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HomeHorse RacingRoyal AscotThe History of the Royal Ascot

The History of the Royal Ascot

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There are few sporting events that match the blend of history, pageantry, and athletic prowess that Royal Ascot offers each year. As one of the most prestigious meetings in the horse racing calendar, it captivates audiences worldwide, just as it has done for more than three centuries.

The story of Royal Ascot begins with Queen Anne. In 1711, she was out riding near Windsor Castle when she came across an open heath that looked, in her eyes, ideal for “horses to gallop at full stretch.” That same year, the first race, “Her Majesty’s Plate,” was held with a purse of 100 guineas. The race consisted of three separate four-mile heats and was open to any horse over the age of six. This was the modest start of what would become one of the world’s most famous race meetings.

In the years following, Ascot began to flourish under the patronage of the successive monarchs. In 1813, the Parliament passed an Act of Enclosure, ensuring Ascot’s land would remain a public racecourse. This was followed by the introduction of the Gold Cup in 1807, a race that would become Ascot’s oldest surviving race and continues to be a highlight of the third day of the meeting, traditionally known as Ladies’ Day.

In the mid-19th century, a notable transformation took place. This was due to the patronage of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, who, in 1845, extended the racing from a single day to four. During her reign, Queen Victoria also introduced the Royal Procession, a tradition where the Queen and other members of the Royal family arrive in horse-drawn carriages every day at 2 pm. This tradition continues to be a quintessential part of the Royal Ascot experience, symbolizing the deep connection between the monarchy and this iconic racing event.

While the Royal Ascot has always been as much a social event as it is a sporting one, there was a time when it almost was more so. In the early 20th century, it wasn’t uncommon for the races themselves to be something of an afterthought with more attention paid to the socializing and high fashion in the Royal Enclosure, the most exclusive area of the racecourse.

However, World War II brought about a temporary halt to the festivities as the course was requisitioned by the military. But by 1945, the races were back on, albeit in a slightly modified form to accommodate the circumstances. Despite the hiatus, the post-war years saw Ascot reclaim its position as a key event on the British social calendar.

Ascot entered a new era in 2002 with the introduction of the Royal Ascot Racing Club’s first horse, Motivator, which famously went on to win the Epsom Derby in 2005. In the same year, Ascot Racecourse underwent a £200 million redevelopment, the grandstand was demolished, and the course closed for 20 months. It was reopened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006, modernizing the facilities while respecting the event’s history and traditions.

Nowadays, Royal Ascot is a five-day meeting held each June, featuring nineteen Grade 1 races, and is a stage for some of the best horses worldwide. With a total prize fund of over £6 million, it is the most valuable race meeting in Britain.

While the sport is the primary draw, fashion, pageantry, and fine dining also play significant roles in making the Royal Ascot the event it is. The Royal Enclosure continues to be the pinnacle of fashion and luxury, with a strict dress code that epitomizes the blend of tradition and contemporary style that characterizes modern Royal Ascot.

From its origins in the 18th century to the iconic sporting event it is today, Royal Ascot has a rich history that’s steeped in tradition. The combination of world-class racing, high fashion, and Royal patronage creates an atmosphere that’s truly unique, embodying the very best of British culture. As we look to the future, one can only anticipate that Royal Ascot will continue to build on its impressive legacy, remaining a fixture in the global horse racing calendar for years to come.

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