The historic Royal Ascot meeting, the showpiece event in Britain's flat racing calendar, may be held without spectators this year. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: British racing’s first four Classics of the 2020 season have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but Ascot Racecourse has issued an upbeat bulletin stating that their flagship ‘Royal Ascot’ meeting is likely to take place behind closed doors.

The high-profile event, the sporting and social highlight of the flat-racing season in the UK, is scheduled to be held from June 16-20.

“It may prove possible to run the Royal Ascot races behind closed doors, dependent on government and public health policy and the approval of the BHA [British Horseracing Authority] for us to re-start racing,” said Guy Henderson, Chief Executive, Ascot Racecourse in the statement.

“This will of course be a great disappointment for everyone planning to attend but would be for the benefit of the industry, our valued partners and suppliers and our television audiences at home and internationally. Planning for this is now our complete focus and we will update on progress as and when we can,” he added.

“We thank everyone in advance for their patience and understanding in completing this substantial task given the challenging practical circumstances of the current national lockdown,” added Henderson.

Royal Ascot is the most famous racing Carnival in the world with five days of high-quality racing, featuring 17 Group races and over £4.5 million (Dhs 20 million) in prize money. The Festival is a favourite among the UAE horseowners who have been participating at the event for close to four decades and have won almost all the major prizes on offer.

The total attendance over five days at the Royal Ascot meeting averages around 300,000. However, should racing go ahead behind closed doors, it will be the first time in history that it will not include the traditional Royal procession which takes place prior to the first race each day.

The five-day meeting is also attended daily by The Queen since the 1950s.

“Nevertheless, Ascot Racecourse will come through this crisis and we look forward to being able to welcome racegoers back when it is safe to do so,” Henderson said.

“Our thoughts are with all those grieving and suffering as a result of COVID-19. We offer heartfelt thanks to our wonderful NHS staff, key workers and volunteers for all their selfless dedication.”

Henderson also confirmed that same principles in place for Royal Ascot will apply to the May racing weekend on the 8th and 9th.

Meanwhile, the Jockey Club Racecourses, the largest commercial horse racing organisation in the UK, said the Guineas fixture scheduled for May 2-3 and the Epsom Derby meeting on June 5-6 were being called off “due to the ongoing public health emergency”.

The Epsom Derby, scheduled on June 5-6, has been called off due to the ongoing ''public health emergency'' in England. Image Credit: AFP

“As a sport, we have a responsibility to safeguard the staging of our Classics, and to position them within a sensible, balanced schedule of complementary events wherever possible,” said Ruth Quinn, director of international racing and racing development at the British Horseracing Authority.

“We will continue to work together to deliver the optimal outcome within these unprecedented set of circumstances. We are developing plans to help ensure that a suitable race programme, for the long-term health of the sport, can be delivered in these challenging times. Naturally one of the key priorities is the staging of the generation-defining races,” she said.

“The plan will adapt depending on when racing recommences, but will aim to ensure that we provide suitable opportunities for the horses most likely to define the future of the thoroughbred breed if at all possible,” Quinn added.

Pinatubo, owned by Godolphin, the racing empire of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is the current favourite for the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby.

Royal Ascot trivia

When was the first Royal Ascot race meeting held?

1825, 1711, 1519, 1936

Answer: 1711