What does it say about the equestrian world that whatever event you go to there are always several different bars on offer, serving everything from champagne to cider?
More importantly, there is always one particular bar at every venue which is The Bar to be in.
It’s where you will hear all the gossip; rub shoulders with the millionaires who can afford the best eventers, show jumpers and racehorses, and even catch the star riders and their groupies in an informal moment.
Where: at Ascot, the Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef bars; Cheltenham’s Arkle bar; Barrie Cope’s Seafood Bar, underneath the Hampshire stand at Newbury.
Who and Why: at Royal Ascot, the Brigadier Gerard and the Mill Reef get taken over by stiletto-heeled “It girls” because they are overlooked by the press gallery as well as being alongside the entrance to the Royal box, meaning that you can get photographed, see The Queen and have a drink all without actually having to walk. Footballers’ wives at the Chester and York spring meetings are following suit, but at most racecourses expect a fug and lots of trainers and owners trying to overhear each other’s conversations.
What to drink: Pimm’s Royale for Royal Ascot, otherwise just boring old champagne.
What to say: if it’s Royal Ascot, say: “Of course the Queen Mother could always get away with powder blue, but not with your complexion, darling.” Otherwise stick to: “I’m sure the going’s changing”.
What not to say: “I’m just off to the Tote to make a bet.” (Those in the know have a private account).
Where: at Cowdray it’s the wooden pavilion (aka shed) between Ambersham one and two grounds. When Guards hosts the Cartier International meeting, the sponsor’s marquee is full of American film stars promoting their latest movie, or there’s the Chinawhite club’s tent for the B-list.
Who and Why: players flattering sponsors, sponsors flattering stars, middle-aged rockers.
What to drink: Pimm’s for picnics, otherwise anything with fruit in it, for example, Banana Daiquiri, Strawberry Margherita.
What to say: “Can you stand up long enough to tread in the divots?”
What not to say: “What did you do during the Falklands War?”
Where: Sponsors’ tents – notoriously the Blackthorn Cider tent at the Royal Bath & West. At the CLA Game Fair try to look as if you can afford to buy an Asprey silver toothpick or a Holland & Holland handkerchief and you might get in on the complimentary champagne. Who and Why: mums and daughters; the Young Farmers (girlfriends division) – as most county shows are still weekday-biased, Dads and eligible millionaires tend to be at work. The best social life is in the evenings among the exhibitors.
What to drink: cider (anywhere west of Swindon), real ale.
What to say: “I’ve persuaded Al Quaeda to take out a hit on Tony Blair.”
What not to say: “What’s wrong with all going draghunting?”
Where: the corner bar of the Hamptons International Garden Club at Gatcombe; the members’ food arcade at Burghley.
Who and why: dogs and their owners at Gatcombe (due to the cleverly situated dog trough); shopped-out equibabes at Burghley.
What to drink: water (if you are a dog or sensible), otherwise rose champagne.
What to say: “Isn’t Pippa Funnell incredible?” works universally.
What not to say: “Do they event because they’re not good enough to specialise in one thing?”
Where: Birmingham Hilton Metropole hotel all night every night of Horse of the Year Show; the members’ champagne bar upstairs at Olympia; the stable field at Royal International and Hickstead Derby.
Who and Why: for the hottest action, just follow the grooms; the red carpet area between the boxes and the champagne bar at Olympia (follow that Christmas tree) is where you can star-spot show jumping’s celebrity groupies box-walking.
What to drink: champagne, beer, wine, anything you won in an earlier class, anything that’s available.
What to say: “Is that a long two or short three between one and two?”
What not to say: “Harvey Smith could still beat any of this lot.”
Where: The Ringside Bar underneath the sales ring at Tattersalls, especially the October Part One sale (now merged with the Houghton Sale); the grooms’ block cafeteria at Ascot Sales.
Who and Why: More Arabs than you can sheik a stick at, preparation yard consignors, agents, trainers, owners, breeders and journalists, all going round in gangs (one of each category per gang) and %glaring at each other.
What to drink: orange juice (Arab contingent); Guinness (the breeders); champagne (bloodstock agents); tea (national hunt stores buyers).
What to say: “I’m not sure if Rock Of Gibralter can reproduce his form,” or alternatively: “I’m not sure if Manchester United can reproduce their form.” What not to say: The above. Particularly when surrounded by large contingents of Scots or Irishmen.