Ascot Racecourse

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The small town of Ascot in Berkshire is home to one of the world’s most famous racing venues, Ascot Racecourse. In close proximity to Windsor Castle and in association with the Royal Family, this is where the “Sport of Kings” takes place over a right-handed triangular course measuring one mile and six furlongs in length, with a two-and-a-half furlong run-in. That track is complemented by a right-handed jumps course with stiff fences covering a mile and five furlongs. The highlight of 26 days of racing here each year is the five-day Royal Ascot Meeting in June, and its jewel is the Gold Cup worth a purse of some £350,000.

A Rich and Royal Heritage

Whilst out riding near Windsor Castle, Queen Anne first saw the potential for a racecourse at Ascot in 1711. She described the open heath then known as East Cote as “ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch.” Later that same year, the first race meeting at Ascot took place—a race for Her Majesty’s Plate, worth 100 guineas and open to any horse, mare or gelding over six years of age. In honour of this gift to British racing, the founding of the Royal Racecourse, it has been a tradition since 1840 to open the Royal Ascot Meeting with the Queen Anne Stakes.

It is believed that the first four-day Royal Meeting was conducted in 1768. The initial racecourse was designed by William Lowen, and the first permanent building was added in 1794. The original grandstand was used for nearly half a century and could accommodate 1,650 people. A highlight of that period was the inauguration of the Gold Cup in 1807, and six years later an Act of Parliament ensured that Ascot Heath would be kept and used as a public racecourse in the future. In 1839, a new grandstand was opened at a cost of £10,000.

For the next 100 years, Royal Ascot was the only meeting organised annually at the racecourse. The course was managed on the Sovereign’s behalf by the Master of the Royal Buckhounds until 1913, when Parliament established the Ascot Authority, with His Majesty’s Representative becoming Senior Trustee. Today, Ascot Authority (Holdings) Limited has a formal board chaired by Johnny Weatherby, Her Majesty`s Representative (Senior Trustee) and Chairman.

For 20 months between 2004 and 2006, Ascot Racecourse closed for a £zero-million redevelopment. Major occurrences since then have included four Gold Cup victories by a horse called Yeats in 2006~09 and the inauguration of a season-ending series of flat races, the QUIPCO British Champions Day, in 2011.

Racing at Ascot Today

The quality of racing at Ascot Racecourse is second to none. It is the venue for nine of the U.K.’s 31 Group 1 races throughout the year. In addition to Royal Ascot, the course hosts such important fixtures as October’s QUIPCO British Champions Day and the Ascot CAMRA Beer Festival with its Betfred Challenge Cup, Europe’s most valuable seven-furlong handicap at £150,000. And although the flat track earned Ascot it reputation worldwide, a number of top-class National Hunt fixtures are held here, such as the Victor Chandler Chase in January, the Ascot Chase in February and the Long Walk Hurdle in December, all rated Grade 1.

Ticket prices vary greatly, depending on the fixture and enclosure selected. Grandstand Admission for many fixtures is £13, rising to £30 for such featured events at QUIPCO British Champions Day in October. Premier Admission is likewise volatile, increasing from £23 to £55. On the third day of Royal Ascot—“Ladies’ Day,” when the Gold Cup is run—entry can cost as much as £63. Under 18s are admitted free of charge, although proof of age may be requested.

Of course, there are Bespoke Packages available, too, such as the Grandstand’s Saddle Package with a four-course luncheon at the Old Paddock Restaurant or Ascot Pavilion, which can cost up to £234 per person including VAT. At the Premier level, the Parade Ring Package with a four-course meal at the Parade Ring Restaurant costs £348 per person. Such packages also offer racecards, welcome drinks, Cellar Master selected wines, complimentary bar access, afternoon tea, port or brandy with coffee, and other amenities.

Ascot Racecourse has some very specific rules regarding apparel. The dress code ranges from “smart clothing” in the Grandstand Admission area during either the Flat or Jumps season to black or grey morning dress for men, including waistcoat and top hat or service dress, for Premier Admission at Royal Ascot. There are very specific rules governing the style of ladies’ dresses, too, depending on the fixture and enclosure.

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