Racing: New-look Ascot on track to be reopened in May

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The Independent Online

The builders were still in at Queen Anne's old place yesterday, a year and 10 days after they arrived, but have promised to be out on schedule. The first, shakedown, race meeting at what will be a state-of-the-art venue is planned for 27 May.

The development at Ascot, wholesale reconstruction on a massive scale, will be slightly over-budget, costing £200m instead of £185m, but the overwhelmingly important point is that it will be on time. The Royal brand could not have afforded another away week.

The new Ascot has not come at a cost to its patrons. Facilities will be divided into just two admission bands, general at £14 for standard meetings and premier for £20. Royal meeting prices are ahead of inflation and five-day Royal Enclosure passes will cost less than at York's replacement fixture.

The Silver Ring and Heath enclosures are to be retained for the Royal meeting, providing a maximum possible capacity of 80,000.

"This is to be a racecourse for racegoers," said the course's chief executive, Douglas Erskine-Crum. For racehorses, too, apparently. The track has a newly aligned and laid straight mile and the round course has been refurbished.

Yesterday John Gosden brought several of his string to try out the relaid turf and newly cambered bends at one of the most testing racecourses to ride in the country. He gave the improvements "9.9 out of 10".

He added: "It's still a stiff old track but the ridges have gone. You used to get different patches of ground all over the place here. I think everyone is a sceptic when ambitious plans like these are first announced, but I have to say that I am most impressed."

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Sir Gerard

(Lingfield 1.50)

NB: Blue Grouse

(Lingfield 2.20)

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