The Grand Military Cup (and its sister meeting in February, The Royal Artillery Cup) is a race for horses owned by military folk and ridden by military folk. So, naturally, at Sandown on those days, there is a lot of military folk. By which I mean officers. Mainly. By which of course I mean men. Mainly. Men, with identical haircuts, dress-sense and accents. By which I mean posh ones. Mainly. (Not entirely. Our parsing of her military initials had us assuming that one of the jockeys, Jody Sole, was a Lieutenant Brigadier, but she turned out to be a Lance Bombardier. Male also. Who cares, she won.)
Speaking of the jockeys, Iain and I used to come every year to have a side-bet on which fence Captain Dominic Alers-Hankey would fall off at, and to shout “hurrah, hussar, hurrah” at whomever won, like the London vagrants we remain at heart. That’s how I remember it anyway, though a quick Wikipedia check shows that dear old Alers-Hankey actually won it twice. And I do remember it being wall-to-wall 20oz tweed, whatever that is, but we were always in the Grandstand whereas this time we were in the Premier Club or whatever it is called, the main differences being that it costs a few quid more, there’s some welcome plush seating for old legs, it’s where the champagne bar sells bottles for £420, and it’s full of first class passengers.
Which, in this case, here today, meant middle England. After the second race Mike said to me, “I’ve never been at a sporting event with so many posh people”. Then again, he is from Manchester. Strictly Grammar. And we were now oiks at Public School. For it was true. The Premier enclosure was a different world. The Grandstand is full of geezers down from London for a dodgy day off at the races, ranging from young lager-necking city boys in cheap suits to grizzled old form students backing Gary Moore runners blind and screaming “Come on my Babby” when their bet jumps the last in the lead. Yes, Ok, that’s me. (A fat old Bristolian shouted it from the rafters the first time I ever went to Eastville Dogs and there and then I decided I would take that flame and carry it with me and I always have. Sometimes even without winning.)
Anyway, there’s a ritual on Grand Military Cup day. I’ve no idea when it started – 1841 for all I know. The running of the hounds. The Master of the Hunt and his sidekick, Lord Fortescue Bothering-Heigham, bring the pack up to the Premier enclosure, blow their horns, and do some other big mystical olde English juju, before the Master, astride his stallion, takes his hat off and bows to the massed ranks, of officers and their garlanded National Hunting fraternity. Who cheer. And applaud. And applaud. And cheer. A lot. Then the dogs run down the track, dreaming of sex and freedom and a nice wee fox to rip to pieces. For it is genetic. No?
Meanwhile. in the Grandstand, not a word, not a cheer. People barely notice this alliance of Middle England, these happy few of Jumps and Army, this howl for tradition, for God’s Ordered Universe, for Torydom, for Harry and England, for the right to dress up in silly clothes and rip a fox to pieces for the mere fun of it. Then again, in the Grandstand, them, they were all pissed.
Two enclosures. Two classes. Same race. Different world.