Royal Ascot is going ahead, but it will look very different from previous years. Peter Watton, from matched betting experts OddsMonkey, explains everything you need to know about the event.
For many racing fans, Royal Ascot is the jewel of the flat season. With 36 races across five action-packing days, and a hefty prize pot that usually runs into several million pounds, the event is one of the most prestigious fixtures in the racing calendar. It's also undoubtedly the most well-heeled meet of the year, and for many attendees, Ascot is as much about fancy frocks, fizz, and famous faces as it is about racing.
But, although the event will be going ahead this month, it will be rather different to any race day that we've seen before. Due to COVID-19 and the ensuring lockdown restrictions, Royal Ascot will be taking place behind closed doors for the first time in the event's 119-year history, and there will be no live spectators at all. The "royal" presence at Ascot will also be taking a backseat, with the Queen and other high-ranking members of the royal family staying safe at home.
While this is a big change, there's still plenty to look forward to. For one thing, all race events are still going ahead, so it's a great opportunity to have a flutter. In this article, I'll talk you through the changes to this year's Royal Ascot, along with a few betting tips.
When and where?
Royal Ascot 2020 will take place from Tuesday 16th to Saturday 20th June, at the Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire. However, because of the unprecedented times that we're living through, the event will not be open to the public.
Instead, all races will be broadcast from Ascot on Sky Sports Racing, and ITV1 will be broadcasting live from the event from 1:30pm on each day. The action kicks off at 1.15pm Tuesday to Friday and 12.40pm on Saturday, with the final race each day at 4.40pm. That means you can watch from race two onwards in the comfort of your own home.
There are normally 30 races at Royal Ascot, but this year, organisers have added an additional six races to the fixture, including the Copper Horse Handicap, the Golden Gates Handicap and the Palace of Holyroodhouse Handicap. Some races, including the St James’s Palace Stakes and Coronation Stakes, have been moved to the final day. The itinerary for Group 1 races is as follows:
Day one - Tuesday, June 16
The Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1)
The King's Stand Stakes (Group 1)
Day two - Wednesday, June 17
The Prince of Wales's Stakes (Group 1)
Day three - Thursday, June 18
The Gold Cup (Group 1)
Day four - Friday, June 19
The Commonwealth Cup (Group 1)
Day five - Saturday, June 2
The Coronation Stakes (Group 1)
The St James's Palace Stakes (Group 1)
The Diamond Jubilee Stakes (Group 1)
Due to coronavirus, organisers have also been forced to cut the prize fund from £8,000,000 to £3,680,000. All eight Group 1 races will be run for £250,000, with no race run for less than £35,000. All races will also close at the six-day stage and entry fees will be as normal, beginning at 1.25% for Group 1 races.
Even though you can't attend the races in person, betting on the fixtures is still as exciting as ever. If you're new to betting at Ascot, then be sure to follow these tips:
Check the racecard
There will still be an online race card where you can find details of all the runners, including the favourites. It will also give you a summary of the form and track record of each horse, which you can use to predict how each runner will perform during the race, depending on the going and conditions. So, use this to inform your bets.
Keep an eye on the going
The "going" (the word for the condition of the course) can affect how different runners perform on the day. Ascot update the going and weather report every day in the lead up to the race, so be sure to keep checking back before you place any bets.
Sometimes the most exciting bets are those which you make completely at random, so don't be afraid to bet on an outlier just because you have a lucky feeling about their jockey colours or name.
What else is happening at this year's Royal Ascot?
While the races are always the highlight, Ascot is as much as about wining, dining, and rubbing shoulders with high society as it is about sport for a lot of attendees. And, while you won’t be able to do these things in person in this year, organisers have prepared a televised schedule of activities, including singalongs, celebrity chef spots, fashion moments, and more, so viewers can join in with the fun at home.
In place of gourmet meals and picnics in the enclosure, organisers are selling afternoon tea hampers for delivery, so you can recreate the experience at home. And, as is tradition at Royal Ascot, there will still be singing around the bandstand after the final race each day, although this year's singalong sessions will be broadcast live on TV. So, grab a glass of champagne and be sure to tune in to join in with the celebrations. You can learn more about the full schedule of activities on the Royal Ascot site.
What about the famous dress code?
Royal Ascot has always been as much about the fashion as it is about the racing, and usually enforces strict dress codes, which vary in formality depending on which enclosure you're in. Now that the races are being broadcast live, you can wear whatever you'd like. So, if you've ever fancied watching the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in your pyjamas, now's your chance! But, if extravagant millinery and fine frocks are all part of the fun for you, you can still get dressed to the nines if you like.
Organisers are encouraging online attendees to wear their best racing outfits at home, and will be running a series of fashion-related competitions and activities across the week. As part of their #StyledWithThanks competition, online attendees can submit a photo of their Ascot headwear to help support a variety of NHS and care charities. It costs £5 to enter, and prizes include luxury and VIP packages for Royal Ascot 2021, with all proceeds are going to a good cause. So, if you're looking for an excuse to get all dressed up, or if you had already bought your race day outfit before the lockdown put a stop to your plans, then it's certainly worth getting involved.
The outbreak might mean you can't attend Ascot in person this year, but there's still plenty of fun to be had at home. And, with an extra six races this year, there are more betting opportunities than ever.