Royal Ascot – 30 facts from 300 years

Racing for Change highlights “30 facts you need to know” about Royal Ascot, as part of its Tercentenary celebrations.

1. It was Queen Anne who first saw the potential for a racecourse at Ascot three centuries ago.

2. The first race meeting ever held on Ascot Heath took place on Saturday 11 August 1711. Today, the Queen Anne Stakes is the first race of the Royal Ascot meeting.

3. The precise origin of the Royal Meeting is unclear but we do know that the first four-day meeting took place in 1768. In fact, Royal Ascot was the only race meeting held at Ascot until 1939.

4. It was around the time of the first running of the Ascot Gold Cup in 1807 that the roots of today’s Royal Enclosure dress code emerged.

5. 300,000 racegoers visit Royal Ascot every year over the five days.

6. Royal Ascot is famous for its dress code in the Royal Enclosure. For ladies, only formal day dresses with a hat or substantial fascinator are acceptable. Miniskirts are considered unsuitable, while midriffs must be covered and trouser suits must be full length. Gentlemen must wear either black or grey morning dress, including waistcoat, with a top hat.

7. The Gold Cup remains the feature race of the five-day meeting and takes place on the third day. It is colloquially known as “Ladies’ Day”.

8. The tradition of the Royal Ascot picnic is one that can be traced back to the very earliest race meetings. With the arrival of the motorcar at Ascot in 1912 came the more modern tradition of the picnic in the car park.

9. Butlers, candelabra and silver service are still in evidence at picnics in Number One and Two car parks. Some berths in Number One are passed down informally from generation to generation.

10. The fifth day of Royal Ascot used to be called ‘Heath Day’ and was not part of the Royal Meeting until 2002 when it was extended to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

11. The longest Flat race in Britain is run at Royal Ascot – the Queen Alexandra Stakes – over a distance just short of two and three-quarter miles.

12. The exclusive Royal Enclosure is at the heart of Royal Ascot. Entry to the enclosure is by sponsorship from an existing badgeholder who has attended for four previous years. Divorcees were not accepted until 1955.

13. Each day of Royal Ascot follows the same format with the Royal Procession making its way from the Golden Gates, along the racecourse and into the parade ring from 2pm. The first race of six each day is at 2.30pm and the finale is at 5.35pm.

14. After racing finishes each day, racegoers are invited to celebrate their winnings as they sing favourites around the bandstand, a tradition that started as recently as the 1970s.

15. Daily admission for adults into the Silver Ring and the Grandstand ranges from £15 to £69 over the five days. Those granted entry into the Royal Enclosure pay £90.

16. In 2010, 35,000 strawberry scones, 35,000 rounds of sandwiches, 30,000 eclairs, 1,400 lobsters and 1,400 kilos of smoked salmon were washed down by 50,000 bottles of Champagne and 8,000 bottles of Pimm’s.

17. In the 1920s, women were not allowed to smoke in the Royal Enclosure. Nowadays, nobody can (inside at least)!

18. Ascot Racecourse closed for 20 months in 2004 for a £220m redevelopment. The Royal Meeting in 2005 was held at York Racecourse.

19. The racecourse has 13,398 car parking spaces. Typically, 400 helicopters and 1,000 limos arrive at Royal Ascot.

20. The legendary racehorse Yeats won the Ascot Gold Cup four times between 2006 and 2009 – a feat unmatched by any other racehorse.

21. In the 18th and early 19th Centuries, the routes from London to Ascot were notorious haunts for highwaymen who targeted wealthy racehorse owners who had had a good day at the royal meeting.

22. The King’s Representative at Ascot in the early 1900s, Viscount Churchill, would sift through applications for the Royal Enclosure, marking each of them “certainly”, “perhaps” or “certainly not”. Actors and actresses were not eligible!

23. The most successful current trainer at Royal Ascot is Henry Cecil (72 winners), with Sir Michael Stoute on 63.

24. In the saddle, the most successful current jockey is Frankie Dettori with 44 winners to Johnny Murtagh’s 36.

25. In 1799, the Light Brigade was called to the racecourse from Windsor Castle when an argument over a bet developed into a full-scale riot.

26. A team of 2,400 cleaners work around the clock for five days to keep the racecourse shipshape.

27. The gatemen at Royal Ascot have worn bowler hats since 1959.

28. Current trainer and former jockey Gay Kelleway became the first woman to ride a winner at Royal Ascot – on Sprowston Boy in 1987.

29. London brewers Fullers have launched an official limited edition Tercentenary Ale to mark the 300th year of Ascot.

30. The Queen’s representative, the Duke of Norfolk, was taken aback to read in the editions of The Times and the Daily Telegraph on 27 April 1971 that hot pants would be allowed in the Royal Enclosure. The following day, that mistake was corrected in no uncertain terms.

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