Good morning from Royal Ascot, where a 12,000-strong crowd is starting to converge on the Queen’s racecourse for the most famous and glamorous race meeting of the year. That’s around 30,000 fewer people than were here for the opening day two years ago, but still a huge boost to the morale of the lucky ones with tickets and racing in general after a year of racing pretty much exclusively behind closed doors.
A warm, dry day is forecast and the fans will hope – indeed, expect – to see their favourite son carve himself out another slice of Royal Ascot history in the opening race, when victory for the hot favourite Palace Pier would give Frankie Dettori his 74th winner at the meeting.
He is currently in a tie for second place with the late Pat Eddery, though still a long way adrift of Lester Piggott, whose career total of 116 Royal winners, compiled in an era when it was a four-day meeting, is so astonishing that it is still hard to believe, even when you see them all written down in the media guide.
This year’s crowd is not only much smaller than usual, it will also be comprised almost entirely of racing fans, with no-one turning up just to spend the afternoon in a hospitality marquee, or C-list celebs desperately trying to get themselves papped at the gate.
As a result, the opening day should really be the hottest ticket of the week (even though it would generally attract one of the lowest turnouts), with three Group Ones and an unusually competitive renewal of the St James’s Palace Stakes as the centrepiece of a seven-race card.
Race-by-race guides will be along here presently, but a couple of Dettori-ridden outsiders have been the ones for the money overnight, with the US-trained Extravagant Kid down to 6-1 for the King’s Stand Stakes having been a 12-1 chance and Thunder Moon, his partner in the St James’s Palace, now 8-1 from 14-1.
Dettori, unsurpringly, is also the 6-4 favourite to be the week’s leading rider, for the third year running and also the eighth time in what is now a 31-year Royal Ascot career. Ryan Moore, who already has eight Royal Ascot riding titles, all won between 2010 and 2018, is the narrow second pick at 7-4, with Jim Crowley – edged out on the final day by Dettori last year – available at 8-1. Oisin Murphy, the champion jockey, as an 11-1 shot alongside William Buick, and it is 33-1 bar the five.
It promises to be a fabulous week – if you turn a blind eye to the distinctly iffy weather forecast for Ladies’ Day on Thursday – and you can follow all the action here live as the 35 races unfold. One winner in one of the handicaps could be all you need for a successful week! Good luck finding it …