Ascot Racecourse has been staging horse races since its establishment in 1711 by Queen Anne. Her Majesty was enjoying a ride near Windsor Castle, so the story goes, when she rode up on a stretch of land that in her words was “ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch.”
A pretty typical thing to say, right?
Well, the land became Ascot and to this day maintains affiliation with the Royal Family. These days Ascot stages 26 days of racing each year, highlighted by the Royal Ascot meeting, a week’s worth of the world’s best galloping at full stretch, as Queen Elizabeth II looks on, occasionally cheering home one of her own.
The Royal meet kicks off this Chewsday with a masterfully crafted card of six races, including five Class I’s. On a Chewsday! And for the first time ever, you can watch it all live on NBC Sports throughout the week.
Here in the States, only the deeply involved or deeply addicted pay much mind to the international turf, a place American-based horsemen have historically rarely ventured (No dirt to be found over there). But the tide is shifting. Where an American based horse racing at a meet like Royal Ascot was something of a novelty a decade ago, an increasing number of owners are taking a bite of the international allure and in some cases, reaping the rewards.
Last year saw the great mare Tepin win the Queen Anne Stakes, the first US based horse to win the prestigious prize in its long, regal history. While Tepin has since been retired, trainer Mark Casse returns with another talented filly, La Coronel, in Friday’s Coronation Stakes for 3-year-olds.
Trainer Wesley Ward was among the first to throw his hat across the pond, and it’s no surprise he keeps coming back. His filly Lady Aurelia electrified the locals last year in the Queen Mary Stakes, eventually being crowned Europe’s champion 2-year-old filly. Ward is expected to saddle as many as ten entries at Royal Ascot this year, including Lady Aurelia, who is back for a much stiffer test in Tuesday’s Kings Stand Stakes, where she’ll face older horses on their home turf.
Also on Tuesday, English-born/US-based trainer Graham Motion will send off his fine mare Miss Temple City in the card opening Queen Anne. While no stranger to outrunning the boys, Miss Temple City has not raced since December. Todd Pletcher has won all there is to win in North America, but will be looking to meet the Queen for the first time with American Patriot slated for the Queen Anne fresh off his impressive win in the Makers 46 Mile at Keeneland in April.
Tuesday’s feature, the St. James Palace Stakes, is not be missed as the globetrotting Lancaster Bomber squares off against the likes of Churchill, the undisputed King of the Turf for Aidan O’Brien, and Thunder Snow, who was last seen throwing an all-out tantrum in the Kentucky Derby.
On Wednesday, all eyes will be on the Prince of Wale’s Stakes, as defending Breeders’ Cup Turf champion Highland Reel goes up against defending Breeders’ Cup Distaff Turf Champ Queen’s Trust, as well as Dubai Sheema Classic winner Jack Hobbs, and Tattersalls Gold Cup victor Decorated Knight, among others. This one has all the ingredients of an instant classic.
With so few racing days per year, every day at Ascot is a literal parade of royalty, pomp, circumstance and world-class thoroughbreds in high-stakes races. But just as the Kentucky Derby is as much a fashion shit show as it is a horserace, so too is Royal Ascot…and then some. Trainer Mark Casse called it the Kentucky Derby “on steroids.”
Here in America we like to imagine our English friends donning top hats and coattails every day, but that is—mostly—false. At Ascot however, you’d better be packing some serious fashion heat if you plan on attending The Royal. There’s even a helpful video for the fashion novices and under-financed:
It’s royals and racing in its most spectacularly pompous and intoxicated stage. And it’s perfect.
TV: NBC Sports