Nothing rivals Royal Ascot
There is no racing jurisdiction in the world that can rival Britain for history and tradition. One of the most unique and celebrated occasions in the entire British racing calendar is Royal Ascot, which will take place over the course of five days next week from Tuesday to Saturday.
Before one even considers the racing, the event itself is remarkable. The Royal procession and the strict dress code give the meeting an entirely different feel to any other race meeting. Traditionally, Royal Ascot has been a major part of the British social calendar and it still attracts an unrivalled level of attention from the mainstream press.
When it comes to the racing, the programme at Royal Ascot has grown and improved to an extent that makes it one of the most important meetings in the entire international racing calendar.
The eight Group 1 races during the week span the full range of trips for Flat racing from the King's Stand Stakes over five furlongs to the Gold Cup over two-and-a-half miles. As important as the Group 1 races at Royal Ascot are to British and Irish trainers, they have become increasingly important to international trainers in the last two decades in particular.
The course itself has a number of interesting quirks - for more, take a look at Betfair's video guide, in association with Timeform.
The winners from Down Under
Horses trained in Australia became notable raiders in the sprint races at the meeting in the noughties, with Choisir's big-race double in the King's Stand Stakes and Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2003 opening the floodgates for Australian-based sprinters. Takeover Target, Miss Andretti and Scenic Blast all won the King's Stand Stakes for Australia in the years that followed, but without doubt the most notable Australian success at Royal Ascot was that of Black Caviar in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2012.
An unbeaten world champion sprinter, the bravery her connections showed in sending her to Royal Ascot resulted in one of the most remarkable build-ups and occasions in modern racing history. With the expectations of the racing world on her shoulders, she overcame a late scare caused by her jockey Luke Nolen easing her down before the line to hold on by a head in an immensely-dramatic finish. The scenes that greeted her victory were some of the most memorable in the long history of Royal Ascot.
Even more notable than the Australians has been the American challenge at the Royal meeting.Tepin was a memorable winner of the Queen Anne Stakes for Mark Casse in 2016, but it has been Wesley Ward that has been responsible for the majority of the American success at Royal Ascot.
The charismatic trainer has become a regular fixture at the meeting, with his highly-precocious and fast two-year-olds generally being the focus of his challenge. He has saddled seven such individuals to win two-year-old races at the Royal meeting since 2009, but he has also saddled three other winners including Undrafted in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes and the remarkable Lady Aurelia in the King's Stand Stakes.
Seeking out the best juveniles
The two-year-old races at Royal Ascot have become a huge point of focus in establishing the very best juveniles that are precocious enough to perform to a high level in the first half of the season.
The Coventry Stakes perhaps takes centre stage as one of two Group 2 races for two-year-olds at the meeting. It has produced a series of future champions over the decades such as Mill Reef, Canford Cliffs and Dawn Approach.
The even speedier sorts are catered to by the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes over the minimum trip of five furlongs and the speedsters that want to fly a little lower can contest the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes over the same trip. There are also two juvenile races confined to fillies at the meeting, the Queen Mary Stakes over five furlongs and the Albany Stakes over six furlongs.
Without doubt the quirkiest of the two-year-old races at the meeting is the Chesham Stakes. It is run over seven furlongs and is confined to the offspring of sires or dams that won over a trip of a mile-and-a-quarter or further. While it may seem an odd condition for eligibility, that hasn't stopped the Chesham producing a number of future champions, most notably Churchill and Pinatubo.
While the two-year-old races at Royal Ascot can often resemble cavalry charges, the most competitive races of the Royal meeting are always the handicaps.
From the Wokingham over six furlongs to the Ascot Stakes over two-and-a-half miles, the Royal Ascot handicaps cater to every sort of horse, but they also represent one of the fiercely-competitive challenges for any horse that runs in them. The Wokingham and the Royal Hunt Cup are particularly infamous in terms of the challenge they present to those that try to find the winner of them, with them showcasing a maximum of 30 runners hurtling down the straight track at Ascot.
Saving the best till last
Perhaps the quirkiest race of the entire meeting is saved until last. The Queen Alexandra Stakes dates back to 1864 and is currently the longest race in British Flat racing at a distance of two miles, five furlongs and 143 yards. The penalty structure and the availability of a similar and more prestigious alternative race at the meeting in the shape of the Gold Cup means that it attracts an eclectic mix of high-but-not-top-class stayers and dual-purpose performers better known for their exploits in National Hunt racing.
It can also be the staging ground for attempts at audacious Royal doubles, with the winner of the Ascot Stakes earlier in the week occasionally attempting to bid for a second win at the meeting in the Queen Alexandra. This remarkable double was most recently completed in 2012 by Simenon.
All told, Royal Ascot is without question one of the most unique racing and social occasions anywhere in the world. While the social side will have to take a backseat in 2020 as a result of the unprecedented behind-closed-doors protocols put in place due to the Covid-19 crisis, the racing at Royal Ascot will be more than capable of carrying the show.
Royal Ascot commences on Tuesday. Don't miss it.