Racing - Ripon

PUBLISHED: 10:39 11 March 2010 | UPDATED: 14:56 20 February 2013

Ascot

Ascot

IN the car park you could watch designer-wear emerge from an Aston Martin, Jaguars, Rollers, and - in a multiple version - from a stretch-limo Bentley. In the enclosure and hospitality boxes, bubbly, of course, as Armani rustled beside Dolce &...

On TV screens in the Champagne and Seafood Bar, the BBC's Clare and Willie warbled about that almost forgotten accessory, the horses. Ladies' Day. Royal Ascot? Not likely. This was the competition - Ripon's version. When the Yorkshire course decided, eight years ago, to blend its midsummer fixture with an invitation to dress up, it deliberately went head to head - hats and all - with the sport's ultimate fashion parade. A risky strategy, it could be argued.

Wouldn't Ladies' Day at Ripon compare unfavourably with its equivalent at the Royal meeting in Berkshire? The reality said otherwise. 'The quality of some of the outfits is amazing. As a spectacle this has to be one of our best ever years, if not the best.' That was the verdict of Jane Hutchinson, 'We like to think of our event as a mini Royal Ascot for the ladies who can't be there but want to wear their best and go racing locally on the same day.'

There were 70,000 more people at Ascot, but Jane was delighted with the turn-out beside the River Ure. It was several hundred up on the previous year and further evidence that Ladies' Days have introduced a growing audience to race meetings nationally. Ripon's crowd was all the more impressive because the weather had threatened to ruin everything. All 4,000-plus of us were fortunate to be there. A deluge had forced the postponement of racing the previous evening, and the marquee behind the stands had been under an inch of water.

Never mind colts and fillies, according to Jane it was frogs who were performing until the ground dried out sufficiently for next day's main event to get the go-ahead. As it happened, umbrellas dominated at Royal Ascot but the sun shone on the Ripon ladies for much of the afternoon. And, if you cold-shouldered the girls who were promoting a Leeds lap-dancing venue, there was class in abundance on and off the track.

Upper Class, Sheikh Mohammed's two-year-old and trained by Mark Johnston at Middleham, won the 2.10 despite it being the bay's debut on a racecourse. In the marquee it was even harder to pick winners of the various competitions. The Best Dressed Lady award went to Christine Mulligan from Harrogate, and a regular at Ripon races. 'Such a pretty course,' she said. Her silk lavender dress by Gucci was originally priced at 1,200 but she'd queued for it at the Harvey Nichols sale in Manchester and it was hers for 185. Accessories cost considerably more. Shoes by Christian Louboutin, bought via the internet, were 370, and her hat was 450.

That came from Eleda Hats, of Guiseley, near Leeds, which also claimed the headwear contest for a feathered creation worn by Jane Hernon, of East Morton, near Above: Christine Mulligan, Ripon Races Best Dressed Lady Above left: Victoria Chapman Below: Taking pictures from a hospitality box Below left: Christina Booth and friends Bingley. It had set her back 650. 'The feathers of which bird,?' I enquired. 'A bald one!' chirped a friend of Jane's. There was a long debate about the hat's shade. Was it Spanish Red, coral, or poppy perhaps?

The only certainty is that it wasn't the Queen's cream, which had cost the bookies dear as punters gambled on her colour scheme for the other Ladies' Day. What, you wondered, would she have thought of the outfits made and presented by fashion students at Harrogate College. Some were based on a recycling theme and included garments produced from charity shop 'finds'. The marquee catwalk seemed alien territory for William Derby, chief executive of York racecourse, but he was relieved to be close to some actual racing. His own two-day meeting on Knavesmire the previous weekend had been washed-out - 'they say it was the wettest 24 hours in York in living memory' - and explained that he and some of his team were at Ripon 'for R&R' after processing 20,000 refunds.

The former Ascot official had also been back there for the first day of this year's Royal meeting. In the racing world it's rumoured that they'd wanted him to return permanently, to the top job, but all he'd say is that York Races and life in North Yorkshire are his priority now. He wasn't the only Derby at Ripon. The last race on the card was the Ladies' Derby Handicap Stakes for lady amateur riders. Not everyone is a fan. 'From a betting point of view these events can be dangerous. The horses are usually experienced but often those on board aren't,' said a veteran racing man, revealing maybe a hint of chauvinism. Ripon itself has considerable form in the equality field. It's recorded that in 1723 the first such event in Britain involving horses and female jockeys took place over a course in the city, and 284 years later it was Jackie Kidd who took the honours, winning in a photo-finish on the 7-2 favourite, Gardasee. It was yet another case of racing's quirky twists.

The horse has a German background, is trained at Tadcaster by Tom Tate, owned by a Saudi diplomat, his rider comes from Northern Ireland, and her mount normally reserves his best form for races over fences. Miss Kidd has her sights on more victories, and there was also a competitive edge among a group of middle-aged ladies last seen being poured into a mini-coach for the journey home. At least one of their number felt they could perform better in the Ladies' Day fashion stakes. She was heard to say: 'Next year, girls, we go all out. Right?'

For details of racing at Ripon: www.ripon-races.co.uk or call 01765 602156.

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