Ascot has become synonymous with hats, singing and royalty. So with this year’s event coming to a close, what better time to dig into its past and find out how it has become such a staple in the British Calendar.
Despite the 306-year-old race being called ‘Royal Ascot’ it’s a widely held belief that it can only be considered royal when the Queen makes an appearance. However, in actuality, the race has always had its roots in royalty. Queen Anne, the last monarch of the House of Stuart, had the idea to host a racecourse at Ascot whilst she was out riding and discovered a vastness flat expanse of land she deemed perfect for racing horses.
The inaugural race at Ascot wasn’t even called ‘Royal Ascot’. It was then known as ‘Her Majesty’s Plate’ and consisted of three, 4-mile heats with an emphasis on stamina over speed, contrasting what we contemporary goers are used to. Back then, the prize for the winning horse was worth 100 guineas and the seven that competed, fit the simple requirements of either being a horse, mare or gelding, over the age of six and carrying a weight of 12 stone. Despite initial disinterest in Queen Annes ruling successors, The race saw a a resurgence under George IV and a bill passed by Parliament in 1813 named the ‘Act of Enclosure’, moved the maintenance of the racecourse into the hands of the crown, effectively securing the meetings future.
The meeting as we know it today first began to take shape with the introduction of the first four-day event 1768 and the subsequent introduction of the Gold Cup, the third day of Royal Ascot, in 1807. It was also around that year that the now famous dress code started to emerge. A close associate of the Prince Regent proclaimed that men should wear morning suits and the equivalent formal attire required for ladies, who must also wear hats. The now famous Straight Mile North was relocated in 1954 to allow more space behind the stands.
Fast forward to the early 21st Century and there was further change, as historically the ascot racecourse is redeveloped every 50 or so years to keep it fresh for future generations. The meeting was expanded to the now familiar 5 day pattern to commemorate The Queen’s Golden Jubilee. In addition, one race name was changed as the newly promoted Cork & Orrery Stakes became the Golden Jubilee Stakes (renamed the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2012 to mark the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II). There was further redevelopment from 2004 till its official reopening by the Queen in 2006.
Since the new ‘era’ of Ascot the meeting has drawn consistent crowds, coverage from the media and even produced legendary heroes such as Yeats, who won an unprecedented four Gold Cups before retiring in 2009 and jockey Ryan Moore who in 2015, took a record breaking nine different steeds to victory.
We’ll certainly be raising our glasses in hope to another resounding Ascot in 2018.