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One of the country’s premier tracks, Ascot stages Flat racing between May and October with the centrepiece, of course, the Royal meeting in June. Right-handed and triangular shaped, the track is just under 1m6f miles long and the round course goes downhill into Swinley Bottom, the lowest part of the track, before turning on to the Old Mile Course, which starts as a separate chute. The course then rises to the home turn over a new underpass to join the straight mile course.The run-in is about 3f and rises steadily to the line. The turns are quite gentle but it can be difficult to raise momentum if forced very wide off the final bend.
Only six miles from Windsor Castle, the course can be reached from the M4 (junctions 6 & 10), the M3 (junction 3) or the M40 (junction 4) while there are frequent rail services to Ascot from London Waterloo and Reading. It must be noted that a strict dress code applies to all enclosures during the Royal meeting and it is advisable to check the course’s official website for details before buying tickets or travelling.
Ascot, founded in 1711 by Queen Anne, had its long-term future protected by an Act Of Parliament in 1813 and again 100 years later is privately owned by Ascot Racecourse Ltd and stages well over a quarter of the UK’s 32 Group 1 races every year. The Queen Anne Stakes, King’s Stand Stakes, St James’s Palace Stakes, Coronation Stakes, Ascot Gold Cup and Golden Jubilee Stakes are among the features at the five-day meeting in June and regarded as mid-season championship races, while the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes is run in July and Champions Day in October, recently transferred from Newmarket, includes the Champion Stakes. The Coventry Stakes is one of several important races run for two-year-olds with classic pretensions. The Wokingham is one of the Royal meeting’s most competitive handicaps and always attracts a huge field but it is possible to narrow down the contenders as it is very rare for the winner to have had more than four runs that season prior to Ascot and they have nearly always finished sixth or better in their prep race. Four and five-year-olds also tend to do better than any other age group.
William Haggas’ two-year-olds, Hughie Morrison’s three-year-olds and John Gosden’s older horses are always worth a second look in general throughout the Flat season, but watch out for Mark Johnston’s three-year-olds at the Royal meeting and don’t be put off if they are not apparently the stable’s first choice in a particular race. Frankie Dettori is the jockey to follow.
ASCOT (NATIONAL HUNT)
Right-handed and triangular shaped, the track is just under 1m6f miles long and the round course goes downhill into Swinley Bottom, before rising steadily to the line on the 3f-long run-in. The fences are quite stiff and will catch out poor jumpers or those that get out of a rhythm. The course may be best known for the Royal meeting on the Flat in June but also stages some important jumping fixtures featuring race like the Long Walk Hurdle, an important trial for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham which has been won three times by champion stayer Big Bucks. The Grade 1 Victor Chandler Chase is run over 2m in January and usually attracts genuine Champion Chase contenders while the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase has been won by top-class chasers like One Man, Mr Mulligan and Albertas Run.
The Ladbroke Hurdle, run in the week before Christmas, started life as the Irish Sweeps Hurdle but was switched to Ascot in 2000 from Leopardstown and is now a permanent fixture in the UK calendar. This is a race in which second-season hurdlers, normally five-year-olds thrive, but look for a horse with proven ability as those carrying 10st9lb or more usually come out on top rather than those still working their way up the ladder.
Nicky Henderson runs some of his top novice hurdlers and chasers at Ascot. Donald McCain’s hurdlers are always worth a second look.