June 15 (UPI) — For the first time in its more than two and a half centuries, Royal Ascot’s races will go to the post Tuesday without the glamour and fashion that normally make up almost as much of the show as the horses do.
And among those absent because of the COVID-19 precautions is the United Kingdom’s No. 1 racing fan and the patron of the event, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
“Her Majesty The Queen has very kindly written our race card foreword, as she usually does, but will not be attending Royal Ascot this year,” a spokeswoman for the racecourse confirmed as the five-day extravaganza of top-flight racing approached.
The absence of the Royals will be noted right off the top. Traditionally, Her Majesty leads a carriage procession down the course to the Royal Enclosure to kick off the daily proceedings. The color of her outfit and the identity of guests in her carriage and those following it are objects of daily speculation, note and even wagering.
Nonetheless, Ascot has gone to great lengths to try to sustain the feeling of the event for fans watching at home or elsewhere. A dedicated web site, ascot.co.uk/royal-ascot-at-home will provide scheduled activities “whilst others remain secret to surprise and delight audiences during the week itself,” the track said.
Jockeys will participate in broadcast fitness routines. Michelin-starred chefs will offer cooking demonstrations and compete for viewer support in a “Coronation Chicken Stakes” competition.
The racecourse will for the first time share its secret recipes for teacakes and other goodies so viewers can enjoy the traditional Royal Ascot tea ceremony at home. And the traditional daily post-racing sing-alongs will be virtual, with songbooks posted online.
All money raised through televised and on-line participation in those events will be donated to The National Emergencies Trust Relief Fund, NHS Charities Together, The Care Workers Charity and the Berkshire Community Foundation.
“With what has been happening in recent months, we wanted fundraising and front line support to be at the heart of ‘Royal Ascot At Home’,” said Juliet Slot, chief commercial officer for Ascot Racecourse.
“Alongside the fantastic racing and entertainment in store, we’re also encouraging people to dress up at home and celebrate with us while raising money for our chosen charities and saying ‘thank you’ to the [National Health Service] and front line workers who are playing such an important role.”
The five-day event will retain all its traditional races, including eight Group 1 events. The order of running, however, has been shaken up to accommodate the highly compacted preparatory season leading up the Royal Ascot because of the COVID-19 racing shutdown.
Fields also are likely to be a bit limited, as England is operating under a quarantine requirement that calls for anyone entering the country to undergo a 14-day self-isolation.
While that doesn’t apply to horses, it does to trainers and stable staff so Europeans need to find locally based help to handle any runners imported for the event.
Four of the races are “Win and You’re In” qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, slated for the first weekend in November at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.
The Breeders’ Cup is selling tickets for that event with a prominent proviso that full refunds will be made if the races are canceled or run without spectators because of lingering COVID-19 concerns.
This is far from the first time Royal Ascot, founded in 1711 by Queen Anne, has deviated from “normal” operations.
The Royal meeting was put on hiatus from 1915 through 1918 during World War I, a calamity multiplied by the worldwide ravages of the so-called Spanish flu.
When those hostilities failed to end all wars, during World War II some of the races were shifted from Ascot Racecourse to other venues and some were canceled altogether.
In 1946, shortages and rationing led to a relaxed dress code and the royal procession was held on only two days.
Labor actions, parliamentary schedules and an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease all impacted recent Royal Ascot meetings, some significantly and others less so.
And in 2005, the entire proceeding was shifted to the north as York Racecourse hosted the Royals while Ascot was being undergoing redevelopment.
The 2020 renewal will be out of the ordinary. But British racing fans seem braced to heed the wise counsel of Winston Churchill to “Keep calm and carry on.”