Horse racing’s Royal Ascot meeting will be expanded from six races to seven, in a move which could bring much needed revenue back to the sport.
The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 opened the field for an extra race, and so organisers have reintegrated the Buckingham Palace Stakes – which was initially replaced by the Commonwealth Cup in 2015 – in addition to the 0-105 mile handicap Kensington Palace Stakes, which is open to mares and fillies aged four years old and above.
Other notable flat races to be held at the track during the week of meetings include the Copper Horse Stakes, the Palace of Holyroodhouse Stakes and the Golden Gates Stakes.
The races will take place between Tuesday 15 June and Saturday 19 June, featuring 35 meetings in total, 5 more than in previous years.
Commenting on the expansion, Sir Francis Brooke Bt., Her Majesty’s Representative at Ascot, said: “A positive that we drew from Royal Ascot 2020 was that the additional races presented more opportunities to participate and that this had been widely welcomed by owners, trainers, breeders and jockeys. We are delighted to be able to make this change permanent.”
The new races for 2021 will run at the end of each day, with the exception of the Saturday meetings, where the traditional Queen Alexandra Stakes will close the week, following the Golden Gate Stakes.
Although the overall number of races has increased, the ‘Silver’ versions of the Royal Hunt Cup and the Wokingham Stakes have been dropped and there will not be eight races on Saturday as there were in 2020.
Director of Racing and Public Affairs at Ascot, Nick Smith, added: “The concept of extended cards last year was well received, and we are very pleased to be able to offer additional opportunities to the horsemen community, the public, broadcasters and media going forward.
“At this time, more than ever, the increased opportunity to win prize money and to generate more levy and domestic and overseas betting income is crucial.”
The decision to expand the race-cards has been well received by betting operators, as the increased activity and potential for busy TV schedules could generate vital revenue after the financial difficulties of 2020.
“It’s massive. Having 35 races instead of 30 is like having an extra day and from a bookmaking perspective it’s such a significant move in terms of growing the event,” remarked Barry Orr, Head of Media Relations at Betfair, as reported in the Racing Post.
“For example, from an exchange point of view I think we average £1.5 million to £2m pre-race at Royal Ascot, and the meeting is well able to take an extra race; six was probably on the shy side anyway.
“It’s a really positive move for racing and the levy.”
Ladbrokes Coral PR Director, Simon Clare, also commented: “Ascot’s decision to continue with seven-race cards at the royal meeting is to be applauded as our experience from last summer shows it will deliver incremental growth to turnover over the week, and generate increased revenues from betting to racing.”
Ladbrokes and Coral shops recorded extremely high turnover last year when the St James’s Palace Stakes was rescheduled to a Saturday.
“While the new races added last year were among the poorest performers in betting terms, that was to be expected as they were positioned in the weakest slots without the boost of ITV coverage, and, because they are new, they have no heritage yet with betting customers,” he continued.
“They still delivered decent levels of additional turnover, with the Palace of Holyroodhouse Stakes performing best as the 19th best-betting race of the week of the 35 races, and you’d expect them all to perform better as they become established.
“Royal Ascot is already the biggest week of betting in the flat season, and the permanent addition of five competitive betting races across the five days is great news all round.”