Racing fans worldwide will be locked to television screens Tuesday afternoon when Royal Ascot gets underway.
With thousands of fans expected to descend on the small Berkshire town, here in the UAE much of the interest will centre on the Godolphin horses competing at the esteemed festival.
Two men at the fore of Godolphin’s exploits are jockeys James Doyle and Willie Buick, who share their memorable moments and what to look forward to for the week ahead.
What has been your most memorable moment at Royal Ascot?
JD: Riding a treble on the second day of the meeting three years ago (19 June 2013). Al Kazeem won the G1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, Belgian Bill took the Royal Hunt Cup, and Rizeena won the G2 Queen Mary. I will never forget it.
WB: In 2012, I rode five winners at the meeting, and Fallen For You landing the G1 Coronation Stakes was probably the highlight. In 2014, winning the Prince Of Wales’s on The Fugue was also very important to me.
For a jockey, what is the perfect preparation for the meeting?
JD: We have a busy schedule, in any case, and that often means going to Windsor on the Monday night before Ascot, after having been riding somewhere else in the afternoon. Naturally, you are excited on the eve of the meeting. But, if you have a good first day, you find you sleep soundly that night.
WB: It is important to be well prepared for this week. Every race is ultra-competitive, and you need to study the races closely. This year, I find myself suspended on the Monday, so it will give me extra time for that study. It is also important to keep a lid on it. Don’t allow yourself to get ‘gee-ed’ up. Also, if you can get an early winner this week, it is a real boost to your confidence.
Physically, how demanding is the week?
JD: Very. I would look forward to having rides in very nearly every race over the five days. Fitness levels are high anyway, but it is still demanding. Mentally, it can be just as taxing. You are riding against the best jockeys in the world, competing for the most important prizes. There is no margin for error, whatsoever, and you are constantly aware of that.
WB: In the UK, we are riding every day of the week – afternoons and evenings in the summer. So, physically, it is much the same. But it is more mentally demanding. You are riding at the top level for five days solid. You have to stay mentally sharp. That early winner can be a huge advantage because this is such an important meeting.
What race at Royal Ascot this week are you most looking forward to riding in?
JD: The very first race of the meeting, the G1 Queen Anne Stakes. I ride Belrado, and it seems the ground has come right for him. He prefers it on the soft side. Obviously, the American visitor Tepin will be a formidable opponent. It should be a fantastic race.
WB: I am really looking forward to the G1 St James’s Palace Stakes. It is a very good race on paper, they look very even. Not one stands out…yet. My mount Emotionless faces a tough task, up against 3 Guineas winners. But he’s in great form and he looks great.
What Godolphin horse are you most looking forward to partnering?
JD: Beautiful Romance in the G2 Hardwicke Stakes on Saturday. Her win in the G2 Middleton Stakes at York last month was very good. She fought it out all the way to the line, and the form of the race has worked out well. She has done so well since.
WB: Again, Emotionless is a horse I have really been eager to ride again on raceday. He has not run since the G1 Dewhurst last October, but he has a lot going for him. One other is Hawkbill in Thursday’s G3 Tercentenary Stakes, though he prefers it on top of the ground.
Fixture for the new racing season was approved by His Highness Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Chairman of the Emirates Racing Authority (ERA).
Commenting on the new calendar, Sheikh Mansour said: “We are pleased to release the fixtures for the 2016-17 UAE racing season. The schedule offers trainers and race goers a comprehensive season across our five tracks.
“We offer racing for domestic and international horses in both the Thoroughbred and Purebred Arabian ranks and look forward to the start of another successful season of racing in the UAE.
“Spectators and racing aficionados will be treated to yet another renewal of a top quality flat racing season where the best horses, jockeys and trainers will be contesting for success in the meetings held at the country’s best racecourses.”
The ERA season opens at Jebel Ali Racecourse on Friday, October 28 this year. The action moves to the Sharjah Racecourse a day later.
The season’s first race at Meydan Racecourse is scheduled for Thursday, November 3, while Abu Dhabi Racecourse begins its season three days later on Sunday, November 6.
The first race at Al Ain Racecourse will be on Friday, November 18.
In a change to the 2015-16 season schedule, the Dubai World Cup Carnival double-header moves from the first weekend in March to Thursday, February 9 and Saturday, February 11 with Super Saturday, the official prep for the Dubai World Cup, taking place on March 4.
The Dubai World Cup Carnival, which was worth $40m in prize money and was spread over 11 race days this year, will once again feature high-class international race days contested by the most high-profile owners, trainers, horses and jockeys in the world. It will comprise 10 race days in 2017.
The UAE racing season will include 10 meetings at Al Ain Racecourse, 15 at Abu Dhabi Racecourse, 11 at Jebel Ali Racecourse, six at Sharjah Racecourse and 20 at Meydan Racecourse.
Each of the five ERA racecourses will stage a signature day of racing. Abu Dhabi Racecourse will host the world’s richest Purebred Arabian contest, The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown. Al Ain Racecourse offers the Al Ain Mile for Purebred Arabian horses contested on dirt. The Ruler of Sharjah serves as Sharjah Racecourse’s signature event, while Jebel Ali offers the Group 3 Jebel Ali Mile and the Listed Stakes and Sprint.
The season ends with the Dubai World Cup, while the last races in Jebel Ali, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi scheduled on March 17 to March 19 respectively. Sharjah’s season-ending race will be on March 11.
Jessica is a professional equestrian who has represented the United States in the World Cup Classes and the FEI Nations Cups around the world.
She will make her debut as an ambassador at the Longines Global Champions Tour wearing the Polo Ralph Lauren navy and gold colors and a custom Polo crest in gold and red. As part of her ambassadorship, Jessica will work closely with Polo Ralph Lauren on brand programs and events throughout the year.
Jessica, the daughter of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, has won many championships, both in the junior ranks and now as a professional adult jumper. Most recently she was named as a substitute to the Short List for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Show Jumping Team. She helped the U.S. win in the FEI Nations Cup in Dublin in 2014, and she won the American Gold Cup Grand Prix and was named Leading Rider at the Washington International Horse show that same year.
In 2015, Jessica won first place in CSI5* speed classes in Chantilly and Vienna. At this year’s WEF, Jessica had exciting wins again in the Suncast 1.50m Championship and the 1.45 Classic, and had top placings in the Suncast 1.50m Championship Final and the Rolex CSI5* Grand Prix.
In April 2016, Jessica earned the Hermès Talented Young Rider Award after a successful season at the Winter Equestrian Festival. She will compete this summer in the prestigious Global Champions League as a member of the Shanghai Swans.
Jessica currently trains with Olympian Edwina Tops‐Alexander. She is a graduate of Duke University with a degree in psychology. Animal welfare is a cause Jessica cares deeply about and she serves as an ASPCA Equine Welfare Ambassador.