The “Royal Ascot” refers to the racing event that takes place at Ascot Racecourse, always during the third week of June. The event this year runs from Tuesday, June 17, to Saturday, June 21. Races at Ascot at other times are not the Royal Ascot. While horse racing at Royal Ascot is important, it’s not necessarily the biggest event there. The Royal family’s attendance, the fashions worn by attendees (strictly enforced by dress codes), and the event’s pomp and pageantry all share center stage with horse racing.
The Ascot track is closely associated with the Royal family. It’s located in Ascot, Berkshire, about six miles from the family’s Windsor Castle, and was founded by Queen Anne, three centuries ago. She was a horse lover, and one day, while riding her horse in an open heath on the castle grounds, it occurred to her how perfect that area was for unrestrained horse galloping, and the idea of horses racing hit her. She arranged the first Ascot meet on Saturday, August 11, 1711. Seven horses—English Hunters—entered, but sadly, no record of the winner exists! Eventually an official racetrack was built, and today, the Royal Ascot is one of the world’s premier horse races, with the “Queen Anne’s Stake” a highlight of that event. This year, organizers expect some 300,000 people to attend, and they will award over ₤4.5 million of prize money to winners.
The pageantry at Royal Ascot is highly structured and has changed little over the years. As Anglophiles know, the British are keen on tradition, and Royal Ascot epitomizes their adherence to it. Each day of the event, at 2 p.m., a Royal Procession, with horse-drawn carriages carrying members of the Royal family, enters the track’s Golden Gates, winds along the racecourse, then enters the Parade Ring. What a treat for Royal watchers! TV cameras can’t focus on them enough! The first race begins promptly at 2:30, and five more races follow, with the last running at 5:35 p.m. For rousing good fun after the races, attendees are invited to sing traditional songs around the bandstand.
TICKET PRICES, SEATING, AND DRESS CODES
The track offers three seating areas for the Royal Ascot:
1. The most prestigious and costly seating is in the ROYAL ENCLOSURE. If you buy seating here, you hang out with the jet set and may get to rub shoulders with the Royal family. You’re also a member of Ascot, which is no mean feat--for you must be nominated. You can actually acquire seating in the Royal Enclosure without being an Ascot member if you spring for a seat with a “hospitality package” at the tune of ₤430 to ₤940. (Keeps out the riffraff, right?) Security is tight. And ticket holders have their own dining facilities and lounges, which are different from the ones that ticket holders outside the Royal Enclosure use.
Dress codes in the Royal Enclosure are strictly enforced, with females required to wear formal dresses and a hat, and males required to wear full morning dress.
Ladies clothing, specifically, must conform to the following:
- Dresses or skirts of modest length, falling just above the knee or longer
- Dresses or tops with straps of 1 inch or greater
- Pants suits; the pants should be full length and the colors of top and bottom matching
- Hats or a headpiece with at least a 4-inch base (i.e., no more fascinators—as have previously been allowed!)
Men must wear black or gray morning dress that includes these garments:
- A waistcoat and tie (no cravats)
- A black or gray top hat
- Black shoes
Children, aged 10 – 16, have dress rules too, of course:
- Girls must wear smart dresses, but a hat is optional
- Boys should dress in either the same type morning dress as adult men or in a dark suit with shirt and tie—hat optional
Interestingly, Overseas visitors are allowed to wear formal the “national dress” attire of their home country (I’m unsure whether this would be a raw-hide, American-Indian type garment for US citizens. . . . ) and military personnel, currently serving, may wear their dress uniform.
2. GRAND STAND and PADDOCK (or “General Admission”) seating offers mid-priced tickets, ranging from ₤60 to ₤71. Here, the dress code remains formal, but less so. Men can skirt by with wearing a jacket or a suit and tie (rather than full morning dress), while women must wear a summer dress or suit, and a hat or fascinator. (And no bare midriffs or sleeveless shirts!) Ticket holders have plenty of dining facilities and amenities, but they won’t be hobnobbing with royalty.
3. Very far down the rung is SILVER RING seating, with tickets ranging from ₤20 to ₤30. This seating area permits an even more relaxed dress code. Basically, anything goes. The track encourages attendees in the Silver Ring to dress “smartly,” but the request is not enforced. And visibility of the track is not always the best.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE RACE
On Tuesday, the first day of the race, the “Queen Anne’s Stake” features the top horses in the world. Thursday’s Gold Cup features an incredible race that tests stamina with a run of over two miles! Thursday is also “Ladies’ Day," with a fashion show featuring topnotch clothing designers and milliners. And Saturday, the last day of the race, features one of the world most important international races—the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. (Previously, this event was called the “Golden Jubilee Stakes,” but organizers renamed it in 2012 as a nod to the Queen’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee.) This race is the second British leg of the Global Sprint Challenge--a contest consisting of six sprint races ran on tracks in Australia, England, and Japan.
VIDEO: THE "SILVER RING" EXPERIENCE