As the Ladies Day sea­son kicks off at the races this sum­mer, there will be al­most as much colour and ac­tion off the track as on it, says ALANNA GAL­LAGHER

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Be­hind the scenes at race­courses the length and breadth of the coun­try, fash­ion’s thor­ough­breds are un­der starter’s or­ders and the stakes are high. The car­rot? A whop­ping ¤50,000 in shop­ping vouch­ers and other prizes, as the com­pe­ti­tion for this sea­son’s nu­mer­ous Ladies Days hots up.

There’s no doubt that rac­ing has be­come more than just the sport of kings, if the es­ti­mate that 1.45 mil­lion Ir­ish peo­ple go rac­ing is to be be­lieved, and 200,000 new race go­ers have signed up to the at­mos­phere over the last four years. Th­ese new re­cruits in­clude Yas­min Le Bon, Ro­nan and Yvonne Keat­ing, Jim Sheri­dan and Gráinne Seoige.

This rac­ing re­nais­sance is due in part to the im­proved fa­cil­i­ties as well as the in­creased profile of the sport through clever ad­ver­tis­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions.

Ladies Day, which started as a fusty ex­cuse to ex­tend the life-span of rac­ing fes­ti­vals, has be­come an ex­tremely lu­cra­tive event in its own right, full of photo op­por­tu­ni­ties and hand­bags at dawn as the com­pe­ti­tion for high stake prizes raises tem­per­a­tures.

“The se­cret to at­tract­ing the right kind of at­ten­tion on Ladies Day is to keep the look la­dy­like,” says Ta­marisk Doyle, of Horse Rac­ing Ire­land. “Colour is re­ally im­por­tant, with an em­pha­sis on clas­sic styles rather than street chic.”

Melissa Bin­don, girl­friend of jockey Tom Ryan, a so-called “J-Wag”, spends a lot of time at the track. She pulls out all the stops on Ladies Days but prefers to go bare­headed. “Hats are for older ladies,” she says.

Jane Hardy, win­ner of Ladies Day at this year’s Hen­nessy Gold Cup doesn’t agree. She loves head­wear and owns some 20 pieces. “The days of the match­ing shoes, bag and hat are over. It’s all about ef­fort and do­ing it on a bud­get. Nowa­days, it’s about mix­ing and match­ing. It’s easy to buy de­sign-

er clothes. I think most of the judges are look­ing for peo­ple with style, who demon­strate that they can put an out­fit to­gether.”

With un­pre­dictable weather, Bin­don rec­om­mends lay­er­ing as “the se­cret to look­ing stylish and keep­ing body tem­per­a­tures from plum­met­ing”.

“A good coat is es­sen­tial to look­ing good in all weathers. I have a white one for sum­mer and a sec­ond long, black wool style for win­ter,” she says.

Faith Amond-Mil­ford has been a reg­u­lar race­goer for more than 30 years and has won as many Best Dressed Lady com­pe­ti­tions in that time. Buy wisely and know what style suits you, is her win­ning ad­vice. “I’m not blessed with a good fig­ure but fit is im­por­tant. I in­vest my money in clean, clas­sic cuts,” she says.

Ju­dith Devine has won two ladies day com­pe­ti­tions at the Cur­ragh. Her prizes were a trip to Bar­ba­dos and an­other to Dubai. Devine wore Karen Millen dresses on both oc­ca­sions. “Wear what suits you, not what’s in fash­ion,” she ad­vises.

Devine is an ama­teur dra­matic fa­natic. She cites Au­drey Hep­burn’s per­sonal style as in­spi­ra­tional. She re­cently played El­iza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and ad­mits that Ce­cil Beaton’s cos­tumes for the film have in­flu­enced this year’s po­ten­tial ensem­ble. She’s stay­ing tight-lipped but is buck­ing the colour ad­vice by go­ing for some­thing monochro­matic.

“Groom­ing is also im­por­tant,” adds Amond. “And go easy on the ac­ces­sories. If you’ve a stron­glook­ing hat then there’s no need to go wild on the rest of the out­fit. Less is more.”

Be­ing well-shod is also im­por­tant. High heels add es­sen­tial height and leg ap­peal. That sink­ing feel­ing you get when your heels dis­ap­pear into the mud is an­other bad ex­pe­ri­ence that has been rel­e­gated to the rac­ing his­tory books.

All the en­clo­sures gen­er­ally have a hard sur­face so you can strut your stuff in ver­tig­i­nous heels.

“The prizes are a good in­cen­tive to dress up but it’s also a good day’s craic,” ad­mits Devine. This year, the big race is the The Park­nasilla Ho­tel Goffs Mil­lion Race, at the Cur­ragh in Septem­ber. In­ter­na­tional model Jas­mine Guin­ness will present the sea­son’s big­gest fash­ion prize – ¤20,000 worth of shop­ping vouch­ers from Brown Thomas – to the most stylish wo­man on the day.

If the win­ning out­fit at this year’s Punchestown Fes­ti­val New­bridge Sil­ver­ware best-dressed lady com­pe­ti­tion is any­thing to go by, there is a sea change afoot in what the judges are look­ing for.

Karen Mur­phy, from Kin­sale, wore a vin­tage dress from her mother’s wardrobe. The move has cre­ated dis­sent amongst some of the other en­trants, so much so that some be­lieved there should be a stew­ard’s en­quiry. But the move echoes the sen­ti­ments of Horse Rac­ing Ire­land’s fash­ion am­bas­sador, Kathryn Thomas, who also plans to up the ante by stir­ring up the en­clo­sures’ style stew. “Say good­bye to the safe, struc­tured suit,” Thomas says. “What I’m look­ing for is not your Sun­day best but some­thing with a per­sonal touch that looks and feels glam­orous.”

You have been warned. Beg, bor­row or steal some­thing re­ally stun­ning to stand out from this year’s com­pet­i­tive crowd.

ON COURSE: Ladies line up for the fi­nal of the Best Dressed Lady com­pe­ti­tion at the Cur­ragh race­course (main pho­to­graph); Yas­min LeBon with Karen Mur­phy (be­low), the over­all win­ner of this year’s Punchestown Fes­ti­val New­bridge Sil­ver­ware’s Best Dressed Lady Com­pe­ti­tion. Pho­to­graphs: Michael Ch­ester and Healy Rac­ing Photo

Faith Amond-Mil­ford, from Car­low, has won more than 30 Ladies Day com­pe­ti­tions

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