Speed, stamina and the serendipity of timing are key factors in determining who takes the lead and holds onto it to claim first place.
Shown on the first day of the meeting, the Ascot Stakes is always a crowd favourite, in terms of watching and predicting a winner. One of the longest races of the tournament, it is a test of both prime positioning and endurance.
The running distance is a flat contest of 2 miles, 4 furlongs (4,023 metres), open to horses aged four and over, and is one of only four races in the Royal Ascot where the winning post is passed twice.
The race often attracts close to the maximum number of participants, with about 18 out of 20 spaces filled on average in the last decade, and so it is a crowded and tense battle for a breakthrough.
The Ascot Stakes is a handicap race, meaning the participants carry different weights in the aim of balancing out the competition. A handicapper will assess a horse’s rating and assign a weight based on performance level, with better horses allocated a heavier weight.
The intent is to even out the advantage in the hope that the majority of horses finish close together, making for a more compelling race from start to finish.
The quickest winning time since 1988 was achieved by Jimmy Fortune, riding Full House, who completed the race in an impressive 4:18:29 in 2007.
While four-year-olds dominated the race in the late 80s and early 90s, nowadays older horses are making waves in the Ascot Stakes – the last four-year-old winner was Judgethemoment in 2009.
As a result of the handicapping process, there is more diversity in the roster of horses than of those typically seen in the Group One races that happen earlier in the day. The Ascot Stakes is the only race of the meeting that accepts National Hunt entrants – horses conditioned to compete in races where they jump over obstacles (such as fences and ditches).
Accustomed to a completely different style of racing, these competitors possess a distinctive set of strengths, different to those of the flat racers.
The diversity of participants, in terms of the traditional flat racing horses and the specialised entrants from the National Hunt persuasion, makes for tactical variation and a lively and unpredictable competition.
The demand of the distance and the array of the abilities of the participants means the Ascot Stakes is a dramatic race that can be a nail-biter to watch, pitting elite favourites against newcomers and unknowns.
It’s a must-see for those who can’t resist an underdog – after all, you never know when a dark horse will break through to glory.