Royal Ascot 2020: Meeting ready to start without the Queen and spectators

By Frank KeoghBBC Sport
Royal Ascot
Royal Ascot starts on Tuesday - 15 days after British racing returned without spectators
Royal Ascot 2020
Dates: 16-20 June Races: 13:15-16:40 BST
Coverage: Tue-Fri: Radio 5 Live Sports Extra 14:55-16:20 including three race commentaries; further coverage on Radio 5 Live on Saturday; Daily live text updates on BBC Sport website.

When a jubilant Frankie Dettori and his mount Stradivarius were saluted by a 70,000 crowd at Royal Ascot a year ago, life was very different.

Covid-19 and social distancing were unheard of. Now flat racing's biggest meeting is set to take place behind closed doors with jockeys wearing face masks.

On Tuesday, there will be no Queen, Royal procession or much of the glitz and glamour so associated with one of Britain's most famous sporting occasions, but there will be elite sport and plenty of it.

An expanded programme sees six additional races for a total of 36 contests over five days.

Royal Ascot will look different this year
From packed stands last year to jockeys in face masks this time - Royal Ascot will take place behind closed doors

Still Royal - but no procession

For the first time in her 68-year reign, the Queen will not be present at her favourite meeting.

While the fixture retains its regal title and branding, it is out with the top hats and in with the temperature checks as numbers at the meeting are restricted to the hundreds.

"The attention of the world is on the biggest sporting event globally to take place since sport resumed," says Ascot director of racing Nick Smith.

"That is a heavy responsibility for us but it is a statement that racing is back. We must put on the best show we can."

The fixture will retain an international feel - horses can travel from the United States, France and the Republic of Ireland even if there are restrictions keeping their trainers away.

Television coverage is on ITV and Sky, with pictures broadcast in 120 countries, including the United States, Australia and India, and countries in the Middle East and the Caribbean.

Like other racehorse owners, the Queen is expected to follow from home - in her case down the road at Windsor Castle.

Owners will be able to follow horses in the parade ring with a live 360-degree camera feed, while some trainers and jockeys are expected to give post-race debriefs by Facetime video calls.

Punters are being urged to wear a hat and dress up at home as part of the racecourse's #StyledWithThanks initiative which will benefit four frontline charities.

Royal Ascot 2019 v 2020

'Still a great meeting'

"It's going to be strange behind closed doors but will still be a great meeting with high-quality racing," says jockey Jim Crowley.

He is back to one meal a day after the "novelty" of three daily during the 76-day suspension of racing before the sport returned on 1 June.

"I put on about half a stone - it was lovely being able to have a fry-up in the morning," adds Crowley, whose racing weight is 8st 10lb.

The 2016 champion jockey, who grew up just a furlong or two from Ascot, admits it has been strange adhering to the new safety protocols.

"It's different wearing masks in a race, and sometimes your goggles steam up. You can't have showers which can be a bit uncomfortable if you've had six or seven rides, but it's good to be back," he tells BBC Sport.

The lack of a big crowd could suit his mount, Battaash, odds-on favourite for Tuesday's King's Stand Stakes, one of eight top-level Group One races at the meeting which are part of the British Champions Series.

"I think it will be a positive as it should help him in the preliminaries. The first year he ran at York, he was close to the crowd and he boiled over," said Crowley.

A quieter atmosphere could help the horse settle, and Blue Point - who beat him into second twice at Royal Ascot - is not around this time.

"When Battaash does win, it's explosive. He's put in some monster performances. If he's on his A game, nothing can beat him, " said Crowley.

The parade ring at Ascot
A rainbow flower display in the parade ring and Ascot retains its Royal branding
Perspex shields will separate jockeys in the changing room at Ascot
Plastic shields will separate jockeys in the changing room at Ascot

The going at the track was described as good to soft on Tuesday morning after 10mm of rain overnight.

Highlights day-by-day

  • Tuesday - Circus Maximus, trained by Aidan O'Brien, bids for a second straight Royal Ascot win - this time in the Queen Anne Stakes but Terrebulum looks a big danger under Dettori.
  • Wednesday - Japan, Headman and Barney Roy head the runners in the Prince of Wales's Stakes while Hollie Doyle will bid to become only the third female jockey to win at the meeting when she partners Win 'O 'Clock in the King George V Stakes.
  • Thursday - Dettori, who clocked up a historic four-timer on this day last year, seeks a third consecutive Gold Cup win on Stradivarius, trained by John Gosden.
  • Friday - American trainer Wesley Ward aims for an 11th Royal Ascot win, with Kimari his big hope in the Commonwealth Cup for three-year-old sprinters.
  • Saturday - The Coronation Stakes, with US runner Sharing and home hope Quadrilateral among the entries, heads a Group One triple-header. The 2,000 Guineas runner-up Wichita and third Pinatubo face off again in the St James's Palace Stakes while bargain buy Sceptical, snapped up by his Irish owners for just £2,800, competes for a first prize of £150,000 in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Royal Ascot - Tuesday schedule

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