Every day at Royal Ascot this summer will be a £1m day following a decision at the Queen’s racecourse to ramp up prize money for the famous week of action in June. An extra £1m in prize money is to be added to purses, taking the total for the five race-days to more than £6.5m and ensuring that at least £1m will be, as it were, redistributed each afternoon.
Nor does the latest investment by Ascot end with that 18% increase in prizes at the Royal meeting. A further £700,000 is to be spent on a new unsaddling enclosure which will never be a focus for racegoers but will provide connections of beaten horses the chance to consider their excuses in more comfortable surroundings.
The space currently set aside for that purpose was described as “a little bit industrial” by Nick Smith, Ascot’s spokesman, on Monday. It is also packed to capacity after some of the big-field handicaps that take place there during the Flat season and one can readily imagine some billionaire owner being jostled in his moment of disappointment and making a mental note to take it up with the management.
Smith said the new space would offer “a beautiful oval lawn”, a proper walkway, some cover and water misters to cool down the runners, all of it adding up to “a nicer, more landscaped environment” for the temporarily unsuccessful. Cheltenham has also spent money on upgrading its own ‘paddock of doom’ in recent months, suggesting that losing owners are a more powerful lobby than has hitherto been appreciated.
Ascot’s winners will benefit from significant uplifts in the money offered, with the Prince of Wales’s Stakes now worth £750,000, an increase of £225,000, while an identical sum has been added to the Queen Anne, taking its total to £600,000. There has also been an element of underpinning added to the Royal meeting’s lower-value contests, the least of which will now offer £80,000 rather than the £60,000 of last year.
Critics on social media were quick to assert that the money would be better used to shore up prize levels at racing’s lower end and would make no difference to the kind of owner that typically wins at Royal Ascot. But Smith said the increase was needed to keep pace with other major races in Britain, Goodwood’s Sussex Stakes being worth £1m these days while York’s Juddmonte International was worth £900,000 last year. Top-class Flat races overseas offer still more.
“Royal Ascot has a responsibility to the rest of the industry,” Smith said during an appearance on Racing UK. “It is the country’s premier Flat-racing meeting. It’s Britain’s shop window for Flat racing. It’s what everybody watches and ultimately what happens there defines our year.
“The championship races at Royal Ascot have to be genuine championship races. It’s an elite race meeting and it’s what we’re best known for and we have to start there. That being said, we will make some announcements later in the year with regards to some other race meetings. I don’t expect huge, huge tranches to be going in but we’ll certainly be making some increases.”
Smith added later that Ascot had had some success with its various incentives aimed at getting more runners in its jumps races. “Our field sizes have improved but it would probably be wrong to add the word ‘significantly’ at the end of that sentence. It’s an issue for the whole industry but we will offer appearance money for the Reynoldstown Chase and another race next month.”Paul Nicholls has said that Ptit Zig will be sent back over hurdles after unseating at Kempton on Saturday. The seven-year-old fell on his previous start at Huntingdon and the trainer feels he has “never been the most natural over fences”, making Cheltenham’s Cleeve Hurdle the most likely next target.
Jump racing is expected to resume in Britain for the first time since Saturday when Ludlow hopes to stage some action on Tuesday, albeit with one hurdle omitted because of surface water. Heavy rain has caused the abandonment of Tuesday’s scheduled card at Fakenham and Wednesday’s at Newcastle. An inspection is planned today at Leicester ahead of Thursday’s card there, with the course reported to be waterlogged in places.
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