Other than the Cheltenham Festival and the Saturday of Grand National week, few horse racing meetings really get the juices flowing in the UK quite like Royal Ascot.
The race is on to be named the next Prime Minister – Esther McVey, Angela Leadsom and Mark Harper have fallen at the first hurdle, with Boris Johnson leading the way after the first lap of the track.
But there’s much more at stake at Ascot next week than merely the chance to run the country in a mad post-Brexit world; there’s kudos, prize money and the chance to impress thousands of race-goers that include the Queen herself. Lizzie has attended every day of the meeting since 1964, and you can catch her in the Royal Procession each day.
Unfortunately, it’s not all gone swimmingly in the preparations for this year’s five day event, which kicks off on Tuesday and runs through until Saturday.
If you’re in the UK then you have probably been blasted with rain at some point in the past week or so. Some parts have escaped the worse of the weather, but Ascot and that Greater London area has been hit with something of a deluge. That has softened the going somewhat, and that changes the nature of the meeting as far as the betting is concerned – more on that later.
And, annoyingly for punters travelling to the course from the local area, a train worker’s strike has laid waste to travel plans and looks like it might derail the festivities somewhat.
Train in Vain
If you plan on travelling to Ascot from the Reading or Greater London area, you might want to re-think your travel plans.
South West Railway (SWR), responsible for the train network in the area, have confirmed that many of their staff members will be going on strike for the duration of the festival.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has confirmed that their talks with the SWR have fallen flat, with staff concerned about cutbacks in the number of guards on each train and thus the safety of customers on board.
Hopes for a late-in-the-day compromise have failed, up to press, and so the strike action will go ahead as planned.
That means that a skeleton rail service will be running, with occasional trains between Waterloo and Reading – beware, this is a commuter line too – and, at other times, the dreaded rail replacement bus service.
Ascot’s director of racing and communications, Nick Smith, said: “We will communicate with customers if there’s no resolution and we’re in regular discussion with SWR.
“They will be putting in contingency plans and, from our perspective, the advice to customers will be that if they travel by train there will be delays and congestion.”
He also suggested that anyone attending Ascot from the affected area should try and drive in, with more car parks opened to meet the expected demand. And keep your eyes peeled to the SWR website, as they are updating with the latest travel arrangements as they come in.
Top Notch Racing by Royal AppointmentWith five days and 30 races to enjoy, there’s something for everyone at Royal Ascot.
The racecourse dates back to 1711, if you can believe that, when Queen Anne decided she wanted a high-class venue not a million miles from Buckingham Palace.
The festival as we know it today began in 1911, with the trademark royal procession in a horse-drawn cart an annual tradition ever since.
Some 300,000 punters will make their way to Ascot across the five days, with ore than £7 million in prize money up for grabs for some of the finest horses, jockeys, trainers and owners in the business.
Tuesday is a fantastic way to start off the action, with the Queen Anne Stakes – made famous by Frankel’s dominance, supported by the King’s Stand Stakes (one of the best sprint races on the planet) and the St James’s Palace Stakes.
Wednesday is a bit more laidback, but there’s still the Group 1 action of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, which the likes of Connaught and Muhtarram have won o two separate occasions.
Thursday sees the Ascot Gold Cup, the premier flat race for stayers, with a purse of a cool half-a-million up for grabs. It was won four years in a row by Yeats, before the Queen’s own Estimate took the spoils in 2013. The reigning champion, Stradivarius, could take some beating.
Friday features a stacked race card, with half-dozen renewals at Group 2 or higher. Highlights include the King Edward VII Stakes, the Commonwealth Cup – only in existence since 2015 but already a favourite, and the Coronation Stakes, which dates back to the 19th century.
Finally, Saturday sees off Royal Ascot with a competitive set of renewals headlined by the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, one of the pre-eminent sprint contests in world racing.