On Saturday I dusted off my glad rags, put on my sky high heels and lashed on the red lipstick as a trip to the gee-gees was on the cards.
Down Royal, which has an impressive history that dates back to 1685, is the ultimate place to visit if you want to experience the buzz of horse racing in Northern Ireland. With the hotly contested JNWine.com Champion Race, the first Grade 1 race of the Hunt Season, and the even more competitive Victoria Square Best Dressed Lady competition, the November Festival of Racing really is the pinnacle of Down Royal’s racing calendar and I was very excited to be invited along this year by Lighthouse Communications.
As my colleague, Leticia Alvarez, and I headed to our meeting point at Coco, Belfast, we stumbled across filming for the BBC series Line of Duty, witnessing a high speed police chase through the side streets that run between Bedford Street and Linenhall Street. I am a fan of the show so my inner nerd was positively delighted to have finally spotted some of the influx of filming taking place across the city.
After that bit of drama we made it to Coco where we met fashionista and blogger extraordinaire, Louise Vance, who was rocking a stunning Julien Macdonald for Debenhams headpiece, as well as the lovely Alyson English and Carly Rodgers from Lighthouse Communications. After an ice cold glass of Prosecco at Coco, it was time to head to the racecourse, where we met the rest of our party; Downtown Radio’s Siobhan McGarry, Q Radio’s Cate Conway, and Lighthouse Communications’ Amy O’Donnell.
As we arrived at the Beef or Salmon Suite, lunch, which was prepared by Down Royal’s new catering partner, French Village, was just being served. I don’t have enough superlatives to do this meal justice, but trust me, it was delicious. Consisting of a chicken and apricot terrine to start, a succulent and tender Irish fillet for main and a buttermilk panacotta with a yellow man, lemon and poppy seed biscuit for dessert; every dish was expertly prepared and every bite burst with flavour.
Once our appetites were satisfied, it was on to the serious business of betting. I won’t lie, I don’t have a clue how to tell a champion horse from a donkey, so I was more than happy when it was suggested our table did a betting kitty. As we made our first bet on All The Answers, we headed outside to watch the race and soak up the atmosphere. I have only been to the races once before, and the rush of excitement you feel when the horses thunder past does not get old. As the horses passed the finish line there was a giddy elation as our horse placed third and we realised we were in the money.
After some more wins, and unfortunately some losses, it was time for the last bet. With money on Clara Sorrento and Run For Dave, we finished up with winnings of £76.50. Whilst we broke even with our jackpot, the real winner of the day was Cleo Parkinson who was named Victoria Square’s Best Dressed Lady. In a stunning two piece velvet suit from Top Shop, paired with an outstanding headpiece by Lori Muldoon, Cleo oozed a unique style and was a totally deserving winner of the holiday of a lifetime to Cape Town.
As if we hadn’t had enough entertainment during the day, Disco Beard, a band I’ve only recently discovered but absolutely love, played a set in the Beef or Salmon Suite. From Scooter and B*Witched to Michael Jackson, the superbly talented duo had the dance floor packed.
As the evening came to a close, we got a taxi back to Belfast followed by a night cap in Rita’s. After my first, but definitely not last, French Martini in this venue, it was time to head for home. I had an absolute ball at Down Royal. The experience is something I couldn’t recommend more, and whether you are a racing expert or a fashionista, a day at the races offers something for all. And with several entry levels, from the Grand stands to the hospitality suites, it is also incredibly accessible. For now, I’m going to brush up on my betting techniques, and who knows, a trip to the Boxing Day races could be on the cards!