Social distancing was done away with and masks optional as fans returned to Royal Ascot and this was precisely the jab in the arm the nation needs
- It was the first time a crowd had been at Royal Ascot for two years
- There is only one stipulation of entry at the gates – a negative Covid test
- Social distancing was done away with and masks optional as part of pilot scheme
Let’s start by blasting the hoary myth that acceptance at Royal Ascot requires military pedigree, an ancient baronetcy or heiress wealth.
No, in 2021, there is only one stipulation of entry and it was carried in nearly 12,000 phones, belonging to the nobs and hoi polloi alike, to be presented at the gates: a negative Covid test.
Then, officially free of disease you were welcome at surely one of the most uplifting editions of this pageant since Queen Anne inaugurated the whole shebang on Saturday, August 11, 1711.
Fans were back at Royal Ascot for the first time in two years with a reduced capcity
It was the first time a crowd had been here for two years, when Corona was just a beer. Now, under a warm sun, the glorious absurdity of Royal Ascot was back. And perhaps best of all is that the rules of the Government pilot scheme dictated that social distancing was done away with and masks optional.
The deal is this that those attending will take a further Covid test to assess how safe mass sports events are. We can leave that one to science. What I can report is that occasions such as this are precisely the jab in the arm the nation needs.
In fact, this scaled down Royal Ascot is even more blissful than usual for those lucky enough to be here. The roads aren’t snarled up, the train queues not a snaking horror. Yes, there was a five-minute wait at the Bandstand Bar, but it was generally easier to navigate your way around.
Admittedly, the reduced attendance, down from around 50,000 a day, is no good for the powers that be. This meeting accounts for 70 per cent of Ascot’s annual business and Nick Smith, director of racing and public affairs, revealed they are taking a ‘high seven-figure hit’ in the financial department this year.
At least the course has a benevolent landlady: the Queen. Alas, she was not with us on Tuesday, but a few furlongs up the road, watching on TV in Windsor Castle.
Social distancing was done away with and masks optional as part of Government pilot scheme
There was a ripple of excitement early in the afternoon when a car appeared in the paddock and the national anthem played. Out stepped the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. There was polite applause, but everyone knew it was not them but the monarch the people had hoped to see.
It would not be the truth, the whole truth or anything like the truth to say I secured an exclusive interview with the Prince. But he passed within two metres of me on the steppings before The King’s Stand Stakes, in which King’s Lynn, owned by his mother and well-backed at 8-1, was running. Our eyes met.
‘Good luck, sir,’ a voice cried.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall attended the first day of Royal Ascot 2021
‘I’ll be blamed if he doesn’t win,’ replied the Prince, with a guilty laugh. King’s Lynn finished seventh, the Prince destined for the Tower.
The Queen is due here later in the week, though the royal procession has been done away with. But, still, the whole event stands for an eccentrically British way of life. Even those who don’t know which end to feed a horse have heard tell of Frankie Dettori, the darling of this verdant turf. His victory on Palace Pier in the opening race, The Queen Anne Stakes, was another serendipitous moment on this glorious day.
A showman needs a crowd and Dettori had his back. ‘You cannot imagine what it was like to see the people and hear the screaming,’ said the little big man. ‘It’s a mirage — I’m so pleased to have everyone back.’
It was a sentiment that carried everyone home with a spring in their step.