Ed Chamberlin reflects on a week of high drama on and off the course at Royal Ascot - a week like no other in the sporting calendar.
The best thing about my job is every week is different and there’s nothing like Royal Ascot week.
It’s magnificent, exhausting, regal, tense, fun and exhilarating all rolled into one. Right now I feel like I’ve hit a wall, yet I’m missing it like crazy too.
There are moments that will stay with me for a long, long time. For example when the public got their first sight of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in Tuesday’s royal parade the sense of excitement around the track was palpable.
I’ve said on social media that it was the best week I’ve been involved in during my 19 years in television.
Some said we might ease off after winning a BAFTA but at ITV we put our heart and soul into the five days. One thing you can guarantee is we are never going to please everyone but I’ve been overwhelmed by all the kind messages I’ve received about the coverage.
To everyone who has sent them – thank you.
Well, onto the action itself and day one literally got off to a flying start. An hour before we were due to go on air we were – well in the air.
We were recording a spectacular opener in a helicopter which got delayed by air traffic control.
It all got a bit hairy and frantic and ended with Matt, our heroic cameraman, charging down the straight mile to get to the ITV trucks. He must have edited the entire opening sequence in less than ten minutes.
He’s just an example of the incredible work the 270 people in the team put in behind the cameras. There were many heroes and heroines behind the scenes who ensured it all went as smoothly as it did.
For a presenter Royal Ascot is an absolute dream. This is largely because the shots you get from the 44 different cameras we use, including the two enormous wire cams, mean that most of the shots don’t even need words.
Richie Benaud and Des Lynam were the masters of letting the pictures do the talking – and last week I was able to do just that.
It’s fair to say the action on the track on day one wasn’t vintage – but it was jam-packed full of good stories. Eve Johnson Houghton lit up the place when Accidental Agent won the opening Queen Anne. It showed that the good guys – and girls – can win on the biggest stage and that the dream is alive for every owner and trainer. It was one of the most popular winners of the week.
Another thing that struck me was the emotion the Gunthers showed in the aftermath of Without Parole’s victory in the St James’s Palace Stakes. They said it meant more to them than breeding the winner of this year’s American Triple Crown, Justified, and underlined the worldwide appeal of this great meeting.
He was part of an opening day treble for Frankie Dettori who is always a huge draw and makes people outside the sport sit up and take notice. Among the three was Calyx who looked a juvenile of rich potential when landing the Coventry Stakes, for all John Gosden was urging caution afterwards.
Gosden and Dettori were at the centre of the drama on day two and the trainer’s interview with Oli Bell before the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes had a real sense of foreboding over what was to come. He said that we might have to wait until the autumn to see Cracksman at his best and that in the pre-parade ring he’d shown more interest in the girls than the job in hand.
The day had started with a blazing row between Matt Chapman and myself over this horse. I was adamant you couldn’t touch him at odds-on on quick ground and ten furlongs. You can rest assured I had a wry grin on my face when Poet’s Word swept past him.
So did Sir Michael Stoute – who became the most successful trainer in the history of the great meeting with this success.
It’s an incredible achievement – this success coming 41 years after he first struck with Etienne Gerard – and by the end of the afternoon he’d added further to the tally with Expert Eye in the Jersey Stakes.
Both of these victories were testament to the great man’s patience and skill as a trainer. I’ll be honest and say he isn’t the easiest to interview but the class and self-deprecation he showed with his words about Sir Henry Cecil were a great testament to the man.
It was good to go down memory lane with him as he recalled his great winners from years gone by, my two favourites being Pilsudski and Estimate.
In total contrast Dettori remains the best thing for selling the sport in this country and my highlight of the week was him – arm in arm with Sir Anthony McCoy on the podium – dismissing any talk of retirement.
It was lovely to hear how moved he was to receive the saddle cloth from The Queen to mark his 60th winner at the meeting – saying it was one of his best moments in racing. Only two days earlier him grinning as he received his St James’s Palace Stakes trophy from the Duchess Of Sussex was one of the defining moments of the week.
He was speaking to us after partnering Stradivarius to victory in the Gold Cup. Often over the course of the week we’d built up races to be big clashes which never materialised. This wasn’t the case here – four horses in a line down the straight producing a thrilling, international, finish. It’s everything that Royal Ascot is about.
My eyecatcher of the week ran in the Britannia – a horse I must admit to backing. George Of Hearts had an impossible task given how the race unfolded but will win a big pot somewhere for Richard Hughes this summer. Mark my words.
I’ve really enjoyed the Flat season – and the first three days at Ascot – but we hadn’t had a real stand-out performance. Then came Alpha Centauri in the Coronation Stakes.
The way she demolished her rivals – including two other Classic winners – in devastating fashion, smashing the course record in the process, was stunning.
I simply said “wow” afterwards – as did trainer Jessica Harrington and I was pleased the line I used – “she’s an Alpha Female” was picked up around the world!
The Niarchos colours resonate with so many great horses from when I was growing up and it’s lovely to see them back on the big stage again. You’d have to imagine all roads will lead to the race they sponsor, the Prix Jacques Le Marois, and then the Breeders’ Cup, a meeting where her great, great granddam Miesque shone so brightly.
Mark Johnston had another excellent week and I enjoyed chatting with him in the car park on Friday evening. He struck with Main Edition in the Albany earlier in the day and a narrative over the coming weeks and months will be Mark closing down and beating Richard Hannon Senior’s record number of career winners – 4,193.
That’s going to be an incredible achievement – not least because he’s done it in 12 years less of training.
It started with a bang – well a ride in Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang, and on the track we had the most moving story of the week with Arthur Kitt landing the opening Chesham Stakes.
Richard Hoiles summed it up brilliantly in commentary when he said “Arthur Kitt has come back from the dead to win the Chesham.”
The story of how his dam – Royal Ascot winner Ceiling Kitty – tragically died foaling Arthur Kitt who himself had to be resuscitated several times was unbelievably tragic.
I’ll never know how owner Andrew Black held it together in the interview – and the image below – which we showed during the coverage – of the Chesham Stakes hero with his foster mare as foal is both heart-breaking and inspiring.
Like a number of races over the week, the Diamond Jubilee didn’t quite play out as the clash we’d hoped for. Harry Angel ruined his chance in the stalls and well done for the BHA for coming on and explaining exactly what had happened.
It was a shame Redkirk Warrior couldn’t grab a fairytale success for Australia and City Light was touched off for France, but we still an international story with Merchant Navy’s success.
There were Australians everywhere in the paddock and the winners' enclosure, including his former trainer and Craig McLachlan lookalike Ciaron Maher, who gave a great interview afterwards. At least I had the cricket whitewash to fire back with.
On the track it wasn’t the most spectacular Royal Ascot ever – but it was a different story off it. It’s a meeting that’s just thriving, showcasing the best of British. The weather was perfect and her Majesty The Queen at the age of 92 shone like a beacon.
It’s a television monster for the team at ITV and I’d like thank each and every person involved who made it possible.
Presenting Royal Ascot is a thrill like no other.