November 29 2010
The heralded overnight snow was a no-show, and I woke in Hampshire to the countryside’s leaf-less architecture sharp with glittering white frosting – a perfect setting for a winter day’s racing. Ruthie Burgess arrived, wearing a long highwayman-style coat and a very racy hat with a fountain of pheasant feathers, for the short drive cross-country to Newbury.
The Moët Hennessy team met us at the gates and shepherded us to the Royal Box, royalty-free today, but filled with the aristocrats of the Turf such as Madeleine Lloyd Webber; the Carnarvons (arrived from their nearby castle, Highclere – the real-life Downton Abbey); William Fox-Pitt and Clare Balding and, to my great delight, Henry Conway wearing his “oldest mink coat, darling”; and Jerry Hall airing her newest beau, Warwick Hemsley.
A Hennessy barman shook and poured delicious “shot-tails”, down-in-one versions of that most reviving of drinks, the Sidecar, perfect before steaming individual fish pies and bite-size chocolate puddings. All this while chatting to a French scion of the Hennessy family about a lesbian aunt called Eileen who I remembered from Paris in the early 1960s.
The early bets I placed all ended up in the wpb, so I took advice from our host, Moët Hennessy’s UK MD Jo Thornton, for the Gold Cup; and lo and behold, my nag romped home. I was the proud recipient of a shiny two-quid coin. I slotted it into the Help for Heros basket on leaving. After all that brandy, I hope I would have done the same with two thousand.