The country is consumed by the World Cup. But for racing fans, the drama in Russia takes a back seat this week to Royal Ascot.
The greatest festival of Flat racing in the world. The summer equivalent of the Cheltenham Festival.
Five days, from Tuesday to Saturday, that cannot be missed, whether you are among the throngs on the Heath or sat in front of the TV.
Of course, the meeting is intrinsically linked to pomp, pageant and tradition. The Royal Enclosure is a top-hatted throwback to a bygone age.
Fashion, food, drink and socialising take priority for many, not to mention the chance to salute the royal procession and have a celebratory sing-song by the bandstand.
But most importantly, it is also the showcase of UK Flat racing. Most of the best horses trained in Britain and Ireland will be there, plus a smattering of challengers from overseas.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the occasion, prize money has escalated to a record total of £7.3 million. The meeting will be attended by about 300,000 people. It will be broadcast to 175 countries and reach 650 million households across the globe.
Here, the action will unfold on ITV, although it will be switched to ITV4 when there is a clash with a World Cup match. Uninterrupted, wall-to-wall coverage can be found on Racing UK.
As usual, the meeting is expected to be dominated by the big trainers, the big owners and the big jockeys. Aidan O’Brien has been leading trainer at Royal Ascot for seven of the last 11 years, although Sir Michael Stoute needs just one more first to become the winning-most handler in the history of the royal meeting. Stoute currently sits level, on 75 winners, with the great Sir Henry Cecil. O’Brien has trained 61.
Leading jockey at Royal Ascot has been Ryan Moore for the last four years, including in 2014 when he booted home a record nine winners. Moore is now only eight behind Frankie Dettori in the all-time list.
On the owners’ front, it’s worth recalling the remarkable statistics from last year’s meeting when Coolmore were responsible for six, seven seconds and four thirds, while Godolphin sent out six winners, six seconds and six thirds. That’s 35 of the 90 available top-three spots lapped up by the two behemoth operations.
The extravaganza comprises 30 races, all dripping with quality, richly competitive, truly international and irresistible to the punting instincts of racing enthusiasts. There are no fewer than 19 Group races to get stuck into, including eight Groups Ones, all worth a minimum of £500,000, plus a host of captivating handicap puzzles.
As with the Cheltenham Festival, the search for winners entails hours of intense form-study, race-reviewing and the countenance of countless opinions. The task isn’t helped by the fact that the entries for many of the races are released ridiculously late, seriously marring the build-up to the week.
However, we roughly know the shape and make-up of all 30 contests now and to help set the scene for the week, I have come up with selections for each, complete with next-bests and each/way alternatives. All should be treated as potential winners.
These selections are being posted the day before the meeting starts, on the assumption that the ground will ride fast. When changes are required as the week goes on (for instance, when the final declarations are known for Thursday, Friday and Saturday), watch out for updates.
Enjoy what promises to be a memorable celebration of British horse racing. As Ascot’s own slogan says, it is a place like nowhere else.
DAY ONE (Tuesday)
2.30 (1m Queen Anne Stakes, Group 1)
3.05 (6f Coventry Stakes 2yo, Group 2)
CALYX (Sergei Prokofiev, Cosmic Law)
3.40 (5f King’s Stand Stakes, Group 1)
BATTAASH (Lady Aurelia)
4.20 (1m St James’s Palace Stakes 3yo, Group 1)
US NAVY FLAG (Romanised)
5.00 (2m4f Ascot Stakes Handicap)
DANNYDAY (Whiskey Sour, Coeur De Lion)
5.35 (1m2f Wolferton Stakes, Listed)
LARAAIB (Sharja Bridge, Monarchs Glen)
DAY TWO (Wednesday)
2.30 (5f Queen Mary Stakes 2yo Fillies, Group 2)
SO PERFECT (Shades Of Blue, Kodyanna)
3.05 (1m6f Queen’s Vase 3yo, Group 2)
NELSON (Stream Of Stars)
3.40 (1m Duke Of Cambridge Stakes Fillies, Group 2)
4.20 (1m2f Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, Group 1)
5.00 (1m Royal Hunt Cup Handicap)
TRICORN (Medahim, Cape Byron, Keyser Soze)
5.35 (7f Jersey Stakes 3yo, Group 3)
EMARAATY (Tabdeed, Merlin Magic)
DAY THREE (Thursday)
Selections to be updated Thursday morning
2.30 (5f Norfolk Stakes 2yos, Group 2)
QUEEN OF BERMUDA (The Paddocks)
3.05 (1m2f Hampton Court Stakes 3yo, Group 3)
KEY VICTORY (National Army, Silver Quartz)
3.40 (1m4f Ribblesdale Stakes 3yo Fillies, Group 2)
ATHENA (Dancing Brave Bear, Crystal Hope)
4.20 (2m4f Gold Cup, Group 1)
STRADIVARIUS (Desert Skyline)
5.00 (1m Britannia Handicap 3yo)
CRACK ON CRACK ON (Il Primo Sole, Completion)
5.35 (1m4f King George V Handicap 3yo)
DAY FOUR (Friday)
Selections to be updated Thursday evening
2.30 (6f Albany Stakes 2yo Fillies, Group 3)
JUST WONDERFUL (Fairyland, Main Edition)
3.05 (1m4f King Edward VII Stakes 3yo, Group 2)
OLD PERSIAN (Mildenberger, Giuseppe Garibaldi)
3.40 (6f Commonwealth Cup 3yo, Group 1)
SIOUX NATION (Equilateral)
4.20 (1m Coronation Stakes 3yo Fillies, Group 1)
THREADING (Anna Nerium, Alpha Centauri)
5.00 (1m Sandringham Handicap 3yo Fillies)
5.35 (1m4f Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap)
DASH OF SPICE (Thundering Blue)
DAY FIVE (Saturday)
Selections to be updated Saturday morning
2.30 (7f Chesham Stakes 2yo, Listed)
3.05 (1m4f Hardwicke Stakes, Group 2)
3.40 (5f Windsor Castle Stakes 2yo, Listed)
QUEEN OF BERMUDA (Andre Amar)
4.20 (6f Diamond Jubilee Stakes, Group 1)
HARRY ANGEL (Sir Dancealot)
5.00 (6f Wokingham Handicap)
MAJOR JUMBO (Victory Angel, Tommy Taylor, Dreamfield)
5.35 (2m6f Queen Alexandra Stakes)
FUN MAC (Count Octave, Time To Study)