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'I've been coming to Royal Ascot for 35 years - it's wonderful to be back'

Only Remove For Champagne: a topical facemask on show at Royal Ascot
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At just after 2.30pm the identity of this Royal Ascot's first winner will be revealed. At just after 10.30am a different race was won.

The gates were slightly late to be opened, perhaps by a couple of minutes, but once the way was clear the first two racegoers to enter the racecourse were, according to their official name badges, Mr and Mrs Michael Birch.

Racing-inspired face masks are sported by two racegoers

Like everyone else coming through the turnstiles, the Staffordshire couple looked extremely pleased to be here. 

Twelve months ago Royal Ascot was held behind closed doors. It was strange, surreal and empty. It will not be empty today. It is not empty now. Ascot looks magnificent and there are people here to enjoy it – having first taken lateral flow and PCR Covid tests.

"It's so exciting to be here again," said Mrs Birch. "It's great to be back and to experience this amazing atmosphere and occasion. There's nothing like it."

Mr and Mrs Michael Birch were the first racegoers to walk through the gates at Royal Ascot 2021

The two Royal Ascot Racing Club members will be pampered throughout the week. Yet it is not the fine food and wine that has most whetted their appetites. It's what they will soon be able to savour on the racecourse.

"We were at the Derby two weeks ago, and that was wonderful, but this is the world's greatest horseracing event," said Mr Birch, words that will have been music to the ears of Sir Francis Brooke, Ascot chairman and Her Majesty's representative.

A racegoer stands in front of the Union Jack flag on the stand

"We're very excited," he said.

"We want this to be a really wonderful week of racing. We're also delighted to be supporting the test event. We've done everything we possibly can to make this an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone we're welcoming back to Royal Ascot." 

A racegoer arrives to Ascot for day one of the royal meeting

As people began to return to a place they could only last year watch on television, some walked towards the Warrens of Warwick sweet stall, keen to get early provisions.

"It's fantastic," said the stall owner Carol Warren. "I've been coming to Royal Ascot for 35 years. I love it. Last year was the first time I've missed it. It's so lovely to see people back here."

It absolutely is.

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Tuesday's Royal Ascot previews:

2.30 Royal Ascot: 'Palace Pier looks like the best miler for a long time but Ascot suits us'

3.05 Royal Ascot: US filly Kaufymaker bids to become first female Coventry winner for 105 years

3.40 Royal Ascot: can Battaash make it six out of six first time out? Graeme Rodway gives his view

4.20 Royal Ascot: 'I think he has a big chance' – will Guineas hero Poetic Flare strike at Ascot?

5.00 Royal Ascot: Rachael Blackmore bids for more big-race glory – but this time she's on the Flat

5.35 Royal Ascot: 'I can't believe his price' – find out who's bullish before the Wolferton

6.10 Royal Ascot: can Willie Mullins and Ryan Moore strike with ante-post punt Saldier?

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We've done everything we possibly can to make this an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone we're welcoming back
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