Anything but Normal as Royal Ascot Runs Next Week
Since 1711, when Queen Anne decided that Ascot was the perfect place to allow horses to gallop at full stretch, the Royal Meeting at Ascot has been the highlight of the ‘social season’ in Great Britain, famous for its attendance of Royalty, horse racing and fashion. This year the meeting, like so many other events has been decimated by the corona pandemic and it has taken some serious efforts and re-jigging to have the event take place at all.
By this time next week, the 2020 Royal Ascot meeting will be in full flow, but uniquely the whole event being run behind closed doors. However it works out, it will be a very strange experience for owners, (who currently will not be allowed to attend) trainers and jockeys (who will under very strict rules), never mind the public, as the nearest they will get to Ascot will be on television. It is understood that The Royal Family will watch the racing on TV like everyone else, so the major iconic Royal Carriage procession down the course before racing each day, started by King George IV in 1825, is gone. The Queen has attended the Royal meeting every year since 1945. Top hats and tails, together with the amazing creations, particularly hats, of the fairer sex have also been dumped. It will certainly be the most bazaar Royal Ascot ever. In fact, the only thing normal will be the actual races this year, although, rather than 30 races run over five days, there will be 36 races over the five days.
ITV racing will be broadcasting all five days and no doubt the producers and presenters will come up with some novel ideas of how to spice things up a little with virtual fashion shows, their ridiculous ‘social stable’ will no doubt be utilised to extreme and we learn that they have other tricks up their sleeves to entertain the viewing public! All we hope is that they do not try to make some sort of crass entertainment show out of it, thus denigrating what is the most iconic annual British week of racing.
The history of The Royal Meeting is long and varied. As already stated, Queen Anne started the meeting in 1711. The racecourse was originally at East Cote, but the name East Cote was changed to Ascot. The famous green coats, worn by the officials and stewards were introduced in 1744, and it is thought that they were originally made from curtains from the Royal palaces. By 1752, the meeting had become very popular and other attractions like juggling, ladies on stilts and ‘freak’ shows were introduced.
In 1807, the first Gold Cup was run and is still run this day and is one of the oldest races in the world. In 1813, parliament passed The Act of Enclosure, thus securing the venue as a racecourse and a law which still exists today. In 1822, King George IV commissioned a two storey stand to be built with a lawn at the front. This became the ‘Royal Enclosure’ and you were only allowed in after a personal invitation from the King. The tradition of the Royal Carriage Procession down the straight mile started in 1825. In 1843, Fred Archer won the first of his 80 victories at the Royal Meeting at the tender age of just 14. In 1910, Ascot still went ahead, despite the very recent death of King Edward VII, a very keen race goer, and everyone had to wear black. Ladies were allowed flowers in their hats though. It was known at ‘Black Ascot’. In 1913, through another Act of Parliament, the Ascot Authority was born with a particular person appointed as the monarch’s representative, and this arrangement has never changed. In 1934, one of the meeting’s most
famous runners, Brown Jack, won his seventh Alexandra Stakes in a row – a feat never achieved since. In 1993, the great jockey, Lester Piggott raced for the last time at the Royal meeting. He won 116 races over 41 years of riding including 11 Gold Cups – a feat that no other jockey has come anywhere near. In 2005, the Royal Meeting was held at York as the grandstand at Ascot built in 1961 was completely redesigned and re-built for its first use in 2006. In recent years, The Royal Meeting has become a magnet to foreign trained horses and riders, where they have had some success and now the whole meeting is recognised as one of the, if not the most international and prestigious horse race meetings of the year in the world. The Royal Meeting has only been cancelled three times in its long and illustrious history; in 1916 and 1940 due to the First and Second World Wars and in 1964, when the course was completely waterlogged and completely un-ridable.
In normal times, Royal Ascot is one of my favourite weeks of the year. The most exciting year for me was 2006, when Papal Bull won the King Edward VII Stakes, a colt my wife and I bred in 2003. As a foal, Papal Bull gave us no real indication that he just might be a serious race horse. Like his mother, when wound up, he had a ‘quirky temperament’. Basically, he was bad tempered little shit and difficult all his time in training, although he never showed this as a foal, nor when he went to stud. I was personally involved with other winners at Royal Ascot including my mother’s home bred Gentilhombre, who won the then Cork and Orrery Stakes in 1973, but now known as the Commonwealth Cup.