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Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Marsha makes it an afternoon to remember for King and company

Ena King (right) looks forward to Marsha's tilt at the King's Stand Stakes
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It's not often that the spirit of the FA Cup third round comes to Royal Ascot - and it's not often that the part-timers are favourites to see off the mega-rich professionals.

But it's not often that you get a filly like Marsha, high-class flagship of the Elite Racing Club, a group that has been bringing the thrill of bloodstock ownership and breeding to those without bottomless pockets for a quarter of a century.

At lunchtime on Tuesday, the multi-millionaires of Coolmore and Godolphin, Qatar Racing and Al Shaqab, are doubtless ensconced somewhere exclusive, carefully poring over an afternoon's action and discussing its possible impact on their huge empires.

Yet they will not be half so excited - or having a quarter as much fun - as the souls enjoying the sunshine in their three marquees on the Silks Lawn, a furlong up the course.

Then again, the 148 of them on the lawn do have the odd concern, albeit things that probably don't register with the Magniers and Maktoums.

Robert Nobes, a bricklayer from Newark, has his thoughts on the site back home and says: "I hope my son and the rest of the gang are working hard."

The mind of John Birkett, a GP, is on the practice back in Weston-Super-Mare, as he explains: "I don't have lot of time to myself but I worked Monday instead so I could come today."

It's those who need to take a day off work to come racing, rather than the independently wealthy, to whom the £199 a year club makes its appeal.

There are currently around 9,000 members, people like Nobes who says: "I wanted the experience of owning horses but I didn't really have the money. A doctor I quizzed against was always talking about Soviet Song and Elite Racing - I kept meaning to join then one day I said 'I'm going to do it' and I've not looked back since."

He shares a table with David Skaith, an electrician from Newark, who says: "I had always looked over the rails and fancied being the one talking to the trainer and the jockey.

"I was one of the lucky ones who was at Catterick two years ago when Marsha ran her second race.

"There were 12 of us and one of the others asked the jockey which horse he was frightened and he said 'none of them, just herself'. She won well and I thought she was something special from that day."

That special filly has since gone on to land the Prix de l'Abbaye at Chantilly, to put up a high-class performance to defy a penalty in the Palace House Stakes to Newmarket and attract Ena King and her daughter Sarah up to Ascot from the west country for the first time.

"It looks very smart," says Ena, who is 79 next month and is retired, having spent 35 years training driving instructors - "It was most enjoyable but you have got to be on the ball," she remembers.

This trip was booked in the depths of winter - you'd expect foresight like that from a woman prescient enough to have backed Foinavon for the 1967 Grand National.

And she is not about to desert her heroine, predicting: "Marsha is definitely going to win, I believe in her. We went to see her in Newmarket last year, she looked full of herself and I was really impressed."

Nobes is just as bullish about the homebred filly, whose success is a fine tribute to club's breeding operation, saying: "I think she'll win as long as she gets a decent passage through and Luke Morris can find the gaps."

As it turned out, Morris would have needed to find rocket boosters rather than gaps to cope with Lady Aurelia, but there were no recriminations on the Silks Lawn after the race.

"She's run third and that's good for Ascot," Ena King says. "And we've had a good day - I'm glad we came." 


King's Stand Stakes result and analysis

I had always looked over the rails and fancied being the one talking to the trainer and the jockey
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