World-class thoroughbreds, the toppest of top hats and sightings of royalty make the Royal Ascot an important society event on the British calendar and the event has inspired an architect to reproduce it in Singapore 300年以来，爱斯科赛马会延续着英国人引以为傲的赛马文化，它也启发了一名马来
Every duke and earl and peer ishere. Everyone who should be here is here. What a smashing, positively dashing spectacle! The Ascot opening day!
Half a century after Audrey Hepburn sang these lines in the1964 musical My Fair Lady, I got to witness just how grand the Royal Ascot is. Considered Britain’s most extravagant horse-racing event that is graced by royalty, dignitaries and socialites, the five-day affair is held every June at the Ascot Racecourse.
I was there on a media invitation and found myself rubbing shoulders with Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, after he presented awards inside the parade ring. He was standing so close, and without bodyguards in between us, I could see the violet collar on his morning coat and the pattern of his pocket square. The prince was beaming from ear to ear and I wondered to myself if he had had a good spell betting at the races.
The Royal Ascot was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne. Three centuries later, horse-racing remains a favourite activity for British royalty and Queen Elizabeth is an avid fan of all things equestrian and the proud owner of thoroughbred horses that live at Windsor Castle’s stables. Her horses have won more than 1,600 races to date.
The Royal Ascot is the grandest of horse races on the British calendar. Held at The Ascot Racecourse, which was refurbished in 2004 at a cost of £185 million and reopened by Queen Elizabeth in 2006, it is located in Berkshire, 65km from London and less than 10km from Windsor – making it a convenient hop and skip away for
the royal party.
On the Royal Ascot’s opening day, the Queen and Prince Philip arrive in a horse-drawn carriage which parades along the track, in what has become a tradition at the Ascot. Typically, flanks of binoculars are raised the moment the neighing of her carriage’s horses is heard – you see, betting is such a big part of the race event that even the colour of the queen’s outfit is wagered on.
As it turned out, at last year’s race, the Queen arrived in an elegant pastel blue outfit, perfect for the summer. From the private box for journalists, I could see her entering the Royal Enclosure on the second floor accompanied by her husband and her grandson Prince Harry. For an 88-year-old, she was sprightly.
It is impossible to enter the Royal Enclosure if you have not been invited by someone who has been a member of that audience for at least four years. The rest of us common folk can buy seats in VIP boxes or the grandstand from ticket booths and online in what is a greatly publicised event all across London.
The dress code is strict. For the ladies, formal daywear is a requirement, so no strapless, off-shoulder and spaghetti strapped outfits and no revealing midriffs either. For the gentlemen, a black or grey morning suit is a requirement, along with a top hat. From observation, no one broke the rules and why should they? Everyone wants to dress up in the presence of royalty and the upper crust. The outfits were elegant and the hats – flamboyant.
When I arrived at Heathrow Airport with other journalists from Singapore to cover the event, the customs officer saw our hat boxes and asked straight away if we were there for the Royal Ascot. She herself had bought tickets, prepared her own hat and was looking forward to the races’ Ladies’ Day, when every female attendee would go out of her way to dazzle with her headgear. On opening day, I saw hats with oversized floral arrangements, giant nets, masses of fur balls, geometric shapes, British breakfasts and even a Brazilian flag. The scene-stealers are guaranteed a spot i n the newspapers’ Hat of the Day spectaculars the following day.
When we finally got to attend – me with top hat in place – I found myself enjoying the splendour and sophistication of the Royal Ascot. Apart from the constant swirl of celebrities and outlandish outfits around us, plus the beauty of the horses galloping past and the regular roars of victory from the crowds, there were champagne lunches to be had and an unbeatable view of everything happening on the tracks below. Before each race, a staff of the Royal Ascot comes into the box to collect bets. If the horse you bet on wins, the prize money will be delivered to you.
ZbBz was hosted at the Royal Ascot by the China Horse Club, owned by Malaysian architect Teo Ah Khing.
He wanted Singapore journalists to experience best-attended race in Europe and possibly in all of the world (each year, the Royal Ascot attracts an audience of 300,000 in just five days). One could call it a royal event that welcomes the masses, because anyone with a ticket can attend and the different social classes and cultures are connected through the spectacle of watching and betting on the horses.
Teo’s appreciation for horse-racing and thoroughbreds developed when he was a consultant to the Sheikh of Dubai for seven years. The sheikh had tasked Teo with designing and supervising the construction of Meydan Racecourse, which opened in 2010.
For the launch, the Dubai World Cup was held there, which awards the world’s highest horse-betting prize money of US$10 million (S$13 million). After experiencing the glitz and glamour of the Ascot and Meydan, Teo hopes to introduce the same to China’s upper classes.
“I saw that horse-racing can go way further from Europe and North America,” says the Harvard-educated 53-year-old entreprenuer. “The horse-racing business is one that makes dreams come true. Transplanting it to China also means we’re going to create new job opportunities and raise new talent in horse raising and horse riding.”
Since China does not have a tradition of horse-racing and betting is banned, Teo decided to organise a similar event i n Singapore that is designed as a beginner’s horse-racing event to attract about 1,000 affluent Chinese holidaymakers.
He signed a contract with the Singapore Turf Club last year to set up the China Equine Cultural Festival, an event to be held in Singapore for the next three years, with prize money totalling $3.05 million – $50,000 more than the Singapore Airlines International Cup. The debut event will be held from February 21 to 22, during China’s Spring Golden Week, when 600 million Chinese are expected to travel outside China.
The China Horse Club has confirmed that it will import eight to 10 Group One thoroughbred horses to Singapore from Europe and Australia for the races. They will remain in Singapore after this year’s race, for participation in subsequent China Equine Cultural Festivals.
The festival will offer a China-friendly schedule, welcoming visitors with a charity cocktail party cum art auction at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands on opening night. Paintings by two Chinese artists, Mao Wenbiao and Li Xiaoling, both known for their paintings of horses, will be auctioned. During the race, China Horse Club will also collaborate with brands like Louis Vuitton to provide closed-door sales services.
“We are creating a brand new cultural entertainment concept centred on China’s rich, not just a chance to bet on horses. We are also trying to make the business a cultural exchange, first by bringing China to the world, and later the world to China.”
It might be tall order to recreate the same level of extravagance and pomp in Singapore, but Teo feels he has to start somewhere. His first step is to work on the public mindset: downplaying the betting aspect, celebrating thoroughbred ownership and highlighting horse-racing as an activity for royalty and a playground for the well-heeled.
If Teo is using the Royal Ascot as a benchmark, then such a festival could potentially cast one to the apex of the social scene, because which other spectacle in town has a bona fide queen in attendance year after year?
Teo tops off his observations this way: “If you want to rub shoulders with royalty, attending the Royal Ascot i sn’t enough, you need to have your own thoroughbred horses. You’ll need to have your horses race at the Royal Ascot and if your horse wins, you’ll accept the award from a member of the Royal Family. There’s no easier way to access the British upper class than having thoroughbred horses.”
1964年奥黛莉夏萍（Audery Hepburn）主演的音乐剧电影《窈窕淑女》这么唱着。半个世纪后，我见证了英国皇家爱斯科赛马会（Royal Ascot）这场仍是当今世上最华丽，王室名流荟萃的传统赛马盛事。
爱斯科赛马场在2004年耗资1.85亿英镑重建，由Populous与Buro Happold建筑事务所设计，2006年由英女王开幕。场内观众席分三个等级，其中以王室包厢区为最高级，要特别受邀才能进入，并非有钱就行。出席者的服饰守则严格——女的必须戴帽，并穿上指定样式和长度的晨间洋装，不能露肩或腰；男的则得穿上黑色或灰色的晨间燕尾服和高顶礼帽。放眼望去，当日99%的出席者，即使非王室包厢区的观众， 都乐于遵照这衣着规定，现场绅士淑女衣香鬓影，展现英国上流社交场的华贵。
《早报报志》连同本地和中国几家媒体受China Horse Club杰士马主俱乐部邀请，盛装出席去年的英国皇家爱斯科赛马会开幕日，体验英式赛马传统。杰士马主俱乐部在赛马场五楼包下包厢，款待媒体和贵宾。
China Horse Club杰士马主俱乐部创办人张祖德笑说：“要更接近王室，除了参与皇家爱斯科赛马会之外，那就是拥有纯种马，让马儿到爱斯科参赛，夺冠的马主能从王室成员手里接获奖杯。再也没有比当纯种马马主更快地进入英国上流社会的途径了。”
张祖德说：“如果这次我们能吸引1000位富人旅客前来参与，已是很不错的开始。反应好的话，我们不排除在今年的中国‘十一国庆黄金周’举办马赛。我们要展示给中国富人的是一个让他们感到新鲜的文娱概念，而不单是赌马。我们也把这当作文化交流，把中国带到世界，再把世界带到中国。” ＊欲知“中国驭马文化节”（China Equine Cultural Festival）详情，请上网： www.chinahorseclub.com。
The 300-year old Royal Ascot celebrates the best of thoroughbred horse-racing,
long been considered as the sports for the royalty. (Photo: China Horse Club)
Getting the trophy from the Queen is one of the highlights of Royal Ascot for horse owners and jockeys. (Photo: China Horse Club)
爱斯科跑马场绿草如茵，公众除了私人包厢和站台，还能包下私人小帐篷观看赛事。(Photo: Lim Fong Wei)
赛事举行前，马儿会在赛区绕场一圈，展示在马主和马迷面前。(Photo: Lim Fong Wei)
爱斯科马会有尊贵的皇家包厢和私人包厢。(Photo: China Horse Club)
英国报纸在赛马会期间报道每日最奇特的帽子。爱斯科被戏称为“帽子社交场”。平民百姓也能凭着奇帽登上报纸头版，抢夺英女王风头。(Photo: Lim Fong Wei)