Nothing has kept Queen Elizabeth II away from the Royal Ascot horse racing meeting during her 68-year reign as U.K. monarch — not pregnancy, a speech to Parliament or even an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
But this year, the 94-year-old queen will not be attending Royal Ascot, which starts Tuesday, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
It is one of the country’s most high-profile horse racing events and one that effectively launches a great British summer of sport that also includes Wimbledon tennis and golf’s Open Championship.
Unlike Wimbledon and the British Open, Royal Ascot has not been canceled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, though spectators will be absent. More than 300,000 guests, more often than not dressed in their Sunday best, would have been expected to attend the five-day meeting.
The queen has been isolating at Windsor Castle, west of London, with her 99-year-old husband, Prince Philip, over the past three months. It wouldn’t have been much of a drive to get to Ascot— barely 20 minutes.
But in the era of the coronavirus, that’s not possible, and the racing-mad monarch will have to make do with watching the races on television.After all, she has several horses running over the coming days, including First Receiver, ridden by Frankie Dettori in the Queen’s racing colours, on Wednesday.
As an owner, the queen will have access to a virtual Royal Ascot parade ring while viewing her horses from the safety of Windsor Castle. She has won around 7 million pounds ($9 million) in prize money from horse racing in the past three decades.
“Whilst the ultimate experience of being at Royal Ascot sadly isn’t possible this year, we hope that what we are planning will make ownership at home as special as possible,” said Nick Smith, director of racing and public affairs at Ascot.
Ascot is also inviting fans across the globe to dress up and wear Royal Ascot’s unofficial trademark — a hat — and to share selfies on social media.