If you are a Downton Abbey fan, you certainly remember…
Everything about Royal Ascot
When you hear Royal Ascot probably the first things come to your mind is the strange hats and the dress code. I first saw Royal Ascot in My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn on television. Although the film was recorded in a studio in Los Angeles, the horse race depicted the original in a very appropriate way. So Ascot is all about tradition, hats, dress code and elite. What else is there to know about it? A lot, trust me.
If you have seen the film about the life of Queen Anne, „The Favourite” you know that she had a difficult life and she was not the sharpest tool in the box. What she did like though was stag hunting. One day she was travelling in her carriage in Windsor Great Park when she spotted the area close to Ascot village and she thought it would be great for horse racing. She bought the land instantly and the first race was held on 11th August 1711, where only seven horses competed.
Although the horse race was successful and popular, after Queen Anne’s death in 1714 no races were held until 1720. The reason being that the new monarch of the Hanover House, King George I and King George II were not interested in the sport. However, the third son of King George II, the cruel Duke of Cumberland was a keen sportsman and he arranged the first four-day race at Ascot in 1749. The races at Ascot become so popular that in 1752 the Duke of Bedford complained that he could not find a single soul in London to dine with when he arrived in town.
Of course, only a hedonist could bring the event to the next level. It was the Prince Regent, later King George IV who lived an extravagant and dissolute life. His friend, the fashion icon Beau Brummel advised that a gentleman should dress properly for the races at Ascot as well.
The popularity of Royal Ascot was thriving during Queen Victoria’s reign and even the risky journey by carriage (highwaymen) could not put off London’s elite to travel to attend Ascot. The railway came to Ascot in 1856 and one can imagine how that could have looked like packed with fashionably dressed ladies and gents. Visitors arrived by motorcar to Ascot first in 1912.
The Royal Enclosure
In 1820 the hedonist King George IV commissioned a royal enclosure to be built so that the royal family could enjoy the races more comfortably. Access to the Royal Enclosure was by invitation of the King and that has stayed the same until today.
Because the racecourse is on a Crown Estate, close to the Royal Backhounds Kennel, the Monarch appointed the Master of the Royal Backhounds to run the administration of the racecourse. In 1901 however, the system changed and Lord Churchill was appointed as the first official Representative of His Majesty. Allegedly when he vetted the applications for the entrance into the Royal Enclosure, he created three piles: „Certainly”, „Perhaps” and „Certainly Not”. :)
Access to the Royal Enclosure is restricted today and first-time applicants must apply to the Royal Enclosure Office and gain membership from someone who has attended the enclosure for four years. For established visitors the invitation is sent by Her Majesty’s Representative to request the tickets. It goes without saying that dress code is strictly enforced in the Royal Enclosure. Ladies must wear a dress and a hat. The length and the style of the dress is also restricted: the hem must be under your knee, shoulders and ribs must be covered. For gentlemen it is a black or a grey morning suit and a top hat. In return guests of the Royal Enclosure can enjoy fine dining and bars.
Royal Ascot or not?
There are races at Ascot Racecourse all year round, but only the one in June that is attended by the Monarch is called Royal Ascot.
If you look carefully, you might spot that the ceremonial guards of Royal Ascot wear a green coat and a top hat. Greencoats have been the uniform at Ascot since 1744 and it is rumoured that the uniforms were made from materials left over from curtains in Windsor Castle.
Colours and patterns of the jockeys
This is very interesting!
Up until 1783 jockey were allowed to wear whatever they liked, but it became very difficult to spot the winner of each race. Therefore jockeys were instructed to wear the colours of the horse owners.
The British Horseracing Association allows 18 standard colours and a variety of patterns to choose from. These are know as Racing Silks, being made from silk to keep the weight down. Colours can be chosen for the body, arms and cap so there are many combinations available. But not to worry, the BHA registers every combination and you can play with your design on their website and check if the combination you chose is already taken or not.
In case you prefer a bespoke colour for your jockey to wear, no problem, for £5,000 you can get it with the approval of the BHA. If you fancied a vintage colour, that is possible too. Prices vary between £1,000 and £8,000.
Fancy going to Ascot…?
Although 2020 Royal Ascot is cancelled because of COVID19, hopefully next year it will take place. The public can visit other enclosures and tickets cost £28-85. If you would like to attend a traditional English event, I am happy to help you to organise your trip, because Ascot too lays in the Thames Valley where I happen to be guiding tourists. ;)
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