Royal Ascot is the Olympics of flat racing. It is five world-class days of horse racing, combined with all the pageantry that goes with it – the royals, the fashion and the festivities. It is, if the weather holds up like last year, the very best of British summer.
Anyone who comes inevitably leaves with great sporting memories — and this year will be no exception.
The ITV Racing team, for whom I present, all arrive on Monday. And, although we’re nervous and focused about making five days of live television, I always feel a tremendous privilege. It’s the calm before the storm, we get to wander around, walk the course and soak up the whole of the atmosphere as this huge place prepares for showing itself off to the world.
I’m here to work, but more than anything I’m just a racing fan and I hope those coming, or watching it at home on ITV, will enjoy it just as much as I do.
"It is five world-class days of horse racing, combined with all the pageantry that goes with it..."
Once again this year, there will be a real international challenge. Will the punters stay loyal to the home team or side with the likes of Redkirk Warrior, the champion Australian sprinter who runs on Saturday in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes? Will Sir Michael Stoute break the record and become the Royal Ascot winning-most trainer of all time by gaining that 76th win?
Tips for the week
Three of the most fancied horses this week are Crystal Ocean in the Hardwicke Stakes on Saturday, Cracksman in the Prince of Wales on Wednesday and Chelsea Cloisters in the Queen Mary Stakes, also on Wednesday.
Crystal Ocean is Sir Michael Stoute’s best chance of breaking the record and he says the horse is his “banker” of the week. Cracksman won the Coronation Cup a few weeks ago at Epsom on ground he hated and both trainer, John Gosden and jockey, Frankie Dettori, say you’ll see a different horse this week. Wesley Ward always brings over a brilliant team from the States and Chelsea Cloisters is a speed machine.
As always, one of the most thrilling races of the week is likely to be the Gold Cup on Thursday with a ‘big three’ clash between Order of St George, Aidan O’Brien’s star stayer, Stradivarius for Gosden and Dettori and Vazirabad, trained by the French master, Alain de Royer-Dupre.
The week’s best showdowns
As well as the Gold Cup, the Kings Stand on Day One sees a fascinating head-to-head as the best five furlong horse in the world, Battaash, takes on the champion US sprinter, Lady Aurelia. This is a good old-fashioned mouth-watering clash between the boys and the girls as Bataash is a gelding and Lady Aurelia, a filly. I’m going to side with the boys here as Battaash is the best on figures and I think we may have seen the best of Lady Aurelia already.
On the last day (Saturday) we also see Harry Angel take on Redkirk Warrior in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, a fascinating six furlong sprint between two of the world’s best.
Sprinting is one of the key themes this week and with the ground as quick as it is, the speedsters are likely to produce some thrilling finishes.
Perhaps my personal favourite race though is the Coventry Stakes on Tuesday, a race for two year-olds. There is a really exciting young horse called Calyx running. He’s only run once, but the manner of that victory suggested he could be a potential superstar and at Royal Ascot, the world could take notice!
The style of the week
The fashion side of Royal Ascot is as much a part of the meeting as the racing and Ascot now has four enclosures that cater for all budgets and tastes, each with its own dress code. The ITV fashion team of Charlotte Hawkins and Mark Heyes will be taking in all the colour and creativity that the racegoers have on offer and they absolutely adore the fun that comes with dressing and commenting on Royal Ascot.
We’ve seen slightly more relaxed dress codes in recent years. For example, jumpsuits were allowed for the first time last year – people are becoming even more creative and I did also notice a few more girls wearing tails!
"The fashion side of Royal Ascot is as much a part of the meeting as the racing..."
It’s harder for men to be creative, but I try to do this by the use of different waistcoats and trousers. I use a really cool brand called Sir Plus on Portobello Road, and match their double-breasted waistcoats with houndstooth trousers which gives me the classic smart look but with a twist.
I used to rock a fluffy old top hat, but have ditched that and now get my top and tails from Oliver Brown. Last year, it was hard for the men to stay cool and Mark Heyes advises that a good handkerchief is a necessity for mopping ones brow if the racing – or the festivities – start to take their toll in the heat.
More than anything, coming to Royal Ascot should be fun – and anyone can look smart, whatever their budget. Francesca Cumani, our lead female presenter, always looks a million dollars, and yet many of her outfits are vintage, or even from charity shops.
What’s new this year?
400 helicopters descend on Royal Ascot every year and I think Ed Chamberlin and Francesca Cumani are going to arrive in one to present ITV Racing on Day One which will be definitely something to watch.
For people coming to the course in more conventional transport, it’s always fun to ‘picnic’ in the car park first and there are more than 100 bars and food outlets around the racecourse from Michelin starred restaurants to cheese on toast. There’s a fantastic cocktail bar, The Hatters Bar, in the Royal Enclosure, and I also love the Grundy & Bustino Bar which is situated in the Queen Anne Enclosure and right next to the pre-parade ring so you can see the horses really close up as you are having a drink.
If you’re not going to be at the races, we’ll have all the racing and fashion action covered every day on the Opening Show, which I present, and then during every afternoon on ITV Racing. One of our ‘must-see’ features this year, which will go across the week, is ‘AP McCoy ‘meets’ Aidan O’Brien. For racing fans, Aidan is an absolute genius of a trainer and with AP asking the questions, we’ll see a more in-depth and revealing side of him than perhaps we ever have before.
I can’t wait – and look forward to seeing you there!
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