After a prolonged Covid-induced delay, racing was finally back at Goodwood — and with full attendance. Arriving at the racecourse for Ladies’ Day, it was the first time in a long while that I’d heard the shouts of “need any tickets, buy any spares” as touts sought to fleece ticketless punters. Once inside, it was like going back in time, with masses of people dressed in their finery for a long overdue day at the races.
Traditionally, Thursday is the glamour day of the five-day long Qatar Goodwood Festival, with the ladies’ sporting big hats and fascinators and the men going head to toe with them in panamas and brightly coloured blazers. What no one was wearing, however, were masks. Indeed, with the exception of the odd sanitiser station, you’d never have thought we were still in the midst of a global pandemic. Apart from the crowds, just seeing people kissing and shaking hands still looked a little off. But after such a long time away, it was clear everyone was here to have a good time.
The weather also played its part, with the sun shining for most of the day. Racing wise, Ladies’ Day began with the traditional charity race. The Magnolia Cup is the most glamorous race of the festival, with the female jockeys wearing silks created by designer Bella Freud. This year’s race saw a first, with two riders finishing in a dead heat.
In past years, the winning jockey received their prize from the likes of Tom Cruise (2014) and prima ballerina Darcey Bussell (2016). At this year’s celebrity-free Ladies’ Day, however, they had to be content with former Prime Minister, David Cameron’s wife.
Beyond the absence of famous faces, something else missing from the festival was an Instagrammable backdrop. We’ve had it once before, back in 2015, when there was a rather impressive red flower wall near the entrance where photos could be taken. Personally, I think this is a huge missed opportunity for Goodwood, as there aren’t any photo-friendly backdrops anywhere on the racecourse.
That being said, if you looked hard enough you’d have found one within ine Whispering Angel rosé bar, which featured a beautiful sculpted pink wall.
Speaking of pink, this was the prevailing colour of this year’s Ladies’ Day, worn in many shades by lots of women. As far as the men were concerned, the primary colour they were wearing was bright blue.
Quite a few racegoers were wearing panamas, the straw hat so associated with Glorious Goodwood ever since King Edward VII wore one to the festival back in 1906. Surprisingly, for such a commercially astute business as Goodwood, they missed out big time this year. Not only has the Racing Colours retail shop disappeared, but the only merchandise area I saw was sequestered within the March stand and had a very small product range.
And what’s happened to the corsages? In previous years, punters could choose a complimentary button hole from boxes of beautiful roses, but I never saw any this year.
The prestige race of the day, was the Group 1, Qatar Nassau Stakes. First run in 1840,it now features a whopping £600,000 prize money. The winning mare, Lady Bowthorpe, ridden by Kieran Shoemark, collected £267,000 for her owner Emma Banks.
While the 2021 Ladies’ Day may have lacked some of the glamour of previous years, I think I speak for many, when I say it was great to be back at Goodwood.
Behind the shot: All these images were taken handheld with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 using the M Zuiko 1.8 75mm lens. For me, the biggest challenge photographically was trying to get candid portraits against an unfussy backdrop, something that proved exceptionally difficult this year. I also wanted to avoid having subjects looking straight down the lens as those type of portraits often look like Instagram snaps. Shot at Goodwood Racecourse on 29 July 2021.
About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens. With no concerts or major events taking place during lockdown, Gary turned his attention to creatively capturing the landscapes of West Sussex. On the writing side, he has also penned deep dives into some of his favourite songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople. Most recently he has written a biography of Robert Palmer. All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and interviews with musicians.