Run over 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 210 yards and, nowadays, open to horses aged four years and upwards, the Gold Cup was inuagurated in 1807 and, when the European Pattern Race system was introduced 1971, was the one and only Group One race staged during Royal Ascot. Prior to 2008, just one horse, Sagaro, trained by François Boutin in Lamorlaye, near Chantilly, had won the Gold Cup three times. However, on June 19 that year, Yeats, trained by Aidan O’Brien, was sent off 11/8 favourite to become the second horse to complete a hat-trick in what is the longest Group One race in the world and duly obliged, drawing clear in the closing stages to beat Geordieland by 5 lengths.
Not only that, but the following year, as an eight-year-old, Yeats returned to Royal Ascot to attempt an unprecedented fourth win in the Gold Cup. Sent off 6/4 favourite, ahead of Geordieland and Paktai, who had finished first and second in the Group Two Henry II Stakes at Sandown the previous month, Yeats never gave his supporters an anxious moment; having taken a commanding lead inside the final quarter-of-a-mile, Yeats galloped on resolutely to beat Paktai by 3½ lengths with his old rival Geordieland 15 lengths further back in third place. Yeats was retired from racing the following October as was subsequently described by Timeform as ‘a giant who will be virtually impossible to replace on the track’.
Royal Ascot 2020 is scheduled to take place between Tuesday, June 16 and Saturday, June 20. Obviously, the future of the Royal Meeting, horse racing and British sport, in general, depends on the implications of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis but, if racing is back up and running by mid-June, Royal Ascot offers no fewer than eight Group One races spread over the five days.
All eight Group One contests, naturally enough, constitute part of the British Champions’ Series, in one or other of the ‘Sprint’, ‘Mile’, ‘Middle Distance’, ‘Long Distance’ and ‘Fillies & Mares’ categories. The opening Queen Anne Stakes, which has held Group One status since 2003, is the most valuable event of the week in the ‘Mile’ category, worth £600,000 in total prize money. In the ‘Sprint’ category, the six-furlong Diamond Jubilee Stakes, which has held Group One status since 2002 and is the feature race on the fifth, and final, day, is also worth £600,000 in total prize money. The most valuable race run at Royal Ascot, though, is the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the ‘Middle Distance’ highlight, run over a mile and a quarters and worth £750,000 in total prize money.
In Britain, and the rest of Europe, a Group One race is a horse race of the highest calibre, as designated by the European Pattern Committee. Group One races include some of the most prestigious, valuable and historic races in Britain, over distances between 5 furlongs and 2 miles 4 furlongs, on Grade One racecourses, such as Ascot, Newmarket and York.
Some Group One races, such as the ‘Classic’ races – that is, the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby and St. Leger – are restricted to certain age groups and others, such as the Nassau Stakes and Sun Chariot Stakes, are restricted to a specific gender. However, generally speaking, horses of the same age and gender compete at level weights in Group One races, with weight-for-age and weight-for-sex allowances for three-year-olds competing against older horses and fillies and mares racing against colts and geldings, respectively.
Of course, Group One races can occasionally be downgraded; to maintain Group One status, over a three-year period, the average official rating of the first four horses home in the race in question must be 115, or more. From 2018, in Group One races, other than two-year-old races, in Britain, a horse must have achieved an official rating of 80 to be allowed to run in the first place.
Owned by Khalid Abdullah, trained by John Gosden, Enable has, of as April, 2019, won 10 of her 11 starts and just over £8 million in prize money. In October, 2018, she made history by becoming the first horse trained in England to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for a second time and, a month later, did so again by becoming the first horse to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same season.
Her victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf was her eighth consecutive win at Group One, or Grade One, level, so it may come as a surprise to learn that she suffered the one defeat of her career, so far – albeit on just her second start – in a minor conditions stakes race at Newbury in April, 2017. Ridden, on that occasion, by William Buick, Enable stayed on well in the closing stages of the mile-and-a-quarter contest, but could only finish third, beaten 2½ lengths and a head. So, the number of horses that have finished in front of Enable in her racing career, so far, is just two, namely the winner that day, Shutter Speed, and the second horse home, Raheen House.