Centre stage intact as Royal Ascot adapts to strangest of times

Centre stage intact as Royal Ascot adapts to strangest of times

Ascot officials are “embracing the situation” ahead of a Royal meeting that will be run behind closed doors for the first time in its famous 250-year history.

While the Berkshire racecourse would usually welcome 300,000 racegoers through its doors across this week’s five-day showpiece meeting, an attendance of around 500 will be allowed on track each day because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nick Smith has been presented with several challenges in his time as Ascot’s director of racing and public affairs, with the year of Foot and Mouth disease (2001) and the Royal meeting’s move north to York (2005) during Ascot’s redevelopment both falling in his 20-year tenure.

NHS greeting over the parade ring at Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)
NHS greeting over the parade ring at Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Smith said: “We’ve had Black Ascot (following the death of King Edward VII in 1910), the year of Foot and Mouth – and all the challenges that presented – as well as moving the Royal meeting to York, but it’s fair to see we’ve never seen anything quite like this.

“It’s certainly a bit strange, but we’re now embracing the situation we’re in and getting excited about the week ahead.”

Queen Elizabeth II will miss Royal Ascot for the first time in her 68-year-reign due to the Covid-19 outbreak, meaning there will be no Royal procession on the course, while the traditional outfit of top hat and tails will be replaced by personal protective equipment.

However, Smith is confident both those in attendance and those watching on TV screens around the world will still enjoy the experience.

Coronavirus warnings are in place at Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)
Coronavirus warnings are in place at Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)

“We’re not pretending things are going to be the same as usual – but even with the social distancing in place, I do think the atmosphere will build throughout each day,” he added.

“There’ll be more people in the parade ring than has been the case up to this point (so far this summer). ITV will be broadcasting from the parade ring this week, which I think will help create a focus. We’ve managed to create a secluded pen for the ITV team!

“There’ll be no top hats and finery on course this year. It’s a bit ironic that we’re asking people off-course to dress up for the #StyledWithThanks Campaign, while the people on course will be dressing practically and with safety in mind.”

There have been significant changes to the action on the course, too, with the programme receiving a significant rejig.

Social distancing measures inside the weighing room at Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)
Social distancing measures inside the weighing room at Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)

While the Royal meeting managed to keeps it usual slot on the calendar, six extra races are scheduled to take place, and the St James’s Palace Stakes and Coronation Stakes have been pushed back until later in the week.

The Group One mile events would usually be held on Tuesday and Friday respectively. But with the delayed start to the campaign, they have been moved to the final day to create a bigger gap from the Guineas meeting, which took place on June 6 and 7.

The Queen Anne and King’s Stand Stakes remain in their usual slots on the first afternoon, but are joined by the King Edward VII Stakes and Ribblesdale Stakes, which will now be key Derby and Oaks trials before Epsom’s planned meeting on July 4.

There's some fantastic racing to look forward to this week

Smith has praised the powers that be for making the most out of a difficult situation.

He said: “There’s some fantastic racing to look forward to this week. There’s been a lot of work done between ourselves and the BHA to try to reconfigure the programme to fit in with the Guineas and the Derby as best we can.

“It’s a new Pattern, but I think it’s workable – and all being well, once the Derby and the Eclipse have been run in early July, hopefully the Pattern will get back on track, which I don’t think many people thought was possible not too long ago.”

More on this topic

From florals to feathers, these are all of the hat trends we’ve seen at AscotFrom florals to feathers, these are all of the hat trends we’ve seen at Ascot

Additional security on duty at Ascot after 'beer throwing' incidentAdditional security on duty at Ascot after 'beer throwing' incident

Telescope reaches for the starsTelescope reaches for the stars

Spring blossoms in EdinburghSpring blossoms in Edinburgh


More in this Section

Alan Reynolds named as Ireland U21 assistant managerAlan Reynolds named as Ireland U21 assistant manager

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp refusing to think about Premier League points recordLiverpool boss Jurgen Klopp refusing to think about Premier League points record

Eric Dier met with fan he confronted in the stands, says Jose MourinhoEric Dier met with fan he confronted in the stands, says Jose Mourinho

Pep Guardiola hails departing David Silva in impressive Manchester City displayPep Guardiola hails departing David Silva in impressive Manchester City display


Lifestyle

Denise O’Donoghue checks in with several expats affected by the cancellation of shows in BritainIrish actors on the crisis the West End theatre industry faces

This month marks four decades since the release of the classic record that would also be Ian Curtis’s final album with Joy Division. Ed Power chats to a number of Cork music fans about what it meant to themJoy Division: Forty years on from Closer

Last week, I shared my lockdown experience. I asked for a more uniform approach, should there be another lockdown. I explained that I worked mornings. Maybe I should have been more specific: working 8am to 1pm without a break, I gave feedback and covered the curriculum, using our school’s online platform. In the afternoons, I looked after my three kids (all under ten) while my husband worked. It was a challenging time for everyone and the uncertainty around what I should have been doing as a teacher made it harder.Diary of an Irish teacher: I want to get back to work. But I would like to do it safely

To get a pint under Covid-19 restrictions, we have to buy a ‘substantial meal’, but drinkers in 1900s New York contended with all kinds of regulations and loopholes, writes Donal O’KeeffeIt Raines and pours: Buying a sandwich to have a beer isn't a new phenomenon

More From The Irish Examiner