Robin Oakley

Royal Ascot

Most punters stick to the familiar. So the increasing range of international talent is often at bargain odds

Royal Ascot
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It’s time to scuttle under a rock if you are a Folkestone or Cornish crab: 7,000 of them will be consumed in Royal Ascot week, along with 2,900 lobsters, 160,000 glasses of Pimm’s, 51,000 bottles of champagne and 30,000 chocolate eclairs. Better get your chopper booking in fast, too: 400 helicopters will descend on to the Berkshire course during the week.

In purely racing terms, Royal Ascot isn’t quite yet a Dubai with rhododendrons. Invitational events like Sheikh Mohammed’s World Cup in March and the Hong Kong International race day in December pull in more worldwide equine stars, and Ascot doesn’t have a centrepiece race like the Derby, Grand National or Cheltenham Gold Cup. It does have 18 Group Races, eight of them Group Ones, strongly supporting its claim to be the best race meeting in Europe, and every year it becomes more international. This year 164 entries were received from eight countries for the eight Group Ones and Ascot’s mix of pageantry, fashion and top-class racing merits TV coverage in 200 countries. From next year Royal Ascot will be broadcast daily on NBC in America.

Ascot also stages the Shergar Cup in August, featuring team contests between the world’s best jockeys. Before her accident at the end of May, the planners were hoping this year to include Michelle Payne, the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup. At Royal Ascot they have high hopes that this year’s opening-day Queen Anne Stakes will feature the flying mare Tepin. The winner of her past six races, she is currently the highest--profile horse in America. On the second day we could see A Shin Hikari from Japan, an impressive winner in Hong Kong in December, in the Prince of Wales Stakes. Even more colour would be provided if Mongolian Saturday turns up. Horse races in Mongolia can last up to 25 kilometres but Mongolian Saturday’s trainer Enebish Ganbat had adapted well enough after five years in the USA to win the five-furlong sprint at the Breeders’ Cup last October. Unlike some foreign entrants, owner Ganbaatar Dagvadorj, a billionaire married to a former Miss Mongolia, would not be worried by Ascot’s clothing regulations: at the Breeders’ Cup he and his entourage turned up in full multicoloured national dress and could do so again. The tails and topper stipulation can faze some foreign entrants: the year US trainer Wesley Ward brought the first of his six Ascot winners, his father was wearing jeans and a Stetson: he got away with that by leading the horse around as his lad.

The two top sprints, the King’s Stand Stakes on the Tuesday and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Saturday, tend to attract the most foreign entries. In those, Ward’s Undrafted could be taking on Holler from Australia, Gold-Fun from Hong Kong and Kiwi Karma from Singapore.

Most years there are between eight and ten international competitors. And they don’t just add colour to the occasion: since most punters stick to the familiar, they can also add betting value. When Choisir became the first Australian-trained horse to win in Britain, taking the King’s Stand in 2003, he was 25-1. When he came back on the Saturday and took the Golden Jubilee Stakes, too, he was still allowed to start at 13-2.