Every year, Royal Ascot serves up racing at its finest – but that's just the starting point for the experience.
An exotic cocktail of top-class racing, high society and haute couture, Royal Ascot has been the jewel of the social season since 1711, when Queen Anne first saw the potential for the open heath “ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch.” Ascot now welcomes over 300,000 visitors over the five days to witness British flat racing at its finest.
The Royal Procession at 2pm sharp continues to herald the start of each day as The Queen arrives with guests in a cavalcade of ornate landaus. A keen racehorse owner she has not missed a day at Royal Ascot since her Coronation and in 2013 her filly, Estimate, won the Gold Cup – the first time a horse owned by a reigning monarch had triumphed in this prestigious race.
Over the course of the five days, eighteen Group races are run with eight of them Group One (the highest class of race in the UK to establish the best-of-the-best). For serious racing fans, Tuesday and Wednesday boast the highest-quality action on the track, while discerning social racegoers often head to Royal Ascot earlier in the week too, preferring the more relaxed pace to the bigger crowds later in the week.
The world’s finest thoroughbreds compete for more than £6.6 million in prize money, with many going on to become household names – Yeats and Black Caviar to name just two. The latter, a world-class sprinter, had travelled from Australia – in a purpose built compression travel suit – to lay her unbeaten record on the line. And then there was Frankel, arguably the greatest flat racehorse of all time. In 2015 the Queen paid tribute to the legendary Sir Henry Cecil-trained horse by unveiling a statue at the racecourse.
The striking bronze, created by sculptor Mark Coreth, overlooks the Parade Ring, facing the Winners’ Enclosure that the Tom Queally-piloted legend made his own. Frankel retired to stud undefeated in 14 races in 2012, and ran at the Berkshire venue five times, winning at the Royal Meeting twice. International interest heightens year-on year, with entrants from across the globe. US broadcast giant NBC will be screening the Royal Meeting live this year.
For many visitors, admiring the fashions is as important as seeing the horses. Synonymous with sartorial elegance, a strict dress code still prevails adding to the sense of occasion and glamour. Millinery is on point here and Ascot annually showcases the best of British hatters. Expect to see fabulous creations by Stephen Jones, Philip Treacy, Noel Stewart, Rachel Trevor Morgan and William Chambers dotted throughout the crowd.
No wonder that, come spring, the minds of many turn to the business of obtaining a badge for the Royal Enclosure – that hallowed area of the stands and lawns adjacent the Royal Box – historically the great social watershed, and today, still invitation only. Those who secure an invitation are then faced with the daunting challenge of what to wear – fortunately, the Royal Ascot Style Guide can assist with that.
Regardless of which enclosure you’re in, the food is consistently top class: Fine dining is key to the Royal Ascot experience, with Raymond Blanc OBE continuing his residency in the Panoramic Restaurant, as well as training Ascot staff to deliver exceptional service across the venue. With 12 restaurants to choose from – some formal fine dining, others more relaxed and low key – there’s something to suit all tastes, and pockets.
All racegoers have the opportunity to enjoy gastronomical experience that showcases the very best of sustainable British produce, paired with the finest wines and champagnes. Ascot’s afternoon teas are also an institution. Throughout the five days, race goers consume 5,000 kilos of salmon, 2,900 lobsters, 35,000 spears of English asparagus and 51,000 bottles of champagne.
For the first time in over 100 years, Ascot will launch a new enclosure in 2017 at the Royal Meeting. Contemporary yet unmistakably Royal Ascot, The Village Enclosure* offers some of the best views in the house. Boutique restaurants, pop-up and al-fresco dining, champagne and cocktail bars are backed by an eclectic mix of music throughout the day and long into the summer evening with revellers continuing the festivities until 9pm. (*Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd June available; Saturday 24th sold out.)
Royal Ascot is more than just a race meeting; it is a timeless blend of rich pageantry, high living and fast horses: an opportunity to step out of the everyday.
Going to Royal Ascot: The details
- Royal Ascot takes place Tuesday 20th – Saturday 24th June 2017. For further information and to book tickets visit www.ascot.co.uk
- By train to Ascot (52 minutes from Waterloo), followed by a short walk, or by car (get there early)
- For membership to the Royal enclosure (sponsorship by two members of five years’ standing is still required), telephone 01344 878474 or visit www.ascot.co.uk/royalenclosure. To enquire about a private box, telephone 0844 346 3618.