And the racecourse has had a serious renovation. In fact, they didn't have races there for 2 years whilst the refurbishments were being completed.
First, if it is raining, don't go. Or bring a large brolly (umbrella). The weather forecast for tomorrow is sunny with some showers. Guess that's the brolly for me.
Secondly, secure the best tickets you can afford or better yet, get corporate hospitality. I am a guest of Microsoft this year and my invite is a very generous thank you for my participation in their European Utility Forum in May. Funny, I thought the trip to Rome was payment enough!
Thirdly, go with people. And make sure they make you laugh. I am going with a woman named Pip, who is the Microsoft account manager for my company. She also happens to one of the funniest women I know. I mean, the gal kick boxes for god's sake. She is witty, clever, and good fun!
Fourth, wear the right shoes. If it is raining they will get muddy so they better be disposable (read don't spend an arm and a leg). You will be doing a lot of standing and walking. This is where the dilemma is. Ladies Day at Ascot is a lot about what you wear: the hat, the shoes, the dress, the handbag. I don't really care. I mean, I've got a dress, well, actually a skirt and top. I've got a hat. I've got the hand bag. And I've got some shoes. But let's face it, my feet are a size 1 (UK) and a size 3 (US). My options are limited. What shoes I will wear is my first consideration when buying an outfit. So I'm afraid my feet will be killing me by the time I get home. And I can't pack my slippers in my handbag because it is too dang small. Oh, curse fashion.
Fifth, hire a hat. Do NOT buy a hat. You can really only wear it once if it makes a big enough statement. So hire one. There is the most amazing hat hire shop in Datchet just down the road from us. I love going in there. My mother went with me once and she was in awe. I've got the best hat in the world. I can hardly wait to put it on. Let's just hope they are looking at the hat and not the shoes!
Sixth, (boy I've learned a lot over the years) study the racing form before you go and bet early. After many summer evenings at the local race course in Windsor, I've figured out how it works and it wasn't nearly as hard as it looked. It just looked so dang intimidating. But now I'm older and wiser and a whole bunch more confident. Study the racing form before you go. Otherwise you are dipping into socialising time. And you can't be doing that! Then bet. Walk on up to the bookie. Tell them your horse name and number. Tell them how much you are betting. Tell them what you are betting the horse will do, eg win, each way (1, 2, 3 or 4, depending on the number of horses racing). That's it. If you are chicken, go to the tote. it's a whole lot easier but not nearly as exciting. Bet early if you fancy a favourite. Bet late if you're confident in a long shot.
Lastly, pace the champagne consumption. You start at 10:30 am and you've got to last the entire day. Racing doesn't end until after 6 pm. To make matters worse tomorrow evening is the Parent's Evening at Sebastian's school. I won't be entirely sober when I get there but I must be upright.
OK, so that's the game plan for today. I mustn't forget my camera. For those of you in the USA, if you'd like to follow along with the racing action, go to the website and listen to the podcast. If you are in the UK, watch out for me on television. I'm certain my hat will catch the attention of the cameraman. Photos to follow!