UK RACING: Royal Ascot show must go on, says race chief

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 18, 2019 Racegoers attend on day one of the Royal Ascot horse racing meet, in Ascot, west of London. - From dress and handbag designers to hat makers to those working in the hospitality sector next week's five day Royal Ascot meeting is usually a lucrative source of income. However. Queen Elizabeth II will be absent, chic dresses will remain in overflowing store rooms, champagne corks will not be a popping and ovens will stay cold -- welcome to Royal Ascot in the age of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) – Royal Ascot will take a big financial hit when it goes ahead behind closed doors next week but racing director Nick Smith says it is important to put on a show.

The meeting, intimately linked with the British royal family, will also be missing its pageantry, with Queen Elizabeth II absent for the first time in her 68-year reign.

Although owners are not allowed to attend due to coronavirus restrictions, there will be runners from as far afield as the United States in an expanded programme of races.

Ascot has been forced to make cuts due to lack of revenue from paying spectators and hospitality, halving the prize money on offer.

The 36 races will have total prize money of £3,680,000 ($4.7 million) compared with the figure of more than £8 million announced in December.

“We will take a financial hit, yes, but we wanted to run the race meeting,” Smith told AFP.

“We are here to run race meetings and if you are not going to run Royal Ascot then you should not be hosting racing.”

He added: “The priority was black-type racing (top-level races where winning or finishing in the first three increases the value of the horse).”

Two of Smith’s colleagues went to Newmarket last week for the 1000 Guineas to learn from that experience, with that event also held behind closed doors.

However, Smith said Royal Ascot was on another level.

BEST SHOW

“We have bigger races with larger fields,” he said. “The attention of the world is looking in on the biggest sport event globally to take place since sports resumed.

“That is a heavy responsibility for us but it is a statement that racing is back. We must put on the best show we can.”

Smith said Royal Ascot going ahead when other staples of the British sporting summer such as Wimbledon and the British Open had been cancelled was “symbolic”.

He admitted, though, that the mood prior to the British government’s decision to allow racing to start again this month was downbeat.

“We were working on the basis of not being able to race for most of the spring to be honest,” he said.

“We never took anything for granted, we never expected racing to be treated any differently from other sports.”

Ascot has had to make major adjustments.

Jockeys will have their own individual socially distanced changing-room pens in two separate areas, with one set up in what is usually a restaurant in the grandstand.

The presentations are usually a feature of the post-race ceremonies, with the Queen handing over the Gold Cup.

This year, though, she will be watching on from nearby Windsor Castle.

“I think yes, absolutely, we will feel her presence even if she is not here but at Windsor Castle,” said Smith.

“She has, as is her custom, written the forewords for the race cards for every day of the meeting. It is still very much the royal meeting and she will be as always watching with great interest.”