Royal Ascot is underway this year, and a bumper programme will feature 36 races over five days from Tuesday 16 June through to Saturday 20 June.
But for the first time in its 250+ year history, Royal Ascot will take part behind closed doors following government advice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, since becoming a ‘royal week’ in 1911, following the first ever race founded by Queen Anne in 1711, Royal Ascot will not be open to visitors. That means no Royal procession, no morning suits or millinery and for the first time in her 68-year reign, no Queen.
However the programme will feature a number of alterations with six extra races added across the five days. There will be seven races staged on the first four days, with eight on the final card on Saturday.
The extra races added include the Copper Horse Handicap (14f, 4yo+), the Golden Gates Handicap (10f, 3yo) and the Palace of Holyroodhouse Handicap (5f, 3yo). Ladies Day is always on the Thursday and the highlight is the Gold Cup running at 3.35pm. The St James’s Palace Stakes and Coronation Stakes have been moved to the final day and the programme ends with the last race taking place at 4.40pm.
So, news from the race track is that punters are definitely up after the first days racing.
Frankie Dettori had an easy win but did not hold on to his luck on the second day, losing out to Ryan Moore on the Aiden O’Brien trained Russian Emperor in the Hampton Court Stakes. Moore now has 60 Royal Ascot winners under his belt as he took the lead in the dying minutes of the race, making him a firm favourite for the Derby.
In Thursday’s big race the Royal Ascot Gold Cup, John Gosden trained Stradivarius will face seven rivals when he looks to become the only horse ever to win the on three consecutive years. Dettori will be racing the favourite and he will be looking to beat his own historic four-timer on Thursday last year.
With main challenger Kew Garden ruled out of the Gold Cup, nearest rivals trying to stop Gosden’s triple cup party are Cross Counter and Technician who are both rated within 9lb of the six-year old.
On Friday the spotlight will be on American trainer Wesley Ward who is aiming for an 11th Royal Ascot win and Kimari is his big hope racing in the 15.35 Royal Ascot Commonwealth Cup for three-year-old sprinters.
The Royal Ascot Coronation Stakes is one of three featured races on Saturday, heading the Group-One triple header it sees US contender Sharing and home hope Quadrilateral among the starting line-up. Next up, The Royal Ascot St. James’s Palace Stakes features the 2,000 Guineas runner-up Wichita and third placed Pinatubo take on each other again. And finally, Sceptical is the one to watch in the Royal Ascot Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Visitors are not the only losers at this year’s meeting, as prize money has been cut by more than half because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Organisers had said late last year that they hoped to offer a record breaking prize fund of more than £8million but as Guy Henderson, Chief Executive, explained “some 70% of our annual income comes from public admissions, including hospitality, and producing in excess of £3.5m in prize money in the current circumstances would not have been possible without the support and commitment of our wonderful partners.
“This year was set to be a landmark year for Royal Ascot prize money. However, these unprecedented times have intervened” Mr Henderson concluded.
Although not allowed to attend the racecourse, racing fans will however be able to watch all races on Sky Sports Racing whilst ITV1 will broadcast from Ascot from 1:30pm each day.
And with betting shops due to reopen in England on 15 June it will be the first time racing enthusiasts have had the opportunity to place a wager on a race since the middle of March.
Let’s hope it is the beginning of the new normal going forward.