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Royal Ascot: A Brief Synopsis of a British Tradition

The much-anticipated upcoming Royal Ascot races are steeped in tradition. This tradition began in 1711 with an idea that began with the reigning monarch of the time, Queen Anne. While out riding her horse, Queen Anne first had the notion that it would in fact be a great addition to the countryside to put a racecourse at Ascot. It wasn’t long until her notion became a reality, and later that year, the first Royal Ascot race was held. The race grew in size and popularity, and in 1768, it became a four-day event, and has remained so ever since. Since the reign of Queen Anne, Royal Ascot has been attended by eleven additional monarchs, including Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II, who has attended every day of every Royal Ascot since 1945.

The Ascot racecourse, located in Ascot, Berkshire, stages twenty-six races during the racing season, and is the home of nine of the UK’s annual Group 1 races. However, the biggest draw to the Ascot racecourse is still The Royal Meeting, which we have all come to know over the years by the simple moniker Royal Ascot. Each day of the four-day Royal Ascot event, members of the British Royal Family arrive in a horse-drawn carriage and kick-off the day’s racing with the Royal Procession, followed by the raising of the Queen’s Royal Standard. This is a tradition that has changed little since the early days of Royal Ascot, and is one of the most popular draws of the event itself.

With over 300,000 people attending Royal Ascot racing week, it has become Europe’s best-attended racing event, and a highly-anticipated four days on the British social calendar. To house all of these additional guests during the week, the racecourse venue is divided into three enclosures to accommodate all of the guests. The most coveted, and most exclusive of the enclosures is the Royal Enclosure, which is situated at the very heart of the Ascot racecourse and has unrestricted views of the Winning Post, and access to the Royal Enclosure Gardens. During Royal Ascot race days, the Queen and members of the British Royal Family are often present in the Royal Enclosure, and therefore security is understandably very strict during the four days of Royal Ascot. Those looking to gain entrance into the Royal Enclosure can only do so by applying ahead of time to the Royal Ascot Royal Enclosure Office, and must first gain sponsorship from an existing member who has attended the Royal Enclosure for at least four non-consecutive years.

With the level of exclusivity that is provided by the Royal Enclosure, there is a certain amount of privilege. Those guests who are lucky enough to be granted entry into the Royal Enclosure have the luxury of having several different bars and fine-dining establishments to choose from, as well as a full hospitality service and the option of booking private chalets. There is tryly anything and everything there that one might need while in the Royal Enclosure.

Grandstand admission is the premier of the two public enclosures at Royal Ascot, and provides access to the Pre-Parade Ring, Winner’s Enclosure, and Parade Ring. From the Grandstand, racegoers are able to view Her Majesty the Queen and members of the British Royal Family as they arrive in the Royal Procession, in addition to enjoying the military band that plays in the Parade Ring, and the traditional sing-along that occurs around the Bandstand every day after the racing has finished. Additionally, the Grandstand offers two private clubs in the enclosure that racegoers can access by upgrading their tickets.

The two remaining public enclosures are the Silver Ring Enclosure and the Heath Enclosure. The Silver Ring enclosure offers excellent views of the Royal Procession, and boasts a beautiful lawn with a variety of daily live music, bars, betting and food options. The Heath Enclosure stands at the centre of the racecourse, and offers up-close views of the racing action, in addition to a selection of food, drink, and betting options. It should be noted however, that guests wishing to purchase a ticket to the Health enclosure do not have access to any of the other areas of Royal Ascot.

As with any social event that is steeped in the country’s history and involves the Royal Family, there is quite a bit of media attention surrounding Royal Ascot. Until a few years ago, the see-and-be-seen aspect of Royal Ascot seemed to almost surpass the excitement of the pageantry and races, providing fodder for journalists, bloggers, and social media users all over the world. Therefore, in an effort to preserve the true meaning and tradition of the event itself, a strict dress code is enforced in all Royal Ascot enclosures, with the Royal Enclosure having the most stringent dress policies. In this recent attempt to elevate the standard of dress for Royal Ascot race days, dress codes are strictly enforced on the day by a team of tastefully-clad Dress Code Assistants, who come armed with a watchful eye, a basket of pashminas, and a word of friendly advice. Generally, women are expected to dress modestly, with dresses falling to the knee, shoulders and midriffs covered, and a hat. Gentlemen are expected to wear grey or black morning dress with a tie and waistcoat. The finer details of the dress code at Royal Ascot may vary from year to year, and it is best to visit their website at www.ascot.co.uk and review the specifics for the dress code in your particular enclosure before you attend Royal Ascot.

Royal Ascot is a truly spectacular British tradition and a lovely day out for anyone who sees fit to attend. Whether you are lucky enough to be included as a member of the Royal Enclosure, or prefer to witness the hooves of the horses thundering past you from the Heath Enclosure, there is truly something there for everyone. It is a great way to celebrate the pageantry and traditions of Great Britain, no matter where you may hail from.