The delights of Newmarket’s July meeting, Glorious Goodwood, York’s Ebor Festival and Doncaster’s St Leger jamboreee are just around the corner.
But for now, all eyes are on Royal Ascot and five days of the best racing in the world. Five days, from Tuesday to Saturday, that cannot be missed, whether you are with the Queen among the throngs on the Heath or sat in front of the TV.
Of course, the meeting is intrinsically linked to pomp, pageant and tradition. The Royal Enclosure is a top-hatted throwback to a bygone age.
Fashion, food, drink and socialising take priority for many, not to mention the chance to salute the royal procession and have a celebratory sing-song by the bandstand.
But most importantly, it is also the showcase of UK Flat racing. Most of the best horses trained in Britain and Ireland will be there, plus a smattering of challengers from Europe and overseas.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the occasion, prize money has escalated to a record total of £7.33 million. Not one of the 30 races is worth less than £90,000.
The meeting will be attended by about 300,000 people. It will be broadcast to 175 countries and reach 650 million households across the globe. Here, the action will unfold on ITV, who will broadcast from 1.30 pm to 6 pm every day, showing every race live. And for the first time, Sky Sports Racing (formerly At The Races) will also offer uninterrupted, wall-to-wall coverage.
As usual, the meeting is expected to be dominated by the big trainers, the big owners and the big jockeys. Aidan O’Brien has been leading trainer at Royal Ascot for eight of the last 12 years, although Sir Michael Stoute is now the winning-most handler in the history of the royal meeting with 79 winners, having passed the great Sir Henry Cecil last year. O’Brien has trained 65, while champion trainer John Gosden, with 47, and Mark Johnston, with 43, are always to be respected.
Leading jockey at Royal Ascot has been Ryan Moore for eight of the last nine years, including in 2014 when he booted home a record nine winners. With 53 successes, Moore is now only seven behind the incomparable Frankie Dettori in the all-time list.
On the owners’ front, it’s worth recalling the remarkable statistics from the last two Royal Ascots at which Coolmore were responsible for ten winners, 11 seconds and 11 thirds, while Godolphin sent out eight winners, nine seconds and nine thirds. That’s 58 of the 120 available top-three spots lapped up by the two behemoth operations.
The week’s extravaganza comprises 30 races, all dripping with quality, richly competitive, truly international and irresistible to the punting instincts of racing enthusiasts. There are no fewer than 19 Group races to get stuck into, including eight Groups Ones, all worth a minimum of £500,000, plus a host of captivating handicap puzzles.
The opening day on Tuesday features a blockbuster clash of three of the best sprinters in the business, BATTAASH, BLUE POINT and MABS CROSS, in the 5f King’s Stand Stakes.
Wednesday’s highlight is the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, which marks the return of brilliant Irish Oaks winner and Arc runner-up SEA OF CLASS.
In the Gold Cup, which comes halfway through the meeting on Thursday, STRADIVARIUS, trained by Gosden and ridden by Dettori, will be bidding to win the race for the second successive year.
Friday’s fare promises to be lit up by the 3yo sprinters in the Commonwealth Cup and by a duel between Guineas winners HERMOSA and CASTLE LADY in the Coronation Stakes.
And the headline act for a huge crowd on Saturday will be MASAR, in the Hardwicke Stakes, on his first appearance since landing the Derby at Epsom last summer.
As with the Cheltenham Festival, the search for winners entails hours of intense form-study, race-reviewing and the countenance of countless opinions. The task isn’t helped by the fact that the entries for many of the races are released ridiculously late, seriously marring the build-up to the week.
Adding to the head-scratching this year are the weather and the ground. Ascot was deluged by rain last week, and more is forecast on Tuesday into Wednesday. The meeting will probably start on a Goodish surface but it might well be considerably Softer come Gold Cup Day and Ladies’ Day on Thursday.
As if that wasn’t enough to rile punters, a planned train strike is threatening to disrupt travel plans for those with tickets for the course this week. Congestion and chaos invariably reign at Ascot station at the best of times during the royal meeting, so I fear the worst,
At least we roughly know now the shape and make-up of all 30 contests and to help set the scene for the week, I have come up with selections for each, complete with next-bests and each/way alternatives. All should be treated as potential winners. The timetable for when these selections will be posted can be found below.
Weather and trains permitting, enjoy what promises to be a memorable celebration of British horse racing. As Ascot’s own slogan says, it is a place like nowhere else.
TIMETABLE FOR RICHARD SILVERWOOD’S TIPS
Day One (Tuesday) will be posted at 9 pm Monday
Day Two (Wednesday) will be posted at 7 pm Tuesday
Day Three (Thursday) will be posted at 12 noon Thursday
Day Four (Friday) will be posted at 7 pm Thursday
Day Five (Saturday) will be posted at 12 noon Saturday.