Although Royal Ascot has maintained its June 16-20 dates in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting will have a different character thanks to the altered landscape.
It’s not just the pageantry of the Royal procession that will be missing. Nor that the British summer’s grandest party is converting to a spectator-less racing event, shorn of the social scene and fashionable elements that rivet the attention of the non-sporting public.
Rather, much of the racing itself at Royal Ascot 2020 will reflect the novel circumstances. Changes to the fixture schedule, the addition of six races, and the slashing of purses are the obvious alterations. But the context of the meeting is affected too. Trainers have had to adjust their typical manner of preparation, and the 3-year-old events now have a different relationship to the classics.
Flipping the script
Royal Ascot juggled its running order as a consequence of Great Britain’s overall revamped racing calendar. Because racing was shut down totally from March 18 until resuming June 1, the Flat season lost its normal rhythm of building up to the summer festivals.
The first British classics, the 2000 Guineas (G1) and 1000 Guineas (G1), were postponed a month to the first weekend in June. That was supposed to be the time for the Epsom Derby (G1) and Oaks (G1), now delayed to the first Saturday in July.
Classic aspirants are scrambling to get in rescheduled trials, unless they were Guineas runners always planning to go straight to Newmarket without preps. The 2-year-olds have a narrow window to race before Royal Ascot, while the handicappers have lost opportunities, and the Group-caliber older horses have lacked their usual menu of options as well.
Thus some fixtures had to be switched from their usual positions in the meeting, either brought forward to earlier in the week or pushed back later, to make the schedule more logical. Those hoping to make the Derby or Oaks need to go earlier, giving a slightly better turnaround time for Epsom, so the King Edward VII (G2) and Ribblesdale (G2) were moved up to the Tuesday opener. The Hampton Court (G3) was nudged to Wednesday.
On the other hand, 3-year-olds coming out of the Guineas as well as the 2-year-olds appreciate more time. The St James’s Palace (G1) and Coventry (G2) accordingly experienced the biggest change, pushed from Tuesday all the way to the Saturday finale. The blockbuster Saturday is enhanced by the fillies’ equivalent of the St James’s Palace, the Coronation (G1), and the Queen Mary (G2) for juvenile fillies. The Norfolk (G2), a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” for the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), is now on Friday.
Also switching spots in the chain reaction are the Duke of Cambridge (G2) (to Tuesday); the King George V (to Wednesday); the Wolferton S., Jersey (G3), Chesham S., and Sandringham (to Thursday); and the Queen’s Vase (G2) and Hardwicke (G2) (to Friday).
Several races remain on their customary days. The Queen Anne (G1) is still on Tuesday, but the “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) is no longer the meeting kickoff.
The Prince of Wales’s (G1), a Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) “Win and You’re In,” continues to serve as the Wednesday feature. The Windsor Castle S. also abides on Wednesday, which now makes it the first juvenile race of the meet. The Gold Cup (G1) is the Thursday highlight, and the Commonwealth Cup (G1) and Albany (G3) stay on Friday.
Likewise, the races that offer opportunities to turn historic doubles during the meeting remain fixed as bookends on opening and closing days. Sprinters can aim for Tuesday’s King’s Stand (G1) and Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). At the opposite end of the distance range are Tuesday’s Ascot S. and Saturday’s Queen Alexandra, holding its status as the meeting’s concluding event.
In addition to the Ascot S., each day’s marquee handicap adheres to its date — the Royal Hunt Cup H. on Wednesday, Britannia H. on Thursday, Duke of Edinburgh on Friday, and the Wokingham H. on Saturday.
Six-pack of new races
The six added races are all handicaps. One is actually a restoration, the Buckingham Palace H., which had been dropped from the schedule in 2015 but now serves as Tuesday’s first race.
Wednesday’s card includes two of the new events. The Silver Hunt Cup H. is a consolation for those who didn’t make the Royal Hunt Cup, and the Copper Horse H. follows for stayers. The Golden Gates H. for 3-year-olds is Thursday’s curtain raiser, while the Palace of Holyroodhouse H. for sophomore sprinters leads off Friday. Saturday offers another consolation, the Silver Wokingham H., for those who missed out on the heritage handicap later on the card.
Earlier post times
With seven races now on the schedule Tuesday through Friday, first post is earlier at 8:15 a.m. (ET). Eight races are on tap Saturday, prompting a still-earlier kickoff at 7:40 a.m. (ET).
Here’s the complete running order by day: