G’Day and Howdy: A Bucket List Trip to Royal Ascot and the Curragh by Kate Richards

February 6, 2019

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G’DAY and HOWDY: a bucket list trip to Royal Ascot and the Curragh

by Kate Richards

I must admit, going to races by myself is tolerable, yet not the experience that it could be when one is in the company of true-hearted and spirited companions. Having lived outside of Melbourne, Australia, for a time, I often found myself trackside in some pleasant company. Aussies are opinionated, very merry and possess true racing hearts. I even experienced standing, bar-side, next to a Melbourne Cup winner by the name of Subzero. “Subbie” evidently liked Foster’s brew and was making an appearance to promote an educational program about the sport. Now 30, the noble grey remains a famous icon for Aussie racing and is still allowed the occasional beer. Following those exceptional racing mares, Sunline, Makybe Diva, Black Caviar and Winx allowed me to plug into some of Australia’s racing social media. It was during Winx the Mighty’s ’18 campaign, a racing tour package came to my attention. This trip is bucket list material, right in time for some splurge spending of one’s tax refund. This writer loves a bucket list and habitually generates lists after reading about medical symptoms and imagining ‘what if’. Besides, bucket lists are akin to writing Santa a letter proclaiming one’s non-naughtiness. And after reading this itinerary, Santa, himself, might shed the reds and join this merry band.

If one could imagine a month-long journey to some of the biggest races in Britain and Ireland, they would land on Royal Ascot and the Irish Derby accompanied by a cumbersome price tag. Let’s say a new-car kind of price tag. Now… add premium racing tickets and throw in side trips to the elite stud farms (including the Queen’s Sandringham), meeting some racing personalities, dinners with like-minded race fans, land travel plus a flight to Ireland and then, add comfy rooms. Big bucks? Try $ 7950.00, which works out to less than $275-322. per day depending on one’s bar tab and handicapping needs. Some of the hotels throw in breakfast as well. Of course, factor in your airfare to London to meet up with the Australians who are flying from down under. The organizers of the trip package are well-versed at coordinating both racing gatherings and race writing. Geoff Richardson and Kristin Manning of Grand Racing Tours and Racing Australia, respectively, are familiar with each location at the tracks as well as all the arrangements. They know racing. Having looked at each of the sites and seating, I wouldn’t call this a champagne tourist package, it’s more like a good single-malt that requires specific taste buds. This trip is designed for racing fans who are interested in the ambiance, the horses and hanging with the trainers and not rubbing elbows with an HRH. That stated, the proximity to HRH, the Queen, has happened to a previous fan traveling on a Grand Racing Tour itinerary.

The head “chef” for Grand Racing Tours took some time to address a few questions;

  • What is the difference between GRT packages and other Royal Ascot offerings available on the internet? We are more horse orientated than other tours. We don’t attend Royal Ascot primarily for the opportunity to wear a top hat or partake of a fancy, and very expensive, lunch. We go for the horses and the racing. That’s not to say we don’t take in the experience. In fact I think our Queen Anne entry tickets give us a better, fuller, experience than that gained by those upstairs (the Royal Enclosure). The Tour Booklet on our website, www.grandracingtours.com has a full explanation of the difference between Queen Anne and Royal Enclosure entry.

Because we are a long tour we are not in a rush so we visit a large number of stables and studs, including the Royal stud of HM The Queen at Sandringham, and really get to know a lot of the people involved. I guarantee you will make lifelong friendships both with people on the tour and with people we meet such as my now good friends, our guides Lisa Oliver and John Berry.

And we have time for a lot of sightseeing such as Stonehenge on the Solstice, which other tours do not have time for. Plus of course we are ‘cheap as chips’ because it’s not a business as much as it’s an opportunity for us to go ourselves, gain access to all the things individuals couldn’t and have fun. So we keep the price near cost to attract more interest. If we get a bigger group and have more in the kitty we just shout more drinks. And have more fun.

  • How would you frame the Australian-American fan relationship if an American were to opt in for this trip? It’s only in the last few years that Aussie race fans have had more than a passing interest in US racing. We race on turf so your dirt-orientated racing may be the reason why or maybe the Breeders Cup and the participation of European horses has now piqued our interest. Better TV coverage of your racing no doubt has helped too. There is no doubt though that your sires have transformed our breeding industry. More Than Ready and Street Cry spring to mind.

Equally, I have no doubt US and Aussie participants will have a lot of common ground and plenty to debate while on tour. Be prepared for our views on Lasix and dirt racing. But it will be convivial I’m certain, as we have so much in common in general. Aussies are opinionated but we try to be fair and let all opinions be aired. We don’t usually have a gun in our pocket either. Buying us a beer is also a great idea for ensuring your safety.

  • What do you consider to be some of the unique experiences that this trip offers? There is a long list but here’s the things I’m looking forward to- Royal Ascot, Stonehenge on the Solstice, the Naas BBQ race meeting (a great country style race meeting with real local character), the Banquet in Bunratty Castle (castle is amazing but I haven’t done the banquet before), Coolmore Stud (their private museum contains Sadlers Wells himself- stuffed of course), the Royal Stud and last but not least spending over a week in Newmarket, the home of horseracing where we’ll meet lots of local trainers etc, culminating in the July Cup meeting. Other tours do a hit and run visit to Newmarket and miss the full experience.
  • Does GRT have Packages for the 2019 Melbourne Cup that you want to mention? A Melbourne Cup tour is on the drawing board. A week or so in Melbourne for the Derby, Oaks and Cup followed by a week in Sydney which will include an excursion to the Hunter Valley, Australia’s Lexington, where all the big studs are to be found. The Hunter is also Australia’s best wine country- it’s famous for its reds- so we might make a few stops along the way and/or way back. When I say ‘might’ I mean ‘definitely will if I have anything to do with it’.

Participants could top or tail their trip with other destinations such as The Great Barrier Reef, The Red Centre etc. Our travel agent will organize individual packages.

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