If you watched NBC’s coverage of this year’s Triple Crown, you probably heard the commentators talk about something called “Royal Ascot.” If you’re wondering what exactly this fancy-sounding race meet is, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered before the meet takes place June 15-19.
What It Is: Held in the town of Ascot in England, the five-day Royal Ascot meeting runs at the famous Ascot Racecourse. Ascot holds both flat and jump racing throughout the year and even holds the British Champions Day every October (similar to our Breeders’ Cup). But the third week of June is always their most famous week of the year as a week of racing (four days for most of its span before moving to five this century) that has been held for more than 200 years.
Deciding the ground Ascot is built on would be perfect for a racecourse, Queen Anne had a racecourse built where Ascot stands today. In August of 1711, the “Her Majesty’s Plate’ took place and soon the racecourse became the popular place to be. It wasn’t until 1807 when The Gold Cup first ran (now the oldest race at Ascot) that the modern-day version of what we know as Royal Ascot was formed.
It has long been a “must attend” meeting for England’s high society and, even now, it isn’t unusual to see royalty, athletes, and other famous people at the track during this week. However, this year will look a little different with just 4,000 people allowed each day and attendance restricted to owners, hospitality, and Ascot members due to government regulations during the pandemic.
What makes Royal Ascot week unique is that every day before the racing starts, the Queen is part of a Royal procession that rides down the track in carriages. Some of the biggest betting action of the week comes from the daily guesses over which color she’ll be wearing, and even non-racing fans tune in to see who is invited to ride in the procession every day, especially in her carriage. Not surprisingly, some of the most heralded wins of the week are those by her horses with recent Royal winners including Tactical and Estimate.
However, Royal Ascot isn’t just about the Queen, the horses are the real stars. Some of the best horses in Europe attend the meet … as do American horses.
In fact, two U.S.-based horses have won Group 1 races at Royal Ascot in the last six years – Undrafted won the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee in 2015 and Tepin won the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes in 2016. Animal Kingdom, winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby, also ran in the Queen Anne Stakes in 2013 and 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome was training toward the 2015 Royal Ascot meeting before an injury derailed his plans.
U.S.-based trainer Wesley Ward is known for sending a large contingent to Royal Ascot every year (you can see his runners this year below) and has 11 winners – the 10th most of any current trainer in the world.
Those who have watched Royal Ascot in the past will probably notice a small change to the daily schedule. This year there will be seven races run each day instead of the traditional six that ran at previous meets.
How to Watch: NBC will be airing each day of the meet on its channels. From Tuesday to Friday, the races will be shown on NBCSports from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET. It switches channels on Saturday – the final day of Royal Ascot – with the morning coverage taking place from 9 to 11 a.m. on NBC with the coverage then moving to CNBC from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET.
TVG also will be covering the races every morning.
Must-Watch Races: Many of the horses you see at Royal Ascot will make their way to Del Mar in November for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, and four of them will earn a “Win and You’re In” qualifying berth to this fall’s event.
The first race of the first day of Royal Ascot is the Queen Anne Stakes with the winner earning a spot in the Breeders’ Cup FanDuel Mile. First run in 1840, four of the last five winners of the race have competed in the Breeders’ Cup Mile with two finishing second. The last Queen Anne winner to prevail in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in the same year was Goldikova in 2010.
The following day is the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. This race was first run in 1862, though it took a brief break in the mid-1900s when there was no one with the Prince of Wales title before resuming in 1968. Only two of the last five winners also ran in the Breeders’ Cup during the year they won this race with Highland Reel finishing third — he won the Breeders’ Cup the year before — and Lord North finishing fourth. Only one horse has ever won both races in the same year: Fantastic Light in 2001. However, Ouija Board won both the 2006 Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
The Group 2 Norfolk Stakes on June 17 serves as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint for the 2-year-olds. First run in 1843, the race has seen American trainer Wesley Ward win it twice in the last decade with his last win coming in 2014. Last year’s winner The Lir Jet ran in the Group 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf after his win here last year, while A’ali ran in the 2019 Juvenile Turf Sprint – only the second running of that race. Johannesburg lined up in the G1 Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2001 after his Norfolk victory and won the Breeders’ Cup race by 1 ¼ lengths to be named U.S. champion 2-year-old male.
In 2015, Undrafted became the first United States-based runner to win a Group 1 at Royal Ascot in the Diamond Jubilee. This year, whoever wins will get a chance to become the only winner of both the Diamond Jubilee and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. First run in 1868, the race has gone through a few different name changes and was given the Diamond Jubilee name in 2012 to celebrate the Queen’s 60th year on the throne.
Among the winners of this race, only Undrafted and Starspangledbanner have run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, although Undrafted represented the winners well when running in three editions of the Turf Sprint with those runs coming from 2014 to 2016.
The Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes isn’t a “Win and You’re In” race but it has seen much U.S. success in recent years. A race for juvenile fillies, Wesley Ward has won it four times in 11 years, including last year. If Ward’s Twilight Gleaming can win the race, then he’ll tie Richard Hannon Sr. as the most successful trainer in the race since 1977 with five winners.
The oldest race on the Royal Ascot program, the Gold Cup is also one of the most prestigious staying races in the world. This race plays a part in the history of the U.S. Triple Crown when 1935 Triple Crown winner Omaha lost this race by only a nose when campaigned in England the following year. This year, John Gosden-trained Stradivarius is trying to make history with his fourth Gold Cup win to tie for the most wins of any horse. The 7-year-old won last year’s race by a remarkable 10 lengths.
U.S. Horses at Royal Ascot:
Eleven U.S. horses have shipped to England to compete in the 2021 Royal Ascot meet.
Extravagant Kid and Maven will both be racing in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes on opening day. Brendan Walsh-trained Extravagant Kid is making his first start since giving the United States another international win in the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan in March. Wesley Ward-trained Maven holds the distinction of being the first North American winner and graded stakes winner for sire American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner, in 2019 and is coming into this race off a 2 ¼-length victory at Keeneland in an allowance race last month.
Ward also sends out Kaufymaker in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes against the colts on Tuesday. A 2-year-old race Ward has on his bucket list as the biggest juvenile race he hasn’t won at the meet, Kaufymaker has a good chance after winning her debut by 6 ¼ lengths at Keeneland in April.
In addition to Twilight Gleaming trying to help her trainer win the Queen Mary on Wednesday for a record-tying fifth time, 2-year-old filly Ruthin goes for the Windsor Castle Stakes against males on the same card. She’ll be joined by Napa Spirit, with both also owned by Stonestreet. Just like the Queen Mary, if Ward wins the Windsor Castle he’ll tie as the winningest trainer in the race since 1977.
Ward is aiming for the same feat in the Norfolk Stakes on Thursday, where his trainees Lucci and Nakatomi are looking for Breeders’ Cup berths with a victory.
Campanelle was named last year’s European champion 2-year-old filly after winning the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and a Group 1 race in France for Ward and Stonestreet. This year, her target is the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup against males on Friday in what will be her first start of the year. She’s looking to follow in the footsteps of another Queen Mary-winning filly trained by Ward for Stonestreet in Lady Aurelia. That filly followed up her Queen Mary victory with a win in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes five years ago.
Rounding out the U.S. charge at Royal Ascot is a newcomer with trainer Rusty Arnold sending a horse to the meet for the first time. He sends Artos to the Queen Mary Stakes after the filly won a Churchill Downs maiden special weight race last month at just half a furlong longer than this race.