Her Majesty was not there Tuesday. She was not there at all last year. But word out of Buckingham Palace is that Queen Elizabeth II will be at Royal Ascot sometime between now and Day V on Saturday.
Did it sneak up on everyone this year?
Blame it on the pandemic. Or the president. Or a better than expected finish to the Triple Crown.
Last year COVID-19 took the queen away from the racecourse that she had graced with her presence every June since 1946, back when she was a mere princess. Since her Gehrig-esque streak ended last year, and since she was busy with a couple of Bidens this week, it is understandable that she would miss the start of the Royal meeting.
But what about the rest of us? If that stretch duel at the Belmont Stakes between Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie did not reinvigorate an interest in this sport, well, go have fun with walks and strikeouts and spin rates and launch angles.
At the iconic racecourse about 30 miles west of London, there were seven races Tuesday and 28 more the rest of the week, all running on the turf from 9:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. EDT. Sick of the lack of horses for so many races in the U.S.? The smallest field Tuesday at Ascot had 11. Some stayers handicaps late in the week may have 30. The first race had an odds-on favorite as the winner. The next six were won by horses with odds of 11-1, 7-2, 7-2, 54-1, 12-1 and 27-1.
Field sizes begat value. Who knew?
Wesley Ward, the U.S. jockey turned trainer turned 11-time winner in 12 trips to Royal Ascot, was shut out with his two horses Tuesday. Brendan Walsh, the native of Ireland who won the Al Quoz Sprint at Dubai with Extravagant Kid, finished a stout third with him in the Group 1 King’s Stand. A $2 place bet on him paid $8.80. Yes, place. In England, place means show, which means there is no place. Got that?
Not so many years ago, the North American pari-mutuel pools for Royal Ascot were on their own, kind of like when Las Vegas reaches over the DMZ to take bets on the Kentucky Derby. (The Churchill-Nevada snit reaches its 600th day on Thursday.) Now everyone worldwide is in the deep end of the same pool this week. So what you see on the screen on TVG is what they get in England, too.
Well, not everyone in England. Watch NBCSN’s separate coverage of Royal Ascot, and the bookmakers down by the finish line are often surveyed to see what their fixed odds look like. What a concept. Fixed odds right alongside pari-mutuels. Dare to dream, America. Absent its draconian rules on how rarely jockeys may use their crops on horses, New Jersey might actually be the first state to get to that panacea.
But with the sound of a harp to escape this dream, what about the remaining days at Royal Ascot 2021? For anyone who dives in or even toes the water, the big stories are inescapable.
Wednesday: The last anyone really heard of Love, she was being crowned the 3-year-old champion filly of England last fall. The last anyone saw of her on the racetrack, though, was August, when she won the Yorkshire Oaks. No one was within 4¼ lengths of her at the end of her three races in 2020. Trainer Aidan O’Brien did not offer any fitness doubts. He just shut her down early. This week Love (3-2) comes back as the favorite in the 1¼-mile Prince of Wales Stakes, a Group 1 race for seven older horses. OK, not every race at Royal Ascot has a big field, and because this one has fewer than eight, a place bet only pays off for a finish in the top two. Got that? Now a 5-year-old gelding, Lord North (2-1), won this race last year and he began this year winning the Dubai Turf. He is my choice here at 11:20 a.m. EDT.
Thursday: Betting against 7-year-old Stradivarius in the 2½-mile Ascot Gold Cup is like betting against a Baffert in the Kentucky Derby or against Brady in a Super Bowl. He has won the race three years in a row for trainer John Gosden. Actually, now it is Gosden & Son; the chip off the old block is named Thady. Stradivarius (4-5) tuned up for this possible four-peat by winning a Group 3 two-miler at Ascot in April. The first rain of the week is supposed to arrive in south England on Thursday, but that is no bother for Strad. He has won this race twice on soft going and once on firmer ground. As mentioned, why would anyone bet against him? The Gold Cup starts at 11:15 a.m. EDT.
Friday: Ward’s best-known horse this year is Campanelle (5-1), the co-favorite in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup, a straight six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds at 10:40 a.m. EDT. She won last year’s Queen Mary sprint for 2-year-olds by three-quarters of a length before going on to France to capture another Group 1 prize there. Firmer ground may have been her undoing when she finished fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland. More rain Friday, then, may be to her liking. If the ground is not too soft, my win bet will be on Supremacy (10-1), a colt that had one of those draw-a-line-through-it performances when he finished last in a Group 3 prep at Ascot in April. If the course has a lot of give, then the undefeated French colt Suesa (5-1) is a slam-dunk — and will probably be bet accordingly.
Saturday: For whatever reason, closing day has the least interesting races, yet it is still deemed worthy of a place on NBC right after some version of “The Today Show.” All the American horses will be gone by then, and the 1½-mile Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes for older horses will be the de facto feature at 10:40 a.m. EDT. Already a three-time winner this year with two group victories, 5-year-old Broome (9-2) will hope the damp Thursday and Friday will hold over into a potentially dry Saturday. Then again, he finished last for O’Brien over soft going in the British Champions Long Distance Cup last fall at Ascot. My wager will be on Al Aasy (9-1), the Shadwell Estate’s impeccably bred 4-year-old that narrowly lost this month in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom after a pair of Group 3 victories this spring at Newbury. He has shown the ability to win over any kind of ground.
Oh, a word of advice on watching Royal Ascot. Have as many video feeds on as possible because NBCSN tends to be attracted to shiny objects — like fashion — away from the paddock and post parades. Therefore, a washed-out horse may escape the view of those watching only that channel. TVG and TVG2 tend to be faithful to the pre-race rituals. So are track feeds via Roberts or ADWs.
If Queen Elizabeth does indeed lead the carriages in a royal parade down the middle of the course sometime this week, look for the global markets taking action on what color — or colour — her hat will be. My money is on powder blue.
In addition to this weekly article, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at VSiN.com with more frequent postings during big events. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available every Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. COVID-19 forced Canadian racing into a long delay, but they are competing again at Woodbine. Champion jockey Rafael Hernández talks about it and his recent injury on the RFRP. Also, Penelope Miller of America’s Best Racing talks about her job traveling the country to photograph Thoroughbreds, and Rampart sportsbook director Duane Colucci handicaps weekend races. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST Bet.