For almost seven decades, the Queen has been as regular a fixture at Royal Ascot as the horses and jockeys themselves.
But on Tuesday, for the first time in her long reign, she opted to watch the spectacle on television, leaving the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall to lead the royal charge.
It marked the first time she had chosen to miss the races of her own accord.
Royal sources suggested that she may attend later in the week – and she was not able to devote her full attention to the racing on Tuesday, as she received Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, at Windsor Castle.
“It’s Royal Ascot, but it’s not a traditional Royal Ascot,” one said. “There are restrictions, you can’t move around freely or host as many people.”
The Queen attended her first Royal Ascot in 1946 and, with the exception of last year when it was held behind closed doors, had not missed a day of the meeting since she ascended the throne.
She has been in the winners’ enclosure 24 times between 1953 and 2019, and made sporting history in 2013 when she became the first reigning monarch to win the Gold Cup.
Her Majesty’s absence from the opening day of racing was keenly felt, but the presence of her elder son and heir, who is more ambivalent about the sport, was deemed even more important as a result.
While British horse racing and the Royal family have been intertwined for centuries, in modern times the sport has been strongly associated with the monarch, an undisputed “fanatic”.
As such, concerns have been expressed in recent years about what the longer-term future might hold.
Sources hinted that Prince Charles and Camilla’s appearance in the Royal Box may hold the answer.
Duchess of Cornwall ‘absolutely besotted’ by racing
John Warren, the Queen’s trusted racing manager, happened to mention on Tuesday that the Duchess was “absolutely besotted” by racing.
And it was the Duchess who gave a lengthy interview to ITV Racing, offering a personal insight into the Queen's life-long interest in thoroughbreds and her own involvement with the sport.
Asked if she would like to see the legacy established by both the Queen and the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, continued through the next generation, she was unequivocal.
“Oh, I certainly would,” she said.
“I love it. I hope it will continue. Royal patronage of racing is extremely important for the whole industry.”
The Duchess also expressed hope that the Royal family would go on to achieve more great things through ownership and breeding in the future, although acknowledged that the odds were stacked against it.
“There’s nothing to describe the excitement of winning,” she smiled. “It’s the most exciting thing in the world.
“I’ve got a couple in training at the moment.”
Asked about Royal Ascot, the Duchess replied: “For everybody who loves racing, it’s the most special week, isn’t it?”
In the early 1980s, the Prince of Wales enjoyed a brief, but largely unsuccessful, spell as an amateur jockey.
More recently, he and the Duchess have jointly owned several horses and he was said to be “trying to really learn about the whole industry”.
However, while Mr Warren claimed a few years ago that the Prince had “seriously got the [racing] bug” and was “absolutely smitten”, the Duchess suggested it was not a great passion.
“He’s somebody who likes partaking rather than watching, he likes to be part of the sport,” she said.
The Queen ‘biggest expert of all time’
More telling was her effusive praise for her mother-in-law’s unrivalled knowledge of horse racing, a nod to the fact that her position within the world of racing could never be replicated.
“The Queen is the biggest expert of all time,” she said.
“There is nothing she doesn't know about it. You wouldn't want to think you knew better because she does have all the answers.
“This is her passion in life and she loves it, and you can tell how much she loves it.
“She could tell you every horse she’s bred and owned from the very beginning – she doesn’t forget anything. I can hardly remember what I bred a year ago, but she’s encyclopaedic about her knowledge.”
Racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght, who worked for the BBC for 30 years, said the Duchess was considered the most likely royal to inherit the Ascot patronage one day.
“I have no inside information, but the general feeling is certainly that Camilla will play an increasingly prominent role, supported by Prince Charles, Princess Anne and her daughter Zara,” he said.
“I know that officials were very pleased to see both Charles and Camilla there on day one.”
More than 300,000 guests usually gather over the five days of Royal Ascot.
This year, there is no royal carriage procession and a maximum daily crowd of 12,000.
If the Queen does attend later in the week, she will not be able to examine horses in the paddock, as she usually does, because of restrictions on movement.
Mr Warren told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Queen, who became patron of Ascot Racecourse when she ascended the throne, was fanatical about horse breeding, reading the Racing Post every morning and following “every race that takes place every day of the week”.
“It’s a deep fascination and a very broad escapism for all the other things that the Queen has to deal with in her life,” he said.
“She’s [a] fanatic about racing, watching racing and breeding horses and has been going to Ascot all of her adult life, so it’s a shame to miss an event.
“The plan at the moment is to see how it goes towards the latter part of the week and if the Queen is able to come because she’s got runners, then fingers crossed it will happen.”
Prince Charles and the Duchess were joined at the event on Tuesday by the Earl and Countess of Wessex, the Princess Royal, her daughter and son-in-law Zara and Mike Tindall.