Tuesday morning the 2011 Royal Ascot meeting will begin at Ascot Racecourse in England. Royal Ascot is a five-day meeting running from June 14th to Saturday, June 18th. Each day of the meet will feature six races, and the meet will feature of 18 Group stakes, seven of which are Group 1s. You'll be hard pressed to find a better collection of top-class thoroughbred racing in the world; Royal Ascot stands alongside the Breeders' Cup, Prix de l'Arch de Triomphe weekend in France, and World Cup day in Dubai as one of the premier fixtures of racing in the world.
You can watch the entire 2011 Royal Ascot meet on either HRTV or TVG. TVG will have live on-course coverage of the entire event. Even if you can't watch the meet live, set up the DVR and watch it later on in the day as it's a spectacle not to be missed. The first race each day will go to post at 2:30pm British Summer Time (9:30am Eastern/6:30am Pacific).
You can find some great information on the 2011 Royal Ascot meet at the Racing Post's micro-site (Royal Ascot 2011). Additionally, AtTheRaces has some excellent preview videos on their YouTube channel.
American trainers Todd Pletcher and Wesley Ward will try their hand at Royal Ascot this year. Check out the fanpost by reader RodCrowley for a take on the Americans chances for success.
Like many of the courses in Europe, Ascot has its own unique configuration and characteristics, most of which play an important role as to how races are run and won. Below is a satellite shot (via GoogleEarth) of Ascot Racecourse. (The finish line is in the lower left portion of the picture.)
Ascot Racecourse is a triangular shaped course with a long straight for races at a mile or less. Races are run in a clockwise manner (unlike Epsom Downs, where races are run similar to those in North America - counter-clockwise).
The Racing Post has an excellent diagram of the layout of Ascot:
Notice the subtle differences in the parts of the course a horse has to navigate based on starting position. Races at 7 furlongs or less are run on the straight and begin uphill, then proceed downhill, then back uphill to the finish line. Races at a mile can begin at two different locations: at the lowest point of the course, "Swinley Bottom" (the top portion of the triangle in the satellite picture above), which requires the field to take a right hand turn towards the finish line; or at the far end of the straight, which requires horses to run downhill, uphill, downhill, and then uphill to the wire.
The Queen Anne Stakes, featuring Goldikova (IRE) and Canford Cliffs (IRE), will run on a straight mile. The St. James's Palace Stakes, featuring Frankel (GB), will run on the round.
To get a sense of how the course looks for races run on the straight, here is a photo I snapped while visiting Ascot in April. (click on the photo for a larger image.)
As you can see from the picture, there is a significant rise and fall through the straight course, and then a fairly steady climb to towards the wire. The starting gate is positioned in the middle of the course for races on the straight and the field will generally gravitate towards one side or the other, depending on which part of the course the jockeys believe is the fastest.
Races at a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half begin near the highest point on the racecourse and involve racing downhill in the opening furlongs.
Below is the full race schedule, along with post times and race conditions, for the five-day Royal Ascot meet. I'll have a preview of each card in the days ahead.