Freelance writer and journalist based in west London.
Published January 11th 2014
Giddy up for some Happy Horseplay
Ask anyone to name a Royal Racecourse and they'll probably respond with 'Ascot.' But Royal Windsor Racecourse boasts being a stone's throw from the Queen's favourite residence and, unlike Ascot, is accessible by boat, being as it is on an island off the banks of the River Thames. In fact its position meant that it remained open during both World Wars, as it was in a sheltered upstream loop and the British government realised it could provide a much needed morale boost to people in London. But jockey Des Cullen would probably say its position leaves a lot to be desired, as he once lost control of his mount on the bottom bend of the course and ended up in the river. The perimeter has since been changed; meaning a repeat of the incident is unlikely. But for a visitor it adds to the occasion to know you're part of a unique heritage.
The first race meeting at Royal Windsor was held in 1866. It's the only flat figure-of-eight course in the country, is just over 1 mile 3 furlongs and has all the facilities you need and expect on the 165 acre site. Flat racing takes place at Windsor 26 times a year from April to October. There are theme nights, family days and food and drink festivals to coincide with the fixtures.
There are three enclosures from which you can watch the racing. The Club Enclosure is the top one. With a ticket to this area you can access every part of the racecourse, with the added benefit of being able to be right next to the winning post. You do have to adhere to a smart dress code.
The Grandstand Enclosure is within 75 yards of the winning post and has a great view of the track. With this ticket you can access everywhere except the Club. It's a short walk to the Parade Ring, Pre-Parade Ring, Winners enclosure and Paddock Lawn and there is no dress code unless you choose to dine in a restaurant, but there are plenty of other eating options available.
The Silver Ring Enclosure is 150 yards from the winning post and is the only area where you can picnic and bring a limited amount of your own alcohol. You can still get a great view of the track if you arrive early enough. There's no dress code but the area is only open from May to August. All three enclosures have betting facilities, bookmakers, bars and catering and you can get to the centre of the course from each of them.
It's really easy to get to Royal Windsor by public transport. It's 30-50 minutes by train from London depending on your departure point and although it's a 25-minute walk the other end to the racecourse, it's definitely worth doing, as you'll just get stuck in miles of traffic if you drive. It doesn't matter what day of the week you choose to go to, or whether there's a special event or not. There's always a fun and lively atmosphere and a great mix of novice and experienced race-goers.
You don't have to place any bets at all, but put a pound or two on a few races and you'll really enjoy the feeling of being involved and nothing beats an unexpected win. The races are well spaced out too, to enable you to have a wander around, check out the horses or the betting book, get some food and a drink and place a bet before 'they're off!'