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Royal Ascot vs. the Hambletonian
Friday, June 13, 2014 - by Frank Cotolo

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When Hambletonian day comes around, I always think of Royal Ascot, the closest thing we have to Great Britain’s majestic Thoroughbred event.

The ultimate horse racing experience on the isles takes place next week over five days (race meets in Great Britain rarely last longer than five programs), beginning June 17. It offers five million pounds in purses and countless flavors of pomp and circumstance.

The pomp consists of the elegance of royalty -- the Queen and some princesses are always present -- and the circumstance of common vanity -- a parade of common folk that sparkle in clothing they wear no other time of year. When you put it all together during five days every June, the wooded Berkshire racetrack near the royals’ headquarters, Windsor Castle (Windsor, of course, is the surname of the royal family since 1917), is the supreme characterization of British eclat.

When I dwelled in Great Britain, I heard the praises of Royal Ascot in every pub and at every party and at any time of year. I would usually respond with the praises of our Hambletonian and its great day of stakes and horses and, yes, apparel, including the traditional hats that are not mandatory on our side of the pond, as they are at Ascot.

I continue to submit blogs about the limited exposure of Standardbreds on the isles and this entry may be included in that spotty series because of my comparison of Hambletonian day to Royal Ascot.

In a pub up in Ripon, I recall trying to include myself in a conversation about Royal Ascot by injecting our Hambletonian ceremonies of racing and the public.

“Wasn’t he a Messenger horse?” said one local.

“Yes, but a special one,” I said. “Hambletonian is the sire of all Standardbreds.”

“My goodness, he was a busy chap, wasn’t he?” said the local, receiving a round of laughter from locals around him.

The Brits hold their Thoroughbred history with unbridled pride, so much so that their talk of it always manifests into snobbery. But even among their own classes, Royal Ascot polarizes the public; the common folks just don’t care because they get to play in the same park with the rich folk.

Royal Ascot has strict rules for ladies and gentlemen attending. If you have a Royal Enclosure Pass, ladies must wear hats to specifications. Men must wear gray or black morning suits (tails, black shoes, waistcoat, tie and top hat -- the hat preferably silk).

The picnics on the green car parks are pre-ordered and biased in attendees. Car Park 1 is the desired picnic area. One reporter wrote, “spaces in this car park are passed on like a dead man’s shoes.”

Hambletonian day mixes rich with poor and common with celebrity but without the cliquish rules and social rebuff. I think it’s as special as Royal Ascot and certainly void of puffed up vanity.

I could never spar with British locals about harness racing versus the British Sport of Kings, but I always reminded them that I never heard of a British racehorse named Yorktown or Cornwallis.

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The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

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