Will the public be allowed back to Royal Ascot?

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So far, “it’s still a waiting game for us,” in the words of Nick Smith, Director of Racing at Ascot. The course has no intention to postpone its original starting date of June 15th for the season’s most prestigious race. That date is just a week short of the forecasted deadline of June 21st when all restrictions due to the epidemics should be lifted. Now, so many fans planning to bet on Royal Ascot would certainly like to attend the race physically. They would love to enjoy the sight of Queen Elizabeth opening the event on each of the five days of races, riding in her open carriage, and heading the royal procession. The British royal family, other royals from several countries, the aristocracy, and other VIPs have always delighted the public’s eyes at the beginning of each day of Ascot races, defiling in open carriages in the Parade Ring and showing off their haute couture attires.

Always… until a small virus turned the world upside down. In June 2020, not even the Queen was allowed to attend.  One of her horses (she owns many of them), Tactical, ridden by jockey James Doyle, earned a length-and-a-quarter victory in the Windsor Castle Stakes. Before that, Her Majesty’s First Receiver, ridden by Frankie Dettori, placed second in the Hampton Court Stakes. But the beloved monarch had to watch in on television, for the first time in 68 years, submitting to lockdown restrictions like all her subjects. The Royal Ascot races took place in front of empty stands, while they should have hosted about 300.000 passionate spectators. Only the horses and jockeys were there.

What about the 2021 edition? The best hopes so far are that a much smaller audience of a few thousand will be allowed to attend. Ticket sales are not yet open; punters so far can only register their interest. Director Smith explained: “We are waiting on the RCA’s discussions with DCMS to assess whether we will be at 4,000 or 10,000 capacity – in line with all seated stadia of our size.” As for the reasons why the course is unwilling to put off the event until after June 21st, he said: “Aside from real difficulties in Pattern terms, to move by a week to run at a date that the government have said only will be “at the earliest” for its next stage isn’t tenable. To build the site and for any slight slippage to the roadmap would be very uncomfortable.”

Some more encouraging news concerns the purses for Royal Ascot 2021 that have been significantly increased to £6 million (US$7.13 million). This amount is a 66% increase on the £3.61m (US$4.21m) offered in 2020. “In 2020, we had hoped to offer record prize money of more than £8 million (US$9.51m) at the Royal Meeting. The pandemic made that impossible and we have now spent nearly a year racing behind closed doors with trading income down 80 percent,” Guy Henderson, Chief Executive Officer at Ascot Racecourse, revealed. “This year’s prize money of £6 million represents 75 percent of what we had originally planned for 2020.”

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