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No, they won’t be replacing gulls’ eggs and champagne with chip butties and Old Peculier ale. And if there is anywhere capable of replacing Ascot’s elegance it is the Knavesmire at York, chosen to host the Royal Ascot race meeting this year while the Berkshire course undergoes a £185m refit.
Next week’s meeting is, says BBC Radio York’s managing editor, the biggest event in the city since the Pope’s visit in 1982, though I doubt if his Holiness had a flutter.
Some of the London smart set are said to be staying away, with the 200-mile trip north seeing Royal Enclosure bookings significantly down. Good riddance, many will say. Less attention focused on the millinery and more on the racing. The horses won’t notice flatter vowels or the hefty price rises for Yorkshire accommodation being trousered by the locals. And the change in location has not deterred the equine international set either, with entrants from Hong Kong, America, Australia and Japan.
Final entries are yet to be settled. The big battalions from Coolmore and Godolphin are still sizing up their options. But we could see Irish 2000 Guineas winner Dubawi, who didn’t stay the distance in the Derby, reverting to a mile for Godolphin and perhaps taking on Coolmore’s English 2000 Guineas winner Footstepsinthesand.
After he spreadeagled a field of quality milers in the Lockinge at Newbury last month, the most keenly awaited appearance will be that of the enigmatic but exciting Rakti in the Queen Anne Stakes. Trainer Michael Jarvis says he is the best he has handled in 37 years. Last year Rakti won the Prince of Wales Stakes at Ascot. But will it be another “going day”? The horse has been known to refuse to enter the stalls or delay coming out of them when the mood takes him. Jarvis has asked to transport his horse across the course in a horsebox rather than risking the one-mile walk to the start during which he could boil over.
Rakti’s owner Gary Tanaka won’t be attending as he faces an $11m lawsuit in the US alleging that he defrauded clients to help buy racehorses, and has had his passport confiscated.
Absent too will be jockey Frankie Dettori, the champion at Royal Ascot for the past two years and for five of the past eight. He has been suspended for six days for a riding offence elsewhere.
Mark Johnston’s top filly Attraction will not run, having failed to recover from an injury sustained in Hong Kong. And sadly Australian sprinter Fastnet Rock, brought over by Paul Perry, who devastated British racing by winning both the King’s Stand Stakes and the Golden Jubilee with Choisir two years ago, is ruled out with travel sickness.
But that still leaves the consistent Hong Kong sprinter Cape of Good Hope to be reckoned with. Australia’s Elvstroem, already tested in Hong Kong, Dubai, Britain and France this year, will duck Rakti and go for the Prince of Wales Stakes. Another former Australian favourite, Starcraft, now with Luca Cumani in Newmarket will, however, take on Jarvis’s charge.
Royal Ascot racing has everything – top juvenile contests for speedy two year olds, cavalry-charge handicaps and classy Group Ones. One of the most exciting contests could be the Gold Cup in which last year’s one and two, Westerner and Papineau, renew rivalry. Papineau has been sidelined with an ankle injury while Westerner has proved his wellbeing in France. But expect the pair to be given a race by Ireland’s Vinnie Roe, four times winner of the St Leger in his home country and a winner also in Australia. As trainer Dermot Weld puts it: “He just loves being a racehorse.”
With Dettori out of the equation, expect a big meeting for Godolphin’s supersub Kerrin McEvoy, who won the English St Leger last year on Rule of Law. Barry Hills’ Etlaala could prove a surprise on his return to sprinting, and there will be a huge cheer if the veteran Halmahera, who has been brought back into training from retirement, can win the Wokingham Stakes as a 10 year old for Yorkshire-based Kevin Ryan.
Other locals who will have their supporters include Tim Easterby’s sprinter Somnus, in the Golden Jubilee, and James Bethell’s Mine in the Royal Hunt Cup.
From the south, Sir Michael Stoute’s Eden Rock will take some beating in that. And Henry Cecil could be back among the Ascot winners with Camacho or Akimbo.