If you are after a premium racecourse experience then look no further than Ascot. Since Queen Anne opened the course in 1711, it has been a regular destination for royalty ever since. Its links to the Crown have helped make Ascot one of the most famous racecourses on the planet and a place which hosts some of Britain’s top racing action. You do not need to be a prince or duchess to attend, however, as Ascot is a destination for all-kinds of racegoers despite its rather noble reputation.
Ascot itself is only a small town with a population that does not far exceed 11,000. There are plenty of expensive homes and large mansions but, in terms of hotels, options are somewhat lacking.
If you want something withing walking distance of the racecourse, there are about three small-capacity venues that are less than 30-minutes away by foot. Due to their limited size, you may find these are sold out on racedays though unless you book far in advance – and even then you will struggle for the course’s iconic Royal Meeting.
Other Towns a Short Drive Away
Should you venture out a little further, there are a couple of options in Sunninghill, located to the south east of the racecourse and Sunningdale, which exists next door. It is near here where you will find the luxurious Coworth Park with rooms starting from a somewhat eye-watering £625 a night.
There are a few more possibilities (which are all easier on the wallet) if you head west from the racecourse and go to Bracknell, which is around 10 minutes away by car or just seven minutes by train. With a population in excess of 80,000, Bracknell is much better equipped when it comes to hotels and there are several inexpensive options available including two pairs of Premier Inns and Travelodges.
Staying in Windsor
Another consideration, and in keeping with Ascot’s royal theme, would be to head to Windsor. By car, it is a journey you can complete in less than 20 minutes and there is a bus route too, but this is considerably slower. Windsor is the nearest place with a very high concentration of hotels on account of it being such a popular tourist destination. If you want to have the absolute widest pick of hotels possible then central London is about an hour away (a little more by car or a little less by direct train from Waterloo).
About the Racecourse
If you are planning a visit to Ascot Racecourse, it is usually a good idea to buy your tickets online in advance and this will certainly be necessary for Royal Ascot. Tickets are sold on the day at the gate but these are subject to availability so you could potentially end up disappointed. Tickets purchased online are hassle-free now as there are four options available to you. Either you can print the vouchers out, download the tickets to your Apple or Google Wallet, have physical tickets sent in the post, or collect the pre-bought tickets at the racecourse.
With your tickets booked, it is time to think about how you will be getting yourself to the racecourse. If car is your preferred method of transportation, Ascot has enough room for 8,000 vehicles across its car parks. For the less popular jump race meetings, parking is free and there is no need to pre-book.
In the flat season though, you will need to pay for a spot at least five days in advance (otherwise you will need to pay in the day in cash). Nestled between the M3 and M4 (both connected to the M25), the racecourse is less than 10 miles from the nearest junction of both motorways so much of your drive will be a quick one. To get to the course the postcode you want to use is a glamorous Slough one – SL5 7JX.
Should a car ride through part of the M25 not appeal to you then you will pleased to hear that the racecourse has great public transport links. Ascot train station is just a seven-minute walk away and it is a well-serviced stop, with direct lines stretching as far as London Waterloo to the east and Reading to the West. This regular service makes a number of stops across the way, including Clapham Junction, Richmond and Twickenham, so London residents have a very simple train journey that takes less than an hour. The train usually makes for a superior option than bus routes unless you are arriving from the north (Windsor/Slough). Should you be travelling from either, you will want to take the 703 service, which also stops at Legoland.
Ascot Racecourse hosts both flat and jump racing although it is the former which it is best known for. Some of the most famous and prestigious races in Britain take place on the pristine Ascot turf. In fact, no other course in the country boasts as many Group 1 events and only Newmarket has as many Group 2 races.
Most flat races up to one mile in length can take place down the straight one-mile track meaning it’s just one simple gallop to the finish. This long straight connects to a triangular, right-handed course (used for longer events) with the corner at the far end known as Swinley Bottom, the lowest point of the whole course. With the highest point being the winning post, runners face a challenging 73-foot incline to the line so if you are taking your punting seriously, be sure to opt for a horse with the required stamina and a jockey who knows how to pace the race.
In addition to some fabulous flat racing, Ascot does host some very notable National Hunt affairs, all of which take place on this triangular course. The National Hunt course reopened for the 2006/07 season after being closed for some major redevelopment work. One key improvement was to the drainage system which means that Ascot is far more resilient in the face of any heavy rainfalls. Consequently, postponed meetings here are very much a rarity.
Many racecourses have done away with strict dress code requirements but Ascot have stuck with theirs. To make matters rather complicated, they have specific codes depending on the season and the enclosure you are in. As you might expect, Royal Ascot sees by far the strictest dress codes with a whole host of rules stated.
|King Edward VII & Winning Post Enclosures (Flat Season)||Smart attire with headwear encouraged.||Jacket with a collared shirt and tie. Shorts are only permitted if tailored. Trainers are not allowed.|
|King Edward VII & Winning Post Enclosures (Jump Season)||Smart attire strongly preferred, usually involves boots, coats and winter hats.||Nothing is compulsory but it is advised that gents wear a jacket with a collared shirt and tie.|
|Queen Anne Enclosure (Flat & Jumps)||Smart wear encouraged but no strict requirements.||No formal dress code applies but racegoers encouraged to dress smartly. This usually involves a jacket and collared shirt.|
|Royal Enclosure (Royal Ascot)||Formal daywear: Dresses & skirts to be of modest length, falling just above the knee or longer. Dresses/tops must have straps at least one inch in length. Midriffs must be covered at all times. Trousers must be full length and of matching material and colour. Hats should be worn or failing that a headpiece at least 4 inches in diameter.||A black, grey or navy morning dress is a must and it needs to include a waistcoat, tie, black/grey top hot and black shoes worn with socks. Novelty waistcoats and ties are not permitted. Patterns are allowed if discreet or of a patriotic nature.|
|Queen Anne Enclosure (Royal Ascot)||Formal clothing with a hat or fascinator worn at all times. Strapless and sheer dresses not permitted. Trousers to be of full length and jumpsuits below the knee.||Full length suit with jacket and trousers of matching colour. Tie is also compulsory, no bow ties and cravats. Socks must cover the ankle.|
|Village Enclosure||Same as Queen Anne Enclosure.||Full length trousers and jacket with a collared shirt and tie. Bow-ties and cravats also acceptable.|
|Windsor Enclosure||No official dress code but smart clothing recommended.||No official dress code but smart clothing recommended.|
When ‘no formal dress code’ applies, be aware that this does not mean you can rock up in your fancy dress or wearing your favourite football shirt. Across all race meetings, fancy dress and sports attire is not permitted. Ascot is certainly not a course for those who like to rock up as they please and the course can be quite strict about these rules.
As outlined in the dress code, for the majority of meetings at Ascot Racecourse, you have the option of two main areas, either the King Edward VII Enclosure or the Queen Anne Enclosure. The former is a little more upmarket and the ticket costs do reflect that as they are typically £5 or £10 more expensive. Both, however, maintain the high standards you would expect from such a world-renowned home of racing.
To give you a little more information, with a spot in the King Edward VII Enclosure you have exclusive fourth floor access, equipped overhead cover, giving you terrific views of the track. In this enclosure you will also find a wide variety of food and drink options. The Queen Anne Enclosure on the other hand has the benefit that it is the only place that has access to the parade ring, allowing you to stand just a few feet away from the competing horses and suss out which are looking most ready to rock and roll!
To accommodate a large number of people during Royal Ascot, both the Village Enclosure and Windsor Enclosure are opened up. The Village Enclosure is located in the middle of the racecourse, providing spectators with a unique viewing position. Across the track, beside the main stands but further away from the finishing post is where the Windsor Enclosure is situated. It is a much more relaxed and informal part of the racecourse but one bubbling with life and casual dining options.
Ascot accounts for around 10% of all traffic to UK racecourses, so even its less-popular meetings still attract a large turnout. There is no such thing as bad meeting at this fantastic course but there are some that are bigger in magnitude than others. Here are the three main highlights, all of which are flat race meetings.
There are no other race meetings in the country quite like Royal Ascot. Each year it begins with a Royal Procession, a tradition that dates back to 1825. This gives patrons the chance to see royal figures live in the flesh, pulled by a horse-drawn carriage. Given the royal involvement in this five-day festival, it seems very appropriate that it is the most valuable race meeting to take place in Britain. There is quality on show every single day too, with each instalment boasting a vibrant atmosphere full of smartly dressed spectators and top level horses from around the globe.
Thursday (day three) does stand out as the highlight of the entire occasion though as this is the day of the incredibly prestigious Gold Cup. It is not just a remarkable day on the track though, away from the turf you will see an array of wonderful attire on an account of it being Ladies Day. Truly a major fashion event, it acts as the perfect occasion to put on your finest gear, providing it follows the relevant dress code of course!
Due to the demand over the entire event, ticket prices are substantially higher than standard. Even when benefitting from the early bird discount, Queen Anne Enclosure tickets will set you back between £68 and £82. The Village Enclosure (Thu, Fri and Sat) are little cheaper either at £61-£66.
What’s more, no amount of money will get you into the Royal Enclosure. Tickets for this area are so prestigious that they are not available to the public and work on an invitation-only basis, as is tradition. For those not lucky enough to receive an invite and wanting to attend Royal Ascot on more of a budget, the Windsor Enclosure is what you will want to look at. Advance tickets for this section of the course range between £29 and £45.
British Champions Day
British Champions Day stands as the richest single day in British racing. The huge prize money on offer is a result of the British Champions Series coming to a thrilling finish. The enthralling afternoon sees six races in total including four at the most elite level (Group 1). It is a relatively new creation, first run in 2011, but it proved to be an instant hit and one set to stick around for a long time. Another reason why it is such a cherished fixture is that it acts as the last major meeting of the British flat racing season. Scheduled for October, it is the last opportunity to see an assortment of truly exceptional flat racing horses.
King George Diamond Weekend
Ascot holds so many great races but many would argue that the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is the best of the lot. It is widely considered to be the leading middle-distance event on the continent and one that attracts some of the biggest and best names in racing. Due to the stature of the contest, the two-day King George Diamond Weekend is a very notable and popular meet. You will find though that there is a lot more demand for tickets on the second day, as this is the day of meeting’s show-stopper.
Racing fans have Queen Anne to thank for the creation of Ascot Racecourse. While riding out from Windsor Castle, the monarch happened to stumbled across a plot of land which in her view was ‘ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch’.
Wasting absolutely no time, a race meeting was held at the exact location later in the year on the 11th of August, 1711 to be precise. The first race was fittingly titled Her Majesty’s Plate and offered 100 guineas as a prize fund.
1768: The First Four-Day Meeting
By 1768, Ascot held its first four-day meeting and this is what would later become what we know today as Royal Ascot. Interestingly, until 1939, Royal Ascot was the only event that took place at the seldom-used course during the entire year. As the century progressed though, Ascot began to get busier and busier, adding more flat events to their schedule. In 1965, they also welcomed their first jump racing fixture used turf acquired from the nearby Hurst Park Racecourse that closed three years prior.
2004: £200m Development Project
More racedays (currently a total of 26 per year) means more attendees and this has forced Ascot to undergo many changes in more recent decades. By far the biggest change though came in 2004 when the course was closed to make way for a massive £200m development project. This was the single biggest investment British racing had ever seen and by some distance too. So extensive it was that the course only reopened ahead of Royal Ascot 2006. While closed, York Racecourse claimed the honour of hosting the previous year’s event. Despite not being at its usual location, the Queen maintained tradition by making an appearance up north.
Featured in James Bond Films
Film trivia fans may know that the course has some serious James Bond connections too. The new glass-heavy grandstand doubled up as Shanghai International Airport in Skyfall, whilst the course was also used in A View To A Kill. So, whether you love world class horse racing, dressing up in your finery, or James Bond, Ascot has something for everyone!