Equus Award winning journalist Gary Lemke has travelled the globe covering sporting events.
He has enjoyed ringside seats to world heavyweight boxing title fights, several Olympic Games’, FA Cup finals, infield at the Daytona 500, Rugby World Cups, Open Championship golf at St Andrews, Wimbledon’s centre court and so much more.
Gary won the 2023 L’Ormarins Writer’s award and this earned him a trip for two to Goodwood in August this year.
His work has included horseracing, which he has a great passion for, and this culminated in a book about the life of the great Mike Bass-trained champion Pocket Power.
This is how he felt about the L’Ormarins Day 4 at Glorious Goodwood earlier this year.
Beware the bleeding bookmaker, claret staining the collar of a freshly-ironed white shirt as he’s about to head off to the racecourse.
Or for that matter the racehorse owner looking for a pub to open at 10am. Watch out too for the stricken racegoer, struggling to hang onto the rails in the queue for the bus back to the train station at 6pm, resembling a fatigued Comrades Marathon runner trying to beat the final 12-hour gun.
And then, to end the day, steer clear of the handful of drunken yobs in suits throwing Parade Ring Access badges and £20 notes around a train carriage like confetti as they attempt to impress the women passengers before arriving back at their London homes.
Most importantly, between all the mayhem, celebrate some of the finest moments you’ll experience in the Sport of Kings. Yes, it’s Glorious Goodwood. It’s magical, memorable, mesmerising and bucket-list material for any blue-blooded racing enthusiast.
I’ve been to some of sport’s biggest theatres.
Ringside seats to world heavyweight boxing title fights, several Olympic Games’, FA Cup finals, infield at the Daytona 500, Rugby World Cups, Open Championship golf at St Andrews, Wimbledon’s centre court and so much more.
But thanks to the generosity of Mrs Gaynor Rupert, I found myself as a guest in the Long View Room at Goodwood Racecourse for a race meeting that featured the prestigious L’Ormarins King’s Plate on the eight-race programme.
Speaking of programmes, the official racecard for the day was a 98-page production, a fascinating keepsake, which included some 20-pages of advertising from high-end sponsors and partners. As if the organisation of the day itself couldn’t be better, the rain abated for the first time that week in August.
That racecard also included a tribute to Frankie Dettori, the charismatic, brilliant Italian who was returning to Goodwood for the final time as a jockey, a career coming full circle after having his first success on British soil aboard Lizzy Hare as a 16-year-old apprentice back in 1987.
Would we see one final flying Goodwood dismount from the maestro? Would we indeed. Dettori brought the 6/1 shot Epictetus home ahead of the odds-on favourite Nostrum to take the 2.25pm race, the Group 3 Thoroughbred Stakes over a mile.
Back to the beginning though, to set the tone for what lay ahead.
The 8.25am train ride from London to Chichester is a journey of around 1hr 30min. Racing is one of the only sports in the world where two strangers can meet in such a situation, talk non-stop about nothing other than racing, and arrive at the end without having introduced one another.
“Oh, by the way I’m Rob,” said the one, after the train had stopped in Chichester.
“Hello, I’m John.”
“Hey John, would you like a pint? I’ll buy you a drink. There’s a Wetherspoon’s across the road.”
“Doesn’t Wetherspoon’s only open at 11? There’s still an hour to go.”
“Not to worry, we’ll find a beer somewhere.”
And off they went, like they’d been mates for years. That’s what racing does to people. It creates unshakeable bonds.
On the train trip itself, I’d zoned in on two “tips” for the day from the odd couple. “Don’t touch anything of Sir Michael Stoute, there’s been a virus in the yard” and “I’m the owner of The Gatekeeper in the Coral Golden Mile at 3 o’clock. We’ve got a big chance.”
Obviously, my ears pricked and I made my card squiggles accordingly.
That would mean to bravely gloss over the Stoute-trained Nostrum, the odds-on favourite in the afore-mentioned Thoroughbred Stakes and Nader King in the 5.20pm Coral Handicap Stakes. As it turned out, Nostrum was indeed beaten, by Dettori in a seven-horse field and Nader King finished 11th of 12 in the last race. Just for good measure, The Gatekeeper, at 14/1, finished second in the 20-runner Golden Mile.
I really should have got the CSF and/or exacta in that race (basically the former is a straight 1-2 forecast and the latter is the “boxed” 1-2), and it returned Tote dividends of £346 and £300 respectively, for a £1 bet.
Why should I have? Well, The Gatekeeper, was “tipped” on the train, while I took a long-hard look at the eventual winner, before running my finger onto the next runner. The eventual winner was a six-year-old Zoffany gelding, racing off an official BHRA rating of 103. But, he was at 25/1 in the betting and the TV commentator dismissed his chances in the canter past.
With a furlong (200m) to go, my worst fears came true. “Here comes Yo-han with a sustained run to grab The Gatekeeper,” said the commentator. They finished first and second.
“Yo-han”, was actually spelled Johan, and it was as if written in the stars, with Mrs Rupert’s husband’s name being none other than Johann, and this was her day on centre stage at Glorious Goodwood. Just goes to show though, that for a mug punter like me, I get put off by the bookmakers’ odds.
Speaking of the bookmakers, back to the beginning, and the bleeding one. A friend had collected me from the train station and taken me to his house in the quaint village of East Lavant, a few minutes drive away to the racecourse.
The village is also home to the stables of the only trainer in the area, Steve Woodman. There were three on-course bookies up from London for the week staying with my friend. They come up to West Sussex every Goodwood Festival to stay with him, and apparently the cash they make is enough to keep them going for a while. As I arrived, they were on the way out, to set up their stalls for the day.
They’d had a late night before and one of them had rushed his morning routines, nicking himself on the neck while shaving and failing to stem the blood as it leaked onto his pristine white-collared shirt.
After a hasty introduction, he gave me two horses for the day. “We’re keeping Highfield Princess in the King George Qatar Stakes and Hamish in the L’Ormarins Kings Plate Glorious Stakes for ourselves. They won’t get beat.”
Whoa! Hold your horses. So, between the train ride to Chichester from London, and bumping into the bleeding bookie from London, the advice was to back Highfield Princess (1st) and Hamish (1st), ignore Nostrum (2nd) and Nader King (11th), and include The Gatekeeper (2nd) in all bets.
Had I followed that advice I’d have taken the helicopter back to London instead of sharing a train carriage with some boorish yobs.
Between all that, we were treated to the magnificence of Glorious Goodwood. More than 100 guests were treated like royalty by the stately Mrs Rupert and her L’Ormarins team, with the welcoming staff all decked out in the resplendent blue and white race silks of Drakenstein Stud.
The venue itself seated some 10 tables of 10 guests each, with each table having the name of a former L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (now King’s Plate) winner.
Mrs Rupert herself was at a table named after 2022 winner Jet Dark, and her table companions included true royalty in the Lesotho King and Queen.
The light blue and white theme decorated the Long View Room and guests had arrived all wearing the familiar L’Ormarins blue and white, while the ladies donned headgear as fashion met flair.
In terms of the food menu, there was something to satisfy any taste bud. The starter offered was burrata served with cherry tomatoes, peas, beans and chive oil.
The main courses, set out on platters in the middle of the room, included flaked hot salmon; fillets of beef with horseradish and herb crumbs; coronation chicken breast; marinated soya bites, chargrilled aubergine, courgette, peppers and olives; a nutbourne, cucumber and red onion salad; roasted butter beans, garlic sauteed broccoli, sun dried tomatoes, feta, red onions and pesto; a potato and chive salad and local breads and butter.
A cheese course followed, and later petis fours were served for afternoon high tea. Nothing was left to the imagination.
The table at which I sat included prize winners from previous L’Ormarins Queen’s/King’s Plate days like Jodi Scholtz (best dressed) and Savannah Cozzi (writers’ award), while the rest of the room was the proverbial Who’s Who of the sport.
They included jumps jockey legend AP McCoy, South Africa’s champion trainer Justin Snaith, Irish auctioneer John O’Kelly and British trainer William Haggas.
“I’ve got the day off today, I can soak it all up,” said Snaith, before pointing at Haggas, “He’s the guy under pressure today!”
A glance at the racecard showed that Haggas was indeed under pressure. He had the 4/9 favourite in the feature race of the day, the L’Ormarins King’s Plate over the mile.
However, he proved equal to the task, with Hamish hitting the front inside the final furlong and stretching away to win impressively.
That win, like every other one, was cheered all the way home from the guests in the Long View Room, so named because it’s a rectangular room on first floor level overlooking the shute to the parade ring and within touching distance of the horses as they start to pull-up on the bend at the end of a race.
Which also means that from that vantage point, you can have a head-on view of the horses thundering down the home straight. Again, it was a unique experience and unlike anything to be experienced in South Africa.
The opening race on the card was the annual Magnolia Cup, a ladies’ amateur riders charity event which had been moved from Thursday to Friday.
In the past decade alone, the race has raised over £2-million in funds for causes such as Great Ormond Street Hospital, Winston’s Wish, Wellbeing of Women and Smart Works.
There were a dozen horses ridden by leading women in business, sport, fashion and media and this year’s field included 72-year-old Caroline Miller, who is a lifelong industry supporter and an advocate of the rehoming of racehorses.
The riders wore a kaleidoscope of eye-catching silks and the race itself was won by Anabelle Hadden-Wright aboard Fosroc, but it was about much more than the horse. This was a triumph for a woman overcoming adversity as the 22-year-old was left in a wheelchair four years ago after contracting meningitis and being told she might never walk again.
These kinds of heart-warming stories are normally glossed over when it comes to reporting on racing, where results, dividends and betting often render the human interest to a sideshow. It was again a moist-eyed remainder of the good and camaraderie that exists in this wonderful sport of racing.
With the Magnolia Cup having been run, it was on to the official first race on the card, the Coral Goodwood Handicap over 2m 4 1/2f (4100m).
I stood on the balcony as the 17 runners gathered at the finishing post. There were no starting stalls.
The horses were all facing the “wrong” way. I fully expected them to turn around and head past the finishing post and then us in a clockwise direction, as is the case with long-distance races in South Africa. Instead, in an act which made me look at my watch and confirm it was still only 1.50pm and realise that I hadn’t started on the L’Ormarins bubbly, the horses disappeared back up the home straight. What the actual?
There they went, taking the “home turn” left-handed and then on a journey down hill, onto a different course, before doubling back onto the main course again and resuming on the traditional right-handed track.
They then ventured uphill and approached the home turn, before negotiating the home straight once again, this time the “normal way” and heading straight towards us at the finish.
The race was won by the 6/1 favourite Temporize, who had struck the front 400m out and kept going resolutely, stopping the clock in 4min 35.48sec, in the soft going. For me, it was nearly five minutes of open-mouthed amazement.
And, in a blur, we were on to the next race, and the next one. South Africa has introduced the 35-minute gap between races, and this was the case at Goodwood as well, but in truth things flashed by as if there was only 10 minutes between races.
I have subsequently read reports that the five-day Qatar Goodwood Festival is losing its allure.
That this year’s sparkle wasn’t there – which, if true, the weather, which forced the abandonment of the Saturday would have played a big part in that – that there are challenges ahead with Qatar’s sponsorship ending in 2024 and an absence of A-List celebrities.
There’s also the suggestion that the multitude of bars, perhaps 20 of them, is encouraging binge-drinking, and from what I saw from racegoers looking all at sea while it was still daylight, that is a valid observation.
But, the day is an intoxicating mix of class, glamour, fashion, quality racehorses and thrilling racing with a packed grandstand of people overlooking the majestic Sussex Downs.
They don’t call it “the most beautiful racecourse in the world” without reason. And to have the title sponsor of the day being Mrs Rupert’s L’Ormarins wine estate for a 10th successive year is something that makes the heart burst with pride.
In terms of sporting bucket-list experiences to be found anywhere in the world, it’s a big blue (and white) tick.
- All images kindly supplied by Gary Lemke