There will be no crowds, no owners and a complete absence of pageantry. The Queen, like the rest of us, is expected to watch all the action unfold on the television. It will be P for Perfunctory rather than Pomp.
But even though his top hat and morning suit will remain stabled in the wardrobe, trainer Richard Hannon is sure about one thing.
Securing a winner at Royal Ascot will still be one of the most important achievements of a trainer’s season and the five days of action that unfold at the Berkshire racecourse will still be British horse-racing’s biggest shop window to the world.
Trainer Richard Hannon (above) will have about 30 runners at Royal Ascot this week
Hannon, whose Royal Ascot days can extend deep into the evening entertaining owners at car park parties, said: ‘It’s five days of fabulous racing, the best racing on earth. It’s just this year we won’t have all the showmanship.
‘We still need Frankie [Dettori] there riding winners, big stories and smaller operations having winners with romantic storylines. I’m sure that will happen, there just won’t be 70,000 people there to enjoy it.
‘One winner is all you need. I’ve been lucky to have winners on the first day and everything can get beat after that all week and people still come up and say, “Well done, Richard. You are having a great run”. As a trainer, there is no bigger stage than Royal Ascot.’
Securing a winner at Royal Ascot will still be one of his most important targets this season
Optimism was losing the battle to coronavirus pessimism when it was announced on April 7 there was still hope the royal meeting might be run, albeit behind closed doors.
Hannon admits at the time he was standing in the sceptics queue. The trainer said: ‘I admire Ascot for holding the meeting. They must have been under immense pressure to get everything right. When they first said they were going to hold it I didn’t think there was a chance.
‘I even felt at one stage it was a waste of time and we were getting the horses ready for nothing.
‘The industry needs Royal Ascot badly. Yes, prize money is down considerably but it is not as important as the prestige of winning big races when horses could go on to be stallions and enter the breeding world.’
The trainer talks to Sportsmail’s Marcus Townend at Herridge Racing Stables in Wiltshire
Hannon will have about 30 runners at this week’s meeting. Sadly, his 2019 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winner King Of Change misses Tuesday’s Queen Anne Stakes but he still has juicy cards to play, including Oisin Murphy-ridden Threat in the St James’s Palace Stakes and 1,000 Guineas runner-up Cloak of Spirits in the Coronation Stakes.
Billesdon Brook, Hannon’s 2018 1,000 Guineas winner, runs in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday, when Well Done Fox runs in the King’s Stand Stakes and lightly-raced Motakhayyel goes to post in the meeting opener, the Buckingham Palace Stakes.
With Royal Ascot starting just over two weeks into the delayed season, Hannon will be more selective over what he runs, although Sandown winner Happy Romance may have earned a shot at Saturday’s Queen Mary Stakes.
He added: ‘I am not going to hammer my two-year-olds in two weeks just to get them there and normally you do take horses you think probably can’t win, but their owners want to be there.
Royal Ascot will start on Tuesday and five-day meeting will take place behind closed doors
‘There won’t be any runners this year just so that their owners can get some entrance badges.
‘That’s probably a relief because we all get excited and we all kid ourselves we have a chance and then after the race you think, “Why did I do that, we could have gone to Newmarket next week and probably won?”
Canford Cliffs, who landed the first of his three royal meeting wins by six lengths in the 2009 Coventry Stakes, was a certainty that delivered and one of 32 winners at the meeting trained by Hannon’s father, Richard Snr.
Since taking charge at the 250-horse family base in Wiltshire, Richard junior has trained five Royal Ascot winners and believed he had another winner-in-waiting in Threat, who went on to win both the Gimcrack Stakes at York and the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, only to finish second in last year’s Coventry Stakes.
The Queen will not be able to make her traditional appearance this year due to coronavirus
‘Threat got nutted on the line,’ said Hannon, who warmed for next week’s big meeting with five winners on Saturday spread across Sandown, Newbury and Leicester.
‘He is much more of a man this season. He has a lot of speed but is quite sensible and that gives him a chance to stay at mile.’
Hannon is also pleased how Cloak Of Spirits has emerged from her second place in the 1,000 Guineas last Sunday. He said: ‘She looks a million dollars. She did all the donkey work and did not know when to lie down.’
The Qipco Guineas meeting gave Hannon an idea what to expect next week but did not dim his enthusiasm. Hannon said: ‘It was a bit eerie. When Cloak of Spirits finished second, I did not hear one person shouting. You have to feel for the groom who has to lead his Royal Ascot winner back in front of an empty grandstand.’