On the training side, Lady Cecil and Johnny Murtagh, both of whom have contributed in different ways to the fixture, saddle their first runners. There will be huge cheers if Tiger Cliff can justify his current position at the head of the market for the Ascot Handicap and give Lady Cecil a Royal Ascot winner with her first runner.
On Wednesday a very inexperienced rider/trainer combination makes its debut. The very well known name of Johnny Murtagh will appear as the trainer, with the very little known name of Luke Dempsey showing in the jockey column. Dempsey isn’t just having his first ride at Ascot; Sweet Lightning is also a first ride in Britain for the 16-year-old son of trainer Philip.
So far, the fledgling jockey has had just 133 rides in public, but with nine winners to his name, he’s setting out to make a name for himself in the future. The straight mile cavalry charge of the Royal Hunt Cup is quite a race in which to start out at Ascot, but at a 25/1 chance there won’t be a huge weight of expectation on his shoulders.
Dempsey will be able to reduce Sweet Lightning’s weight by his seven-pound claim when they go to post. He’s clearly looking forward to it. He told the Racing Post, “It’s just brilliant. It’s great to just be able to go to Ascot. I didn’t expect to get a ride and I have to thank Johnny and his owner Mr (Andrew) Tinkler for letting me ride the horse. It’ll be the first time I’ve ridden him in a race, but I know him well. He’s a nice horse who has won two Lincolns and hopefully will run well at Ascot.”
Young Luke has already experienced some of the harder aspects of a jockey’s life. After a nasty fall at Dundalk in April he needed medical assistance, which led course doctor John Kennedy to remark, “He wasn't sure which track he was at, but recognised his father”