A Royal Ascot like no other...
Royal Ascot in 2020 took place under unprecedented conditions, with the Covid-19 epidemic meaning the five-day spectacular was held behind closed doors for the first time in its history.
Government guidelines meant that the limited attendees had to abide by the two-metre social distancing rule and wear face masks, but the five-day spectacular went ahead without incident and with the usual outstanding action on the track.
The Royal Meeting got underway on Tuesday, when the stars on show included Circus Maximus, recording a second a Royal Ascot G1 victory in the Queen Anne Stakes, and speedster Battaash making it third time lucky in the G1 King’s Stand Stakes.
On Wednesday, Lord North was the headline act with a devastating victory in the G1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes for trainer John Gosden and jockey James Doyle.
This may have been the first Royal Ascot that The Queen has been forced to miss in her 68-year reign but there was still very much a Royal presence on Wednesday as Her Majesty’s homebred juvenile Tactical justified 7/2 favouritism in the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes.
Few would disagree that the most memorable performance of the week was the great Stradivarius in the G1 Gold Cup on Thursday. Bjorn Nielsen’s homebred, trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, was taking the staying showpiece for the third year in succession and recorded his most impressive victory yet, scoring by 10 lengths. Stradivarius joins Sagaro (1975, 1976 and 1977) as a triple Gold Cup victor, just one win behind the mighty Yeats (2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009).
Trainer Clive Cox and jockey Adam Kirby had enjoyed G1 sprint success in the past with the likes of Profitable and Lethal Force. The duo were on the mark again on Friday when Golden Horde, a son of Lethal Force, was the impressive winner of the G1 Commonwealth Cup. Cox and Kirby also recorded a memorable success on day five when 150/1 chance Nando Parrado caused the biggest shock of the modern era at Royal Ascot in the G2 Coventry Stakes.
The bumper eight-race card on Saturday included a G1 triple-header of the St James’s Palace Stakes, Coronation Stakes and Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Mr Ascot himself, Frankie Dettori, took the Coronation Stakes on the Niarchos Family’s Alpine Star, trained by Jessica Harrington, who emulated the success of her half-sister Alpha Centauri in the same race two years’ ago. Dettori also landed the St James’s Palace Stakes on the lightly-raced Palace Pier, who was another winner for John Gosden. Dettori’s Coronation Stakes success means he has now won every G1 race staged at Royal Ascot at least once.
It was actually a treble on Dettori on day five as he also landed the G2 Queen Mary Stakes on Campanelle. Campanelle was the 11th winner at Royal Ascot for US-based trainer Wesley Ward, proving that the Covid-19 restrictions were no bar to international success. Fellow US -based trainer Graham Motion also had reason to be proud as his filly Sharing stayed on well to take second in the Coronation Stakes.
In contrast, Kevin Stott enjoyed his first ever Ascot winner when Hello Youmzain landed the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. For good measure, Stott doubled up in the next race, the Wokingham Heritage Handicap, on Hey Jonesy. Both horses were trained by Kevin Ryan.
Frankie Dettori ended the week as Leading Jockey with six wins, just edging out Ascot-born Jim Crowley on countback of placed horses. It was the seventh time Dettori has topped the standings.
John Gosden took the honours for Leading Trainer with six wins. It was the second time the Newmarket-based maestro has topped the standings at Royal Ascot (he was also leading trainer in 2012).
An award for leading owner at Royal Ascot was introduced in 2017. After wins for Coolmore partnerships in the first three years, 2020 saw Hamdan Al Maktoum on top with six winners – all ridden to victory by his retained jockey Jim Crowley.
Even if no crowds could attend, viewers at home were extremely well catered for, with Sky Racing and ITV Racing. ITV Racing reported the highest Royal Ascot viewing figures for eight years. The written press also gave Royal Ascot tremendous coverage, with dedicated racing pullouts offered by several national titles throughout the week.