Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire plays host to 18 of the 36 flat racing meetings that are run in Great Britain. Predominantly known for flat racing, it is also the location for three Grade 1 National Hunt jump races across the course of eight jump meetings. As a result, it is open most of the year, with around 600,000 people turning up at the venue and making up in the region of 10% of all racegoers in the United Kingdom. Despite all of this, there is no question that the week’s racing known as Royal Ascot is what the venue is best-known for by race lovers around the world.
There has been a link between Ascot and the Royal Family ever since its foundation, with the 179 acres that the course covers being leased from the Crown. It was founded by Queen Anne in 1711, whilst Windsor Castle is around six miles away. Queen Elizabeth II would regularly visit the course, often going as far as to place some bets on the outcome. It is considered to be something of a national institution, with this page dedicated to the foundation of the course as well as the Royal Ascot meeting itself, alongside a sense of what you can expect to happen in the week.
Tuesday is the first day of Royal Ascot, traditionally getting underway with the Queen Anne Stakes. Indeed, the majority of the races that are run during the week are ‘Stakes’, with all of those run on the Tuesday fitting into that bracket. The second race is the Coventry Stakes, for example, whilst the third is the King’s Stand Stakes. The day is drawn to a close with the Buckingham Palace Stakes, providing yet another link to the Royals, but before that there is the St James’s Palace Stakes and the Ascot Stakes, in addition to the Wolferton Stakes.
Day Two of Royal Ascot is the first day to feature a race without ‘Stakes’ in its title, which is the Royal Hunt Cup. That comes fifth on the schedule, with the Jersey Stakes kicking off proceedings. After that it is the Queen Mary Stakes, then the Duke of Cambridge Stakes. The Prince of Wales Stakes is the feature race of the day and was won in memorable fashion by Frankie Dettori and Crystal Ocean in 2019. After the penultimate race of the day, the aforementioned Royal Hunt Cup, comes the conclusion of racing with the Sandringham Stakes.
The most important race of the entire meeting is the Gold Cup, yet it is the women that have the third day of the meeting named after them. Ladies Day gets underway thanks to the Norfolk Stakes, after which is the Hampton Court Stakes. Then it is time for the Ribblesdale Stakes before the prestigious Gold Cup is run. The Britannia Stakes follows, after which the meeting comes to a conclusion with the running of the King George V Stakes. It is off the course where a lot of attention is focussed, however, thanks to the high fashion and millinery masterpieces on display.
There are two much-loved races that take place on the fourth day of Royal Ascot: the Coronation Stakes and the Commonwealth Cup. Proceedings get underway with the running of the Albany Stakes, though, with the King Edward VII Stakes coming next. After that it is the prestigious races run back-to-back, with the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes being the penultimate event. The whole day’s racing is drawn to a close with the Queen’s Vase, a handicap event that is run over one mile and six furlongs. It is the final day of the ‘serious’ side of the meeting, with Saturday being more relaxed.
With a lot of other horse racing meetings, the final day of the week tends to be the one with the most prestigious racing. That isn’t the case at Royal Ascot, with the final day also being the most relaxed. The atmosphere is much more social, although you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that that means that what goes on on the course isn’t taken seriously. The Chesham Stakes gets proceedings underway, with the Windsor Castle Stakes coming next. The Hardwicke Stakes precedes the day’s feature event, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. After that is the Wokingham Stakes, before the Queen Alexandra Stakes rounds of the whole meeting.
History & Origins Of Royal Ascot
When it comes to the origins of Royal Ascot as a meeting, we have Queen Anne to thank. It was her who noticed the land not far from Windsor Castle, appreciating that it was ideal for the galloping and running of horses. The result of her ride on that fateful day was a decision to create a new race there, called Her Majesty’s Plate. It saw 100 guineas being put froward for the winner, with any horse over the age of six able to take part. It was first run on the 11th of August 1711, just weeks after Queen Anne had spotted the area and realised it would be ideal for horse racing.
That is where the meeting that we know of as Royal Ascot began life. The race run in 1711 bore no similarities at all to the events that we see at the meeting in the modern era, however. Horses were required to take part in three separate heats in order to make it to the final, with each heat being about the same length as the Grand National. As a result, the eventual winner will have been a horse with tremendous stamina. Whilst the race itself wasn’t anything like what we’ve come to expect from Ascot, the same can’t be said of other traditions that came in.
In 1744, for example, the Greencoats first formed a ceremonial guard for the monarch’s entrance to Ascot. One of the rumours around the uniforms is that they were made from left over material from curtains that had been in Winsdor Castle. Also known as Yeoman Prickers, the Greencoats began life by staging hunts during Queen Anne’s reign before the role developed into crowd control, using their prickers to get people off the race course. That use of Greencoats changed over the years and nowadays they can be seen as more of a guide to people through the meeting.
The Meeting’s Popularity Grows
Over the years that followed, more and more people wanted to be part of what was taking place in Ascot. By 1752 the Duke of Bedford wrote that he ‘could find no soul to dine or sup with’, due to the fact that everyone had left London to go to the racecourse. They were entertained by the likes of cock-fighting, jugglers, ballad singers and freak shows, whilst gaming tents were also set up in order to give people an alternative thing to do when the racing wasn’t taking place. It was still the case that the on-course activities were the main events, though, and horse racing was loved by all.
Until 1783, jockeys had worn whatever they fancied when racing. As the sport became more popular and the number of jockeys grew, this caused great confusion for the watching public who had no idea which jockey had won a race. As a result, it was decided that jockeys should wear the colours of their horse’s owners. Nowadays, the British Horseracing Authority keeps a record of all of the combinations of the 18 colours that owners are allowed to choose from, which is a tradition dating back to Royal Ascot. The clarity offered by the wearing of specific colours was appreciated by the racegoers.
It Wasn’t Just On The Course Where Fashion Mattered
Whilst jockeys wearing the colours of the horse’s owners, those off the track also began to up their game when it came to fashion. It was common for people of all social classes to wear top hats towards the end of the 19th century, with silk top hats that were made from hatter’s plush being amongst the most common. They’re very rare nowadays, which, combined with the fact that people’s heads were smaller back then, means that large hats from the era can sell for as much as tens of thousands of pounds. It also saw a dress code begin to emerge at Ascot.
Beau Brummel, who was a friend of the Prince Regent, declared that men should wear ‘waisted black coats’, combined with white cravats and pantaloons. He is thought of as being the person that introduced the modern men’s suit, establishing a dress code that chose to reject the overly ornate in favour of the under-stated. Admittedly some of his other suggestions for fashion failed to make it into the modern lexicon, such as his suggestion that it took him five hours every day to get ready and his declaration that his shoes all be polished using champagne.
New Races Are Introduced
In 1807, one of the most important moments for Royal Ascot occurred when the Gold Cup was run for the first time. It is the meeting’s oldest surviving race and is also considered to be its most important by many. Winning owners are still given a gold trophy which then becomes their own property to keep. Six years later and it was decided that Ascot Heath should be kept and used as a racecourse for the future, with an Act of Parliament being passed to ensure exactly that. Not long after, a two-storey stand was commissioned to be built by King George IV.
In spite of the fact that a Royal Stand at the course can be dated back to the 1790s, that was the moment that the area of the racecourse known nowadays as the Royal Enclosure was first conceived. Access was only granted by invitation by the King himself, with the stand being developed further in the mid 19th century. That was after Nicholas I visited from Russia as a guest of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, with the area in front of the Royal Stand also becoming by invitation only after the Royal Party descended into the area in an impromptu fashion.
The 20th Century
In 1901, a decision was taken to change the way in which the racecourse was run. As it is located on Crown Estate Land, it was the responsibility of the monarch to appoint a representative to run the administration of it. This was originally the job of the Master of the Royal Buckhounds, but in 1901 Lord Churchill was appointed as the first ‘Official Representative of His Majesty’.
Nine years later and the death of King Edward VII, a big supporter of racing, led to everyone wearing black in mourning at his passing. That was also the first year that Sir Gordon Carter was appointed Clerk of the Course.
The Ascot Authority was created as an Act of Parliament in 1913, moving the day-to-day operations of the course away from the Royal Household. The monarch became the Senior Trustee of the Authority, whilst the Clerk of the Course acted as the Secretary. Within seven years, sheep were stopped from grazing on the course between meetings. Prior to then, a flock of 300 to 400 could be found on the course before one of them was sent to the local butcher every Monday, with Ascot employees able to buy the meat for a shilling per pound.
Traditions Set In Stone
In the late 1950s, Ascot Stewards were told that they would need to wear bowler hats when welcoming people to the racecourse. It was an issue that led to a threat of striking, such was the dislike for it at the time. The Stewards were offered a pay rise in order to get them to wear them which grew to become such an integral part of Royal Ascot that when the racecourse closed in 2004, it had to be confirmed by the Trustees that the bowler hats would return. Some traditions are welcomed by the people, whilst others were seen as old-fashioned an anachronistic.
One such tradition was the one that said that divorcees were banned from the Royal Enclosure, which remained in place until 1955. Even then, though, the Queen’s Lawn said that divorcees were not welcome. A good job that changed in time for the arrival of King Charles III.
Another tradition came about in the 1970s, which was when the Clerk of the Course began gathering people around the bandstand after the racing for a sing-song. British classics such as Rule Britannia and Jerusalem were sung by the people in attendance; a tradition that still takes place today.
Modern Royal Ascot
It is possible that the modern era at life at Royal Ascot began in 1996, which is a year that will live long in the memory for Frankie Dettori. The diminutive Italian has demonstrated his flying dismount more than 50 times during the meeting over the years, but never will it have meant more than when he did it for the seventh time on the same day in 1996. No other jockey has ever achieved that feat, earning Dettori a statue of himself close to the Parade Ring. Ten years later and a refurbishment of the course was completed at a cost of £200 million, ushering in the new era.
Royal Ascot is a course that has enjoyed numerous iconic moments, such as when Australian mare Black Caviar won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2012 on her way to 25 wins in 25 starts. That was also the year that Frankel ran at the meeting for the final time, winning the Queen Anne Stakes to retire unbeaten. As a meeting, Ascot has always evolved, which could be seen in 2015 when the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup was added to proceedings. You can also see it in the way that American runners Tepin and Lady Aurelia won the Queen Anne Stakes and Queen Mary Stakes in 2016, showing the breadth of appeal of the meeting.
The Royal Link
The fact that Queen Anne was the founder of the racecourse and the meeting itself is proof enough of the link between Ascot and the Royal Family. Yet there are numerous other things that also happen at Ascot Racecourse during the week of racing that help to prove the point. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the Royal Procession, which takes place every day at 2pm. A traditional highlight of the annual event, which is one of the most prestigious horse racing events in the world, the procession involves members of the British Royal Family arriving in horse-drawn carriages and parading down the racecourse to the Royal Enclosure.
The Royal Procession is led by the King’s Royal Lancers, followed by a series of carriages carrying members of the royal family, often including the King himself. The procession is a colourful and ceremonial spectacle, with the horses, carriages and riders all dressed in elegant attire. The crowds typically cheer and wave as the procession passes by, creating a festive atmosphere. Once the Royal Procession arrives at the Royal Enclosure, the Royal Family disembarks and takes their seats in the Royal Box, where they watch the day’s racing events.
You can, of course, also see links to the Royal Family when you look at some of the names of the races. The likes of the Queen Anne Stakes, King George V Stakes and Diamond Jubilee Stakes all speak for themselves, as do the likes of the Windsor Castle Stakes. For many, it is this link to the Royal Family that make the meeting so special, whilst for others it is a sign of how closed-off and exclusive flat racing is compared to jump racing. Most people could never hope to be in the Royal Enclosure in their lives, whereas it’s easy enough to imagine being at Aintree for the Grand National.
Royal Ascot is a week of racing like no other, putting the best of flat racing up alongside the presence of the Royal Family for a meeting that is about as blue blood as you can get. As a result, there are a few interesting facts about the meeting that we can tell you about, with the following being the top ten:
- Around 300,000 people pass through the doors into Ascot Racecourse during the week of the meeting
- There has been a tradition of having a picnic in the car park ever since the first motorcars arrived at the racecourse in 1912, with the popularity being such that there is a waiting list to get into the car park
- The Queen Alexandra Stakes is run over nearly two and three-quarter miles and is the longest flat race in Britain
- As many as 35,000 strawberry scones and the same number of sandwiches are eaten, whilst there are 30,000 chocolate eclairs sold and 1,400 kilograms of lobster and the same amount of salmon eaten. That is all washed down with 50,000 bottles of champagne and 8,000 bottles of Pimms
- Though nobody is allowed to smoke inside the Royal Enclosure nowadays, in the 1920s men were allowed but women were not
- When Ascot Racecourse closed for redevelopment in 2004, the Royal Meeting was moved to York Racecourse
- Around 1,000 limousines and 400 helicopters bring guests to Royal Ascot during the week of the meeting
- When Viscount Churchill decided who would be allowed to enter the Royal Enclosure, actors and actresses immediately went into a pile labelled ‘Certainly Not’, with others sifted into a pile labelled either ‘Certainly’ or ‘Perhaps’
- Gay Kelleway was the first woman to ride a winner at Royal Ascot, managing it with Sprowston Boy in 1987 before going on to become a successful trainer
- No jockey has enjoyed more success at Royal Ascot than Lester Piggott, who rode 116 winners during a career that spanned from 1952 until 1993
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’ve taken an interest in Royal Ascot then there’s a good chance that you might have a question that hasn’t been answered in any of the other parts of this page. As a result, here is a look at some frequently asked questions to see if we can cover what it is that you want to know:
What Is Access Like?
Access to Royal Ascot can vary depending on the type of ticket you have and the area you are visiting. There are several entrances to the racecourse, with different levels of access depending on the ticket you hold. For example, if you have a Queen Anne Enclosure ticket, you can access the Queen Anne Enclosure, the Windsor Enclosure and the Heath Enclosure. If you have a Royal Enclosure ticket, meanwhile you will have access to the Royal Enclosure, as well as the Queen Anne, Windsor and Heath Enclosures.
There are also additional areas that require specific tickets or memberships, such as the Car Parks, Silver Ring and Furlong Club. Security measures are in place, and all visitors are subject to bag searches and security checks upon entry. Some items are not permitted inside the racecourse, such as glass bottles and containers and sharp objects.
How Many Courses Are There?
There are two courses at Ascot Racecourse: the Flat racing course and the National Hunt course.
The Flat course is used for the Royal Ascot meeting and other flat racing events held at the racecourse throughout the year. It is a right-handed track, with a circumference of approximately one mile and six furlongs and has a straight mile course, which is one of the fastest in the world. The National Hunt course is, of course, only used for jump race meetings.
How Much Does It Cost?
he cost of attending Royal Ascot can vary depending on the type of ticket, the day you choose to attend and other factors such as hospitality packages and travel arrangements. General admission tickets for the Queen Anne Enclosure, which is the main public area, typically start at around £40 to £100 per person, depending on the day of the week and whether you buy them in advance or on the day. Tickets for the more exclusive Royal Enclosure can be more expensive, with prices starting from around £400 per person
Of course, these tickets provide access to a more exclusive area of the racecourse and attendees are required to follow a strict dress code. Hospitality packages, which include food and drinks packages, can cost several hundred or even thousands of pounds per person, depending on the package and the day of the week.
What Is The Dress Code?
The dress code for Royal Ascot is an important part of the event and varies depending on which enclosure you are attending. Here is a general overview of the dress code for each part of the course:
- Royal Enclosure – This is the most exclusive enclosure and the dress code is the most formal. Ladies are required to wear formal daywear, which means dresses or skirts that fall just above the knee or longer, with straps of at least one inch wide. Hats or headpieces are mandatory and should have a base of at least four inches. Gentlemen are required to wear black or grey morning dress with a waistcoat, tie, top hat and black shoes.
- Queen Anne Enclosure – The dress code for the Queen Anne Enclosure is still formal, but slightly less strict than the Royal Enclosure. Ladies are required to wear formal daywear, with a hat or headpiece. Strapless or off-the-shoulder dresses are not permitted. Gentlemen are required to wear a suit and tie.
- Village Enclosure and Windsor Enclosure – These enclosures have a more relaxed dress code, but still require smart attire. Ladies are encouraged to wear formal daywear or a trouser suit, and hats are optional but still recommended. The trouser suit needs to be full-length and midriffs cannot be on show. Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket, collared shirt and tie.
The dress code is strictly enforced at all times, with anyone not meeting the requirements either refused entry or likely to be asked to leave.
Is There An Etiquette?
The formal nature of Royal Ascot means that there is an etiquette to be followed by attendees, not least of all because of the aforementioned dress code. You are also expected to act with decorum at all times, meaning that you should avoid any sort of rowdy behaviour and your language should be appropriate. You can’t smoke in certain areas, whilst food and drink from outside cannot be consumed. You should also make sure that you don’t try to use a selfie stick at any point. There are rich traditions that should be respected, such as the singing of the National Anthem.
What Are the Facilities Like?
The facilities at Royal Ascot are amongst the best in the world, with the different areas providing different expectations. Here is a rough guide as to what to expect:
- The Grandstand is the main building at the racecourse and offers excellent views of the track. It features a range of hospitality options, which includes restaurants, bars and private boxes.
- There are several different enclosures at Royal Ascot, each with its own facilities and amenities. These include restaurants, bars, betting facilities and live music.
- Viewing areas are multiple in number all around the course, including the Parade Ring, where horses are shown before each race, and the Winners’ Enclosure, where the winning horse and jockey are celebrated.
- Betting facilities are numerous throughout the racecourse, including self-service terminals, manned booths and more traditional bookmaker stands.
- There are many options for food and drink at Royal Ascot, including fine dining restaurants, casual dining options and bars serving a range of drinks and cocktails.
- If it’s a hospitality package that you’re after then you’re in luck: there are various hospitality packages available, including private boxes, marquees and outdoor seating areas. These packages typically include food and drink, betting facilities and excellent views of the races.
What Are The Enclosures/Stands?
Royal Ascot has several different enclosures for you to spend your time in, with the areas that you’re able to gain access to from them differing from place to place. Here is a brief precis of each of them:
- Royal Enclosure: The most prestigious and exclusive enclosure at Royal Ascot, reserved for members and guests of the Royal Family and other VIPs. The dress code is the most formal and attendees can enjoy a range of fine dining restaurants, bars, and hospitality options. It is invite only.
- The Lawn Club: The Lawn Club is a private members’ club located in the grandstand, offering a luxurious and exclusive experience for attendees. Members can enjoy a range of dining options, bars and hospitality, as well as access to a private balcony with excellent views of the track.
- The Grandstand is the main building at the racecourse and provides excellent views of the track, given its location between the Winning Post and the Parade Ring. It boasts multiple floors and is where the Royal Box is located. The Queen Anne Enclosure is actually located within the Grandstand.
- Queen Anne Enclosure: The Queen Anne Enclosure offers a slightly less formal atmosphere than the Royal Enclosure, but is still formal and prestigious. Attendees can enjoy a range of restaurants, bars and hospitality options and there are excellent views of the racing from the grandstand.
- Village Enclosure: The Village Enclosure is a more relaxed and informal atmosphere, with a focus on entertainment and socialising. Attendees can enjoy live music, street food vendors and bars, as well as access to a lawn area for picnicking and lounging.
- Windsor Enclosure: The Windsor Enclosure is a popular option for those looking for a more casual and relaxed atmosphere. Attendees can enjoy food and drink stalls, bars and live music, as well as a lawn area for picnicking and hanging out with others.
- Heath Enclosure: The Heath Enclosure is the most affordable enclosure at Royal Ascot and offers a casual and relaxed atmosphere. Attendees can enjoy a range of food and drink options, as well as access to the lawn area that the other less formal sections of the racecourse also have access to.
Who Owns/Runs Ascot?
Ascot Racecourse is owned by the Ascot Authority, which is a non-profit organisation established in 1913 to oversee the management and development of the racecourse. The Ascot Authority is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the racecourse, as well as the organisation of major events including Royal Ascot. It is governed by a board of directors, which is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the organisation and ensuring that it operates in a financially sustainable manner. The board is composed of both independent directors and representatives from the horse racing industry.
In addition to its role as the owner and operator of Ascot Racecourse, the Ascot Authority also plays a significant role in promoting and supporting the horse racing industry in the United Kingdom. The organisation works closely with other industry stakeholders to develop and implement policies and initiatives aimed at promoting the sport and ensuring its long-term viability.
What Is The Attendance At Royal Ascot?
Between 300,000 and 350,000 people are liable to attend to Royal Ascot during the week of the meeting, with the precise number varying from year to year. There is also a different amount of people who turn up each day of the week, with Ladies Day, which is when then Gold Cup is run, always liable to be the busiest.
How Many Races Are Run During Royal Ascot Week?
There are 36 races run during Royal Ascot, with the amount run on each of the five days varying in order to accommodate the expanded meeting.
How Many Horses Run?
The number of horses that run during the week of Royal Ascot varies from year to year, but typically there are around 500 horses that compete in the 36 races held over the five day event. The fields for each race can vary in size, with some races having as few as six runners and others having up to 30 or even more.
How Many Jockeys Tend To Run During Races?
The exact number of jockeys who ride during Royal Ascot can vary from year to year, as it depends on the number of horses that are entered into the races and how many jockeys are selected to ride them. However, it is common for many of the world’s top jockeys to ride at Royal Ascot and the event has a reputation for attracting some of the best talents in the sport. In addition to jockeys from the United Kingdom and Ireland, there are also frequently jockeys from other parts of the world, such as Europe, Australia and the United States of America.
How Do You Get To Ascot Racecourse?
Located in Berkshire, about 6 miles from the town of Windsor and approximately 25 miles west of London, Ascot Racecourse boasts several different options for visitors to reach it depending on their chosen mode of transport:
- If you’re coming by car, Ascot Racecourse is easily accessible, with several major roads connecting to the area. The racecourse is located just off the A332 Windsor-Maidenhead road and there is ample parking available on-site, which often needs to be booked ahead.
- For those coming by train, Ascot Racecourse has its own train station, which is located just a short walk from the racecourse entrance. Trains run regularly from London Waterloo, Reading, and other major cities in the area. Interestingly, it is only open for the Royal Ascot meeting.
- If you prefer public transport then you can come by bus, with several bus routes running to Ascot Racecourse. These include the Greenline 702 service from London Victoria, the Courtney Buses 10 and 10A services from Bracknell and Windsor, and the Reading Buses 701 and 702 services from Reading.