Britain’s King Charles III is set to feature prominently at this year’s Royal Ascot, as the race week bids to forge a new identity since the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
The horse racing spectacle became synonymous with the late monarch, with her deep passion for the sport a hook on which the festival hung its hat on.
Thousands would flock to watch her and the royal entourage make their way in horse-drawn carriages up the Straight Mile in front of packed grandstands each day before racing got underway.
Her presence was not purely ceremonial, though. She loved racing and saw 24 horses she owned win at the festival.
This week, King Charles III and his wife, Queen Camilla, will be the focus of much pomp and circumstance as Royal Ascot looks to usher in a new era – the couple will lead the royal procession on Tuesday.
Organizers are also determined to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and have permanently renamed one of the races in her honor. There will also be a photo exhibition in dedication to her influence on the sport.
“The Late Queen’s close association with Ascot Racecourse was well known throughout the world, but no race at the Royal Meeting previously carried the name of Queen Elizabeth II,” Francis Brooke, the King’s Representative at Ascot, said in a statement.
“His Majesty The King has approved the renaming of the Platinum Jubilee Stakes to The Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes.”
A total of 35 races will be run from Tuesday to Saturday and participants will be competing for a share of the record prize pot worth over $12 million. Thursday’s Gold Cup is arguably the most high-profile race in the schedule.
Extra attention will be on the royal horses, with the famous purple and gold silks now running for King Charles and Queen Camilla – both of whom will be desperate for a win in their first festival of the new reign.
Saga is the first royal runner of the meeting and is among the favourites to win the Ascot Wolferton Stakes on Tuesday.
Circle Of Fire and Reach For The Moon are two royal runners who also stand a decent chance on Wednesday.
Away from the track, Royal Ascot – a highlight of the British social scene – will once again be a platform for people to show off their finest threads.
The festival has a strict dress-code. Guests’ entry depends on whether or not they adhere to the policy, with certain areas even requiring a smart hat to be worn.
Spectators can also sample a touch of luxury with boutique food, drink and clothing outlets offering a sense of the high life.
Royal Ascot organizers are prepared for protesters bidding to disrupt the schedule this week.
It follows delays to the Epsom Derby and Grand National earlier this year which were both targeted by animal rights activists who broke onto the track.
Event organizers said they have worked closely with local police and “will have additional security around the site as well as enhanced CCTV provision and there will be increased police presence throughout the week.”
In a statement, Thames Valley Police said that while it has a “legal obligation to facilitate peaceful protest,” it will be “balancing the rights of any protestors with the needs of the local community and spectators.”
Animal Rising, the group responsible for a number of disruptions to this year’s racing calendar, said it would not seek to disrupt the festival this year, opting instead to protest greyhound racing elsewhere.
“Whether it’s with greyhounds, horses, or those on farms across the country, it is clear we need to imagine a new connection with other animals and nature,” a spokesperson for the group said in a statement.
“Doing so is at the heart of tackling our climate and nature crises.”
While Animal Rising may well be focusing their attention elsewhere, a number of other groups – such as Just Stop Oil – have staged protests at high-profile events this year and the festival is on high alert.
Frankie Dettori farewell
While the festival will need to redefine itself following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, it will have to do so without one of its most famous participants, Frankie Dettori.
The Italian jockey, arguably the most well-known face in the sport, announced this would be his last time competing at the festival before his retirement later in the year.
The 52-year-old cemented his legacy with a number of brilliant performances on the famous track throughout his career, most notably winning all seven races in one day in 1996.
The charismatic rider will be looking to add to his haul of 77 race wins at Ascot this week but says it will be an emotional affair no matter what happens.
“For sure I will cry. I’m not even going to pretend that I’m not going to,” Dettori told Ascot Racecourse in a farewell video.
“My heart doesn’t want to stop but my brain tells me I’m 52 and if I like to finish on top, I think this is the right time.
“I’ve loved it. Every second of it.”
Dettori is set to ride royal runner Reach For The Moon in the Ascot Royal Hunt Cup on Wednesday, in what is one of the most highly anticipated partnerships of the meeting.