Racing at Ascot Racecourse began in 1711, and it’s been a pretty big deal ever since with the Royal Ascot meeting rooted in a long-standing British tradition of quality racing with the Royal Family on hand. When thinking of the traditional pageantry and color of Thoroughbred racing, visions of the Queen arriving by Royal procession, men in morning jackets and top hats, and the well-dressed women of Ascot come to mind.
For the most part Royal Ascot has been admired in the United States from afar. Well, not anymore.
Trainer Wesley Ward, big events becoming bigger draws, and wider exposure via social media have changed all that. Royal Ascot—held this year from June 14-18—has become more accessible and winning there more attainable, for more Americans every year. Even NBC Sports announced last month that it will offer coverage of the meet starting next year on NBCsn.
Ward became the first American-based trainer to win a stakes at Royal Ascot when his 2-year-old Strike the Tiger struck in the Windsor Castle Stakes and Jealous Again conquered the Queen Mary Stakes (Eng-II) on back-to-back days in 2009. He has continued to cast an even wider net as this year he won the Queen Mary for a third time with a sensational run by Lady Aurelia.
Trainer Mark Casse stole the show June 14 with Robert Masterson’s champion turf female Tepin in the Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I).
“Wesley made it attainable; although it is still very difficult,” said Kentucky bloodstock agent Gatewood Bell, who has attended Royal Ascot the last seven years. Bell’s Hat Creek Racing has been well represented by Ward-trained runners at Royal Ascot. This year’s hope, Red Lodge in the Norfolk Stakes (Eng-II), ran ninth.
“Once you come over, you get it,” Bell said. “It is an unreal experience just to be a part of, and if you’re lucky enough to have a horse here, it’s that much better. It’s the reason we’re all in the game.”
Watching from afar was Carrie Brogden, breeder of Tepin through her family’s Machmer Hall.
“I must have had 15 friends that called and said, ‘You have to go; you’d be crazy not to,’ ” she said. “Wesley Ward going there and taking those owners with him has exposed it to the U.S. racing world. Also, Americans are fascinated with royalty…and I am, too.”
And the shift is not just in racing. Brogden has seen a change in shoppers at her yearling consignments at the Keeneland September yearling sales.
“People shopping at September really feel like they can have a horse that can run at Churchill Downs or Royal Ascot, or anywhere globally,” she said. “Since I moved here in 2001, that’s completely changed.”
Royal Ascot has always attracted those looking for a one-of-a-kind sporting event. And with more of a focus on big racing days in the U.S., Royal Ascot fills the void between the huge Belmont Stakes (gr. I) day card and Saratoga and Del Mar later in July.
A “non-racing” friend took in the Royal Ascot meet last week. While on vacation in England, Evan Stone of Dallas, Texas, was invited into the Queen Anne enclosure and treated to “the highest-quality level for that sort of big public sporting event,” he said. He noted he and his daughter enjoyed dressing up for a big afternoon out and appreciated the hospitality and helpfulness, even from the bookmakers that took the time to explain the process.
Interestingly, he’s never visited Lone Star Park near his home in Grand Prairie.
“Every year there are more and more Americans coming,” Bell said. “My contingent grows. There were 20 of us here rooting for Red Lodge. With Wesley in general, he’s got close to 40 people. It’s good fun. It’s starting to look like the Keeneland spring meet.”