June 18 (UPI) — Right around 2 p.m. on Tuesday, a carriage bearing Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, will roll down the straight at Ascot Racecourse, kicking off one of the year’s premier sports events — the Royal Meeting.
Each day for five days, Her Majesty will preside over races that draw equine talent from around the world, pit the globe’s top racing conglomerates in head-to-head competition, draw the crème de la crème of British society … and yet give commoners a chance to prevail against all that established majesty and might.
Frankie Dettori, who has ridden a record 56 Royal Ascot winners in his distinguished career, said “the pageant is the pinnacle for me. It is our Olympics. The Derby at Epsom is just one race, but there are 30 races at Royal Ascot over the five days, with distances from 5 furlongs to two miles and six (furlongs). It covers all spectrums of horses and there are international challengers now, of course.
“Races are hard to win and the meeting is extremely important for both the industry and the audience. It’s everything, basically.”
Dettori missed last year’s Royal Ascot after injuring a shoulder just four days out from the event and says he’s not about to repeat that experience. “I am covering myself up in bubble wrap,” he told a preview gathering Thursday.
The Queen herself has sent out 23 winners at the Royal Meeting during her long reign and continues active, hands-on management of the royal stables and stud.
In recent years, however, attention has focused on the battle between Ireland’s Coolmore combine, personified by trainer Aidan O’Brien, and Godolphin Racing, the creation of Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.
Godolphin is fresh from a heady, first-ever win in the Investec Derby at Epsom with Masar and that colt’s trainer, red-hot Charlie Appleby, said the global juggernaut that is Godolphin is ready for more glory at Ascot. The Royal meeting, he said, ranks right with World Cup night at Sheik Mohammed’s home track of Meydan among the year’s premier goals.
Coolmore is always a force in England and Ireland and returns with a full roster of promising runners.
In 2017, Godolphin and Coolmore tied with six winners each and the rivalry to gain the upper hand this year is as keen as it is gentlemanly and polite.
The event truly is international, however, with runners this year coming from not only Ireland but also France, Australia and the United States, which has awakened in the past decade to the potential of Royal Ascot.
Leading the American charge is trainer Wesley Ward, whose nine wins at the meeting lead all U.S. trainers. Ward has several hot prospects, led by Lady Aurelia, who will defend her title in the Group 1 King’s Stands Stakes, a sprint that shares the spotlight on opening day. Lady Aurelia also won the Queen Mary in her first visit to the Royal meeting.
The French contingent represents some of the Continent’s best. And Australia’s duo includes Redkirk Warrior, winner of the 5-furlongs Black Caviar Lightning and the 6-furlongs Lexus Newmarket Handicap in his last two starts “down under.” He will bid to emulate Australian legend Black Caviar, who was the last Australian sprinter to win the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot 2012, in a dramatic finish.
As newcomers enter the upper ranks of the business, they gravitate toward the highest of the high ends. Thus, the same ownership group that sent Justify to victory in this year’s Triple Crown will send Yoshida to contest the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes on opening day of the Royal meeting. Yoshida is a Japanese-bred colt, owned in partnership by the China Horse Club and Kentucky’s WinStar Farm.
Despite all that global firepower, small owners and small training yards still find their moment in the sun at Ascot, with a chance to greet the Queen after a win.
For example, trainer Tim Glyshaw is a bit awestruck at the prospect of saddling Bucchero in Tuesday’s Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes against some of Europe’s top speedsters.
“I have 20 horses at Churchill Downs and 10 horses at Indiana Grand,” Glyshaw said. “As of a year ago, I would not have dreamed of any of this … I had never been anyplace outside of America a year ago and now I’m going to Royal Ascot, so it is a big deal. We are a small stable at home so this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to us much.”