It’s the event around which Her Majesty the Queen structures her year, the week that lures thoroughbred champions from around the world, the week that pits the best against the best and makes heroes and champions.
Robert Kieckhefer writes that it evolved long before the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, World Cup night in Dubai, the Turf World Championships in Hong Kong — in fact, centuries before any of those.
Yes, indeed. It’s the Royal Meeting at Ascot, a short train ride west from London and a long trip back in time. Racing was first conducted at the site in 1711 and that heritage is honored to this day.
The meeting starts Tuesday and runs through Saturday, with eight Group 1 races scattered throughout and plenty more action elsewhere on the card. Fashion counts, too, especially in the Royal Enclosure where the Queen alights from her carriage each day and pays close attention to the racing. As well she might. As keen a horsewoman as she is steadfast a monarch, Queen Elizabeth II has owned 23 Royal Ascot winners, dating back to 1952.
William Haggas (pictured above), who admits to having “a lot of horses for Her Majesty the Queen,” said at the event preview, “I’ve had no luck for her at Royal Ascot yet. But to try and win a race there would be big stuff for us and we try hard to do so.” He will field the Queen’s Magnetic Charm in the Coronation Stakes and Seniority in the Royal Hunt Cup.
While it started as a very upper-crust English exercise, Royal Ascot has spread its wings globally and this year expects runners from Japan, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand. American horses are expected to perform each day, a credit to trainer Wesley Ward, who pioneered large-scale U.S. involvement at Royal Ascot and recently told Daily Racing Form, “This is the highlight of my year.”
As in most recent years, global powerhouse owners Coolmore, from Ireland, and Godolphin, based in Dubai, will trade punches day in and day out. The colors of racing’s most powerful — and wealthy — owners will be on display, among them The Aga Khan, Prince Faisal Bin Khaled Al Saud, Sheik Hamdan Al Maktoum, Khalid Abdullah, Qatar Racing, Phoenix Thoroughbreds, Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber, the Wertheimer family,Princess Haya of Jordan, George Strawbridge and many others.
Despite the royalty and wealth, it’s far from unknown for an unheralded owner or syndicate to land a race or two and greet the Queen.
Top riders from around the globe, including 60-time Royal Ascot winner Frankie Dettori and Coolmore’s top rider, Ryan Moore, will be on hand, although the Godolphin bunch will miss jockey William Buick, who is recovering from injury.
Things get cracking as soon as Her Majesty gets settled with three Group 1 events on Tuesday.
The Queen Anne Stakes at 1 mile, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, is the day’s first event, followed by two of the most-watched races of the week, the 5-furlongs cavalry charge of the King’s Stand Stakes and the St James’s Palace Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 mile.
The King’s Stand promises to be another showdown between rivals Battaash and Blue Point — arguably the world’s best sprinters. American trainer Joe Orsino will saddle Imprimis, winner of seven of his nine starts and victor in the Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland in his most recent start.
Orseno said Imprimis’ owners “had Shang Shang Shang, who won the Norfolk Stakes for Wesley Ward last year. They had such a marvelous time here and they thought that if Imprimis was good enough, then it was worth coming.”
The St. James’s Palace features the 1-2 finishers from the Group 1 Irish 2,000 Guineas, Phoenix of Spain and Too Darn Hot.
The Prince of Wales’s Stakes highlights Day 2. That’s for 4-year-olds and up at just shy of 1 1/4 miles. The early favorite is Magical, who came home second in last fall’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs. The 2018 Derby winner, Masar, makes his long-delayed return to the races and Crystal Ocean is expected in a fabulous field. Japanese galloper Deirdre also is highly regarded here.
The Prince of Wales’s, a “Win and You’re In” event for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf, shares billing with the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes for 2-year-olds and the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.
The middle day of the meeting is Gold Cup Day and features, naturally, the 2 1/2-miles Gold Cup — one of the world’s premier races for stayers. Stradivarius, who ran the table in British distance races last year, will be a heavy favorite to repeat in this year’s renewal.
Wednesday opens with the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, and also includes the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/2 miles.
Day 4 has a pair of Group 1 events, the Coronation Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 mile and the Commonwealth Cup for 3-year-olds at 6 furlongs.
Saturday’s Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes bookends the King’s Stand as a showcase for the sprinting crowd. Perhaps the best chance for Ward from his 10 projected starters during the week comes in the Diamond Jubilee, where Bound for Nowhere will try to improve on last year’s third-place finish in which he was beaten only 3/4 length after leading most of the way. This heat is a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
Saturday’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes has attracted 2017 Japan Cup winner Cheval Grand as well as this year’s Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck.
Masar, winner of the 2017 Derby, also is nominated intended to go instead in the Prince of Wales’s, according to trainer Charlie Appleby.
And then, suddenly, it’s over. See you again when the royal carriages roll in 2020.