Royal Ascot Preview -  By Cornelius Lysaght

Royal Ascot Preview - By Cornelius Lysaght

As Royal Ascot looms, Cornelius Lysaght shares his views ahead of the most exciting week in the Flat racing calendar.

Of course Royal Ascot is the outstanding horseracing festival of its type anywhere.

From the Royal family’s first carriage procession arrival and the curtain-raising Queen Anne Stakes – remembering the monarch who got the whole thing going in 1711 – through until the Queen Alexandra at 6-15 on the Saturday, day five, many of the most talented racehorses around will compete to become the latest winners on the historic roll of honour.

Opulence owners have two trophies in their sights, starting with the newly re-named, £650,000 King Charles III Stakes (formerly the King’s Stand), the first of Ascot’s world-class sprints for which Andrew Balding is targeting Purosangue. The race is staged over a fast and furious five-furlongs (1000m) on Tuesday (3-45).

And then on day three, the Thursday, Andrew and Roger Varian are planning to saddle, respectively, Arctic Thunder and Dashing Darcey in the £120,000 Brittania (5-05), a leader amongst the season’s most fiercely contested handicaps and a terrific spectacle over the straight one-mile.

Arctic Thunder has some eye-catching form and returns to action after a break following an early-season Ascot win, while Dashing Darcey arrives off the back of a taking success at Haydock. All three are players.


But, but, but…important as all of that unquestionably is, Royal Ascot is much more than a race-meeting – it’s also a spectacularly good party, aided and abetted by a later-than-standard first-race time of 2-30 (lots of time for lunch) and its close proximity to the longest day of the year.

So how great is it that Opulence is getting stuck in on the Thursday and Friday with pre- and post-racing picnics in car park 2.

The first thing to say is that car park 2 is literally just over the road from the enclosures, and absolutely mustn’t be confused with car park 1 (beyond the saddling boxes) which is full of people that think that their area is superior – actually we’re much better off, not least because it’s where jockeys and trainers park, so plenty of ‘faces’ are around and keen to enjoy themselves.

Do take care on the road, which is quite busy: years ago, when there was just one pelican-crossing down near the high street everyone used to take their chance and try to navigate a slightly hair-raising path through the moving traffic near the main entrance.

Sometimes we made it, but usually an officious police officer would order a retreat to the pavement until the traffic was stopped.

I recall Lester Piggott being sent back not once, not twice but three times – on the third occasion, the copper pointed towards Ascot town centre saying: “Look mate, there’s a pelican crossing down there”.

Lester replied in his inimitable, muttering tones: “I hope it’s having more f****** luck than I am”.

Not that long ago there were only a few picnics, all very civilised affairs, with some well-trimmed sandwiches and a glass of something nice served out of car boots; nowadays however there’s hardly a blade of grass to spare as sophisticated spreads of all kinds of food and drink are laid out.

And I know that Anya is so on it that the Opulence feast promises to be cast-iron Group One, especially if results are favourable. I’m told that the black pudding scotch eggs are the nap.

One other thing: there’s always talk of what you might call “car park capers” but to be honest I can’t remember details, and, even if I could, what occurs in car park 2 stays in car park 2.

However, the good news is everyone always says there’s a curfew, which there isn’t. See you there.