There will be no Royal procession at Royal Ascot this year. The 220,000 finger sandwiches, 120,000 buttermilk scones, and 80,000 cups of tea consumed last year won’t be challenged this year. And the Royal Ascot purses took a royal trimming, sliced by 55% to £3.68 million from the planned £8.095 million announced last year.
But Royal Ascot proceeds in the coronavirus era, minus the 300,000 spectators, minus Queen Elizabeth II for the first time in her 68-year reign, and minus the pomp. The circumstance of winning one of the 36 races on the five-day card beginning Tuesday, however, remains a career-defining goal for owners, trainers, and jockeys alike.
Dating to 1711, when Queen Anne created Ascot, the Berkshire track is one of the most historic sporting venues in the world. The five-day Royal Ascot meet dates to 1911 when Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, King George V, bestowed Royal status on the meet. The meet offered six more races this year to accommodate more horses sidelined during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Regardless of the race, Royal Ascot features quality. There are eight Group (Grade) 1 races, headlined by Thursday’s Gold Cup. That 2 ½-mile marathon dates to 1807 and has the Queen on its winner’s roll. She became the first sitting monarch to win Royal Ascot’s featured race when Estimate prevailed in 2013. This year’s Gold Cup storyline centers on Stradivarius, who goes for his third consecutive Gold Cup title.
Royal Ascot Race Schedule
Tuesday, June 16
- 8:15 a.m. ET — The Buckingham Palace Handicap
- 8:50 a.m. ET — The Queen Anne Stakes (G1) — Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series (TVG Mile)
- 9:25 a.m. ET — The Ribblesdale Stakes (G2)
- 10:00 a.m. ET — The King Edward VII Stakes (G2)
- 10:35 a.m. ET — The King’s Stand Stakes (G1)
- 11:10 a.m. ET — The Duke of Cambridge Stakes (G2)
- 11:40 a.m. ET — The Ascot Stakes (Handicap)
Wednesday, June 17
- 8:15 a.m. ET — The Silver Royal Hunt Cup Handicap
- 8:50 a.m. ET — The Hampton Court Stakes (G3)
- 9:25 a.m. ET — The King George V Stakes (Handicap)
- 10:00 a.m. ET — The Prince of Wales’s Stakes (G1) — Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series (Longines Turf)
- 10:35 a.m. ET — The Royal Hunt Cup (Heritage Handicap)
- 11:10 a.m. ET — The Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed)
- 11:40 a.m. ET — The Copper Horse Handicap
Thursday, June 18
- 8:15 a.m. ET — The Golden Gates Handicap
- 8:50 a.m. ET — The Wolferton Stakes (Listed)
- 9:25 a.m. ET — The Jersey Stakes (G3)
- 10:00 a.m. ET — The Chesham Stakes (Listed)
- 10:35 a.m. ET — The Gold Cup (G1)
- 11:10 a.m. ET — The Britannia Stakes (Heritage Handicap)
- 11:40 a.m. ET — The Sandringham Stakes (Handicap)
Friday, June 19
- 8:15 a.m. ET — The Palace Of Holyroodhouse Stakes
- 8:50 a.m. ET — The Albany Stakes (G3)
- 9:25 a.m. ET — The Norfolk Stakes (G2) — Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series (Juvenile Turf Sprint)
- 10:00 a.m. ET — The Hardwicke Stakes (G2)
- 10:35 a.m. ET — The Commonwealth Cup (G1)
- 11:10 a.m. ET — The Queen’s Vase (G2)
- 11:40 a.m. ET — The Duke of Edinburgh Stakes (Handicap)
Saturday, June 20
- 7:40 a.m. ET — The Silver Wokingham Handicap
- 8:15 a.m. ET — The Queen Mary Stakes (G2)
- 8:50 a.m. ET — The Coronation Stakes (G1)
- 9:25 a.m. ET — The Coventry Stakes (G2)
- 10:00 a.m. ET — The St James’s Palace Stakes (G1)
- 10:35 a.m. ET — The Diamond Jubilee Stakes (G1) — Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series (Turf Sprint)
- 11:10 a.m. ET — The Wokingham Stakes (Heritage Handicap)
- 11:40 a.m. ET — The Queen Alexandra Stakes (Conditions)
Four Races Award Breeders’ Cup Entries
So what other storylines center on Europe’s richest racing meet? Start with the four races that earn winners spots in this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. Tuesday’s Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes gives the winner a spot in the Mile. Wednesday’s Group 1 Prince of Wales Stakes brings a ticket to the Turf, typically the second-most prestigious Breeders’ Cup race behind the Classic. Friday’s Group 2 Norfolk Stakes offers a spot in the Juvenile Turf. Finally, Saturday’s Group 1 Diamond Jubilee brings a spot in the Turf Spring.
Speaking of the Norfolk, that’s where you’ll find Golden Pal, one of American trainer Wesley Ward’s seven-horse string he brought to Royal Ascot. That group also includes standout filly sprinter Kimari, who runs against the boys in Friday’s Group 1 Commonwealth Cup. Ward, who owns 10 Royal Ascot victories, is the most prominent American trainer, but he has company with British expat Graham Motion.
Motion’s best chance to earn his first Royal Ascot victory comes with Sharing. Last year’s winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Sharing comes into Saturday’s Group 1 Coronation Stakes riding a four-race winning streak.
Royal Ascot Not as Kind to Favorites
Sharing is the likely favorite for the Coronation, which may not be a good thing. Typically, favorites win about 35% of UK races and 31% of Royal Ascot Group 1 races. Over the last five years at Royal Ascot, however, that figure drops to 27%. The handicaps are a particular favorite’s minefield, with only 23% crossing the wire first. This could drop even further going forward, since there are six new handicaps on the 2020 card.
And lest you think Royal Ascot experience gives horses a hoof up, think again. Last year, nearly 70% of Royal Ascot winners made their meet debut. If you take out the 2-year-olds, 61% of the 3-year-olds and up winners had never raced at Ascot.
Two other storylines involve trainers and jockeys. Those horseplayers looking for a trainer edge need look no further than Aidan O’Brien. The Irish standout has owned the meet’s champion-trainer title for the past five years, and for seven of the last nine, dating to 2011.
O’Brien Coming Up on the Outside
Only John Gosden (2012) and Sir Michael Stoute (2014) intruded on O’Brien’s dominance. O’Brien’s 70 career Royal Ascot winners trail only Stoute’s record of 81, and his seven winners in 2016 ties Sir Henry Cecil for the most wins at a single Royal meeting.
As for jockeys, watch Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore. Perennially the UK’s top pilot, Dettori owns a record 67 Royal Ascot winners. Moore, who won nine races in 2015 and five of the last six meet riding titles, is nine behind with 58.