Royal Ascot is a fixed week in the royal calendar that we can guarantee numerous royal appearances, and a variety of hats, too! The Queen along with members of the Royal Family attend meetings at Ascot racecourse, just a stone’s throw away from Windsor Castle.
The event takes place annually on the third week of June, beginning on Tuesday. The day before is Garter Day, a service for the Order of the Garter at Windsor Castle. Five meetings take place that week, which The Queen attends, usually with other members of the wider family.Horse racing has long been a royal pastime, and Ascot Racecourse was founded by Queen Anne in 1711. It is one occasion in the year you are guaranteed to see some animation, as the tension and excitement builds when the horses reach the last leg of the race.
The beginning of Royal Ascot commences with the Royal Procession, a tradition dating back to the reign of George IV; The Queen and other Royals ride down part of the track in horse-drawn landaus, to cheers of racegoers, at the start of each race day, around 2pm. They stop near The Royal Enclosure to begin their day at the races.
The Royal Enclosure is at the heart of Royal Ascot. Entry is exclusive, with a strict dress code: one must have sponsored the event, as an existing member, for four years, and be invited into the enclosure. Men must wear a top hat with morning dress, while ladies should be in formal daywear. Their head-wear must be at least four-inches at the base (no fascinators), straps on dresses must be at least an inch thick (even if worn under a jacket), and hemlines should fall just above the knee, if not lower.
This dressing tradition was begun in 1807, at The Gold Cup, which is Ascot’s most famous race. A friend of the Prince Regent (future George IV), Beau Brummell, declared that men ‘of elegance’ should wear ‘waisted black coats and white cravats with pantaloons’, which has now been adapted for the 21st century dress code.
The Queen is a keen horsewoman, riding regularly, even at the age of 89(!), and owns a number of horses, as well as a studdery at Sandringham. A number of Her Majesty’s horses compete each season, The Queen having won 22 times at Ascot with her entries.
While there is no formal connection between the Royal Family and Ascot, they turn up year on year to cheer on horses. Just six days in Her Majesty’s calendar are always kept free, and those are five days of Royal Ascot, and Derby Day at Epsom, showing just how much The Queen enjoys her time there.
Ascot is the most valuable race meeting in Britain, and it attracts the world’s finest racehorses to compete for more than £5.5milllion in prize money.
Zara Tindall is of course an equestrienne, and competed in the 2012 Olympics; she and husband Mike are now part of a syndicate that owns a racing horse, Monbeg Dude, which won the 2015 Grand National.