Royal Ascot: there may be no spectators, but get set for thrills aplenty on day one

A taste of things to come: a lone member of the public looks on as the finishing touches are put to the racecourse ahead of the start of the Royal meeting tomorrow. There will be a few more spectators tomorrow, but not a lot. Photo: Edward Whitaker/Racing Post/

Royal Ascot 2020, which begins tomorrow (Tuesday), will be a Royal Ascot like no other. It is destined to go down in racing folklore as a truly unique occasion as, owing to coronavirus restrictions, one of the highlights of the British social calendar is taking place behind closed doors without any public admittance. 

For the first time, racing goes ahead with nobody enclosed in the Royal Enclosure, and the Royal Procession not proceeding anywhere. The National Anthem will, however, be played 15 minutes before the first race each day.

Six new races have been added to the programme, bringing the total up to 36 altogether and culminating in an eight-race card with three Group 1s on Saturday.

The running order has also been drastically altered. Tomorrow’s card, for instance, features three important Group 2s normally run later in the week (the Ribblesdale, the King Edward VII and the Duke of Cambridge). Centre stage on day one, though, belongs to two prestigious Group 1s – the five-furlong King’s Stand, for which the outstanding sprinter Battaash is odds-on, and the one-mile Queen Anne, which has attracted a field of 16 and promises to be a thriller.

    The Queen Anne, for 4-year-olds and upwards and part of the British Champions Series, also marks the first visit to Britain this year of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, which has four ‘Win and You’re In’ contests across the five-day meeting.

    Instead of taking its usual slot as Tuesday’s curtain-raiser at the head of a six-race card, this time the race is second on the menu after the revived Buckingham Palace Handicap over seven furlongs. 

    Prize-money has been cut across the board: all eight G1 contests are now worth £250,000 apiece. 

    Queen Anne Stakes: a bit of context

    History: founded in 1840 and commemorates the monarch who established racing at Ascot in 1711. Run as Trial Stakes until 1929. Elevated to G1 status in 2003.

    Star turn: Frankel (2012) – according to Timeform, a “career-defining” performance to beat Excelebration by 11 lengths. His Timeform rating of 147 is the highest in history, surpassing Sea-Bird’s 1965 Arc by 2lb.

    Most wins (trainer): Saeed Bin Suroor (7) Charnwood Forest (1996), Allied Forces (1997), Intikhab (1998), Cape Cross (1999), Dubai Destination (2003), Refuse to Bend (2004), Ramonti (2007).

    Most wins (jockey): Sir Gordon Richards (6) Sunderland (1925), Sundry (1927), Coldstream (1931), Fair Trial (1935), Pambidian (1949), Southborne (1952). Frankie Dettori (6) Markofdistinction (1990), Allied Forces (1997), Intikhab (1998), Dubai Destination (2003), Refuse To Bend (2004), Ramonti (2007).

    Breeders’ Cup Challenge

    The winner of the Queen Anne Stakes will receive an automatic fees-paid berth in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile at the two-day championships at Keeneland on November 6-7. A minimum travel allowance of $40,000 will also be provided for all starters based outside North America; the Challenge winner must already be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup programme or nominated by the pre-entry deadline of October 26 to receive the rewards.

    Already qualified (3): Vardy (L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, Kenilworth, South Africa). Raging Bull (Shoemaker Mile, Santa Anita), Gran Alegria (Yasuda Kinen, Tokyo)

    Breeders’ Cup past performance

    Won in the past by subsequent BC Mile winners Barathea (1994) and the great Goldikova (2010); other Queen Anne winners to have appeared in the BC Mile in recent years include Toronado (eighth) and Ribchester (fifth) plus last year’s victor Lord Glitters (ninth). Tepin won the Queen Anne for U.S.-based Mark Casse in 2016, having taken the Mile at Keeneland in the Breeders’ Cup the previous autumn.

    Kalanisi, who landed the Queen Anne in 2000, went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf, while 2013 winner Declaration Of War was narrowly beaten after being switched to dirt in the Classic.

    Top contenders for 2020

    Circus Maximus (Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore) – Ballydoyle’s dual G1-winning miler reappears for first time since coming fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile; scored here last year in St James’s Palace Stakes and likely to be a warm favourite.

    Terebellum (John Gosden/Frankie Dettori) – Godolphin’s 4yo filly looked an improved performer with impressive G2 victory at Newmarket on June 6.

    Mustashry (Sir Michael Stoute/Dane O’Neill) — Veteran gelding was only seventh last year after winning G1 Lockinge; one of three Sheikh Hamdan entries alongside lightly raced 4yo pair Mohaather and Turjomaan.

    Duke Of Hazzard (Paul & Oliver Cole/PJ McDonald) – new training partnership bids to get on Royal Ascot scoresheet with 4yo who won G2 Celebration Mile at Goodwood in August on most recent outing as he completed a summer hat-trick.

    What they say

    • Alan Cooper, racing manager to Flaxman Holdings, owners of Circus Maximus: “They say he is very well, so we hope he can live up to his billing. He should run a nice race. As we know it will be his first start for seven months, but Aidan is happy with him. I think he ran a good race at the Breeders’ Cup. There was a thought he might have finished third with a slightly clearer run but that’s history. We need to focus on going forward and hope he is going to have a good 4-year-old career.”
    • Francis Graffard, trainer of Plumatic: “It’s taken me a while to understand him but he needed the run badly first time out. He ran really well and he came on a lot for that. It’s a big challenge for him but he would like the stiff mile and the good ground. I can’t have him in better form. He is ready to give his best. Is he good enough, we will find out?”
    • William Haggas, trainer of Skardu: “He’s in good shape but I am just a bit worried he might be underdone. We have had a lot of time with him but he is taking some getting fit. He is fit enough to run. James Doyle has been very happy with his work but my feeling is I am not sure whether he is quite there yet.”
    • John Gosden, trainer of Terebellum: “Terebellum won well at Newmarket and has a lot of speed. I think a straight, stiff mile will suit her and she has been in great form since the Dahlia Stakes.”
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