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A day at the Ascot Races

Home > London > Day Trips | Free | Sport
by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published February 23rd 2011
Horse racing has always been the sport of kings, and nowhere is it more regal than at Ascot. Only a short journey from Windsor Castle, the course is owned by the British Royal family and home of 'Royal Ascot', an annual meet held every June for the past 250 years.
All rise for Her Majesty
All rise for Her Majesty

As well as the royal varietal, Ascot hosts nine of the UK's 32 Group One races these are the world famous, high stakes horse races. All told Ascot sees about 25 days of racing between May and October each year.

The two biggest races are the Ascot Gold Cup and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. The Gold Cup is part of the Royal Ascot meet, and is usually the highlight of Ladies Day. It's a flat race for thoroughbreds meaning it's fast, but it's also over four kilometres a distance over which there's plenty of time for drama. So even if you're not a racing fan this race should get your heart beating along to the thunder of hooves. It's traditional for the Queen to award the trophy.

The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is another Group One race, this one held at the end of July. Like the Gold Cup it's also on the flat, but it's only two and a half kilometres so it's really fast. That might be why the purse is so generous. It currently stands at a million pounds plus, making it the second richest horse race in the country.

While fast is good for some, if you like a bit of pomp and ceremony then Royal Ascot is the meet to attend. Every day of the festival the Queen, as well as various members of her family arrive in horse drawn carriages in a royal procession that climates with the raising of the Queen's standard at the course. Queen Anne started this tradition in 1711 when she founded Ascot.
The Royal Procession
The Royal Procession

The most regal Ascot experience that us plebs can have is entry into the Royal Enclosure. This is where you have the best chance of rubbing shoulders with the security personnel who are keeping their respectful distance from the shoulders of the Queen et al. To enter the enclosure you must have the right badge, which you can apply for if you've been permitted entrance before, but if not then you must apply to the Royal Enclosure office and gain sponsorship from someone who has attended the enclosure for the last four years.
Example of Royal Ascot's Dress Code
Example of Royal Ascot's Dress Code

If you make it onto the list then there are more rules that need to be adhered to on the day. Gentlemen are expected to wear black or grey morning dress with top hats, and ladies are expected to wear hats or fascinators, and day dresses that reveal none of the midriff or shoulders, and meet the required length.

There are three Group One races on the first day of Royal Ascot, one on the second, the Gold Cup on the third, and one each on days four and five. The other Group One meets at Ascot are the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes held in late September and the Fillies' Mile, also held in late September.

These represent the most expensive racing days, but there are plenty of lesser race meets where you still get the buzz of being turf-side, and access to the facilities the course is known for. When the new stand was opened in 2006, by the Queen of course, there was much discussion about whether there were too many bars and restaurants in the new stands and not enough places just to sit and watch the races! So expect a day of civilised fun, appropriate for the 'sport of kings'.
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Why? If it's good enough for the Queen...
When: Between May and October
Where: Ascot Racecourse, Ascot, nearest station Ascot
Cost: Some events are free, and you can get into Royal Ascot from 29
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