November 13 2010
The run-up to Christmas is party time on the Turf, with big lunches and dinners taking place all around town. The nominal purpose of these well-lubricated events is to honour the year’s high achievers on the track. But, as well as owners, trainers and jockeys, plenty of thirsty journalists and tipsters get their share of invitations.
The most cheerfully bacchanalian bash is the annual Horserace Writers and Photographers Association Derby Awards Lunch, which packs upwards of 600 guests into a London hotel banqueting room. There are prizes for jockeys and trainers, along with the racing writer and “snapper” of the year, plus a usually rather emotional award for a senior figure who has made a lifetime contribution to the sport. Festivities continue into the evening in the hotel bar, followed by a late-night gathering of die-hards in a nearby pub. A good time is had by all, though there are invariably a few fallers and casualties along the way.
A rather more sophisticated atmosphere prevails at the Cartier Racing Awards dinner, which is taking place on Tuesday night (November 16) in the ballroom of The Dorchester hotel. Now in their 20th year, the Cartier Racing Awards are the most prestigious award ceremony in racing, and an invitation to the glamorous black-tie affair – which numbers about 350 guests – is the hottest ticket of the year for racing socialites. Uniquely, eight of the nine categories recognise the achievements not of humans, but of top thoroughbreds, be they sprinters or stayers, two-year-olds or more mature horses, or the coveted Cartier Horse Of The Year.
The idea of associating European horse racing with one of the world’s great luxury brands originated in 1988, when the first Cartier Million race for juveniles took place at the old Phoenix Park course in Dublin. Arnaud Bamberger, executive chairman of Cartier UK, thoroughly enjoyed that experience and was naturally sympathetic to the idea of an annual blue-chip racing awards dinner bearing Cartier’s name.
On Tuesday the Honourable Harry Herbert, Cartier’s regular host for the evening, will be in charge. Herbert has been enjoying a fabulous 2010 in his role as managing director of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, which puts together horse-sharing syndicates. “Cartier spends an enormous amount of money on the dinner,” he explains. “Its people do the beautiful invitations and the flowers and decide on the décor for the room – and it’s all brilliantly done.” The actual award ceremony lasts for an hour and a half and is accompanied by stirring video footage of the equine nominees. “It’s vital that it has pace and a real wow factor,” stresses Herbert. “It’s always tight at the top and there’s a lot of emotion and drama when the winners are announced. It’s a great occasion for everybody involved.”
Highclere’s colt Harbinger, who won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes by a stunning 11 lengths at Ascot in July, would have been a leading candidate for the Cartier Horse Of The Year award had not an injury resulted in his premature retirement to stud. In his absence the French mare Goldikova may claim the top honour, while the Irish juvenile Misty For Me looks a worthy favourite in the two-year-old filly category. Trained by Aidan O’Brien, she can be backed ante-post for next summer’s Oaks at Epsom at 12-1 with Blue Square.