“I’ve given a fortune to sick animals over the years,” my father used to say, adding wryly, “mind you, I didn’t know they were sick when I backed them…” His observation sums up not just my own attitude but that of many latterday racegoers. We may not know one end of a horse from the other but there’s no denying the enduring appeal of a great day out in good company, a glass or two and a cheeky flutter on the gee-gees.
HORSES FOR COURSES
From the My Fair Lady formality of the Royal Enclosure at Ascot to the rough and tumble of the Grand National at Aintree, there are 60 courses in the UK with a race card to suit every taste and, inevitably, a dress code to accompany them.Much has been written – not least by me –about the importance of striking the right sartorial note to fit in with our surroundings. As anyone who has mistakenly bowled up to Sandown in a morning suit can testify, there’s nowhere better than a race meeting to demonstrate this point. First, consider the time of year. The jump season runs from November to April with its main focus on the four days of the Cheltenham Festival. On occasions like these, think autumn colours and break out the heavier-weight wools and tweeds. These work beautifully with button-down shirts and knitted ties and strike an elegant balance between smart and casual. For ‘the flat’ summer meetings, lighter-weight fabrics are the way to go. If your tastes veer towards louder checks and patterns, the races are an excellent opportunity to indulge them but keep the colour palette muted. The last thing you want is to be asked if you’re wearing your ensemble for a bet.
STYLE ACROSS THE BOARD
Second, remember that except where a dress code stipulates otherwise, a suit isn’t essential. The races are the perfect occasion for that great British menswear staple, the sports coat. There are a number of variations in both summer and winter weights but their common ancestor was the Norfolk jacket, designed for shooting in even the filthiest weather. There are two rules to remember, though. Don’t confuse a sports coat with a blazer as the latter is an altogether finer and more delicate garment. And be aware of the bottom half of your outfit. Good options here are the double or ‘cavalry’ twill trouser, or a gabardine. Whichever you choose, advise your tailor to allow a little extra width. The super-skinny trousers currently enjoying a fashion moment all too often make the wearer resemble an egg on two toothpicks – never a good look. Finally, remember the old saying that a racehorse is the only animal that can take thousands of people for a ride at the same time, so employ your horse sense and don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.
See you in the winners’ enclosure!