Ascot Racecourse and the Royal Family

Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire is one of the UK’s premier racetracks and is internationally renown for its close association with the Royal Family. The month of June means only one thing in British horse racing, it is the date of the Royal Ascot. No other race has the same prestige or is considered as important in the British social calendar as these five days of racing. In this article we look at the strong connection the Royal Family has to one of the world’s most famous courses.

The official Ascot site informs readers that the idea to have a racecourse in Ascot (previously called East Cote) came from Queen Anne in 1711. While riding near Windsor Castle Queen Anne came across an open heath which she noted looked “ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch.” Under her supervision the first meeting at Ascot was held on Saturday 11th August 1711 with a second following in September. Soon they became a regular event.

In their article ‘Ascot Racecourse: A Royal History,’ the BBC writes that after Queen Anne died in 1714 the races were cancelled until 1720. Even when they came back they were only sporadically held. The races looked to have disappeared until George II’s third son William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, a huge horse racing fan, created the racecourse’s first four-day event in 1749. Once again the races became popular.

The BBC also reported that the next important royal in the racecourse’s history was George IV, then Prince Regent (the character played by Hugh Laurie in Blackadder III). He used the races as a way to indulge in his three passions: banqueting, gambling and womanising. 

His presence at the racecourse raised its profile and when he was crowned King George IV he had architect John Nash design a new stand for the Royal Family and guests. This would be the beginning of the Royal Enclosure. Perhaps his most lasting legacy is the Royal Procession that is continued to this day. Everyday of the Royal Ascot The Queen and other members of the Royal Family arrive in horse drawn carriages and are paraded before the crowds.

The Queen is not only there to spectate. Since childhood she has had an interest in racing and is both an owner and a breeder. One of the jockeys who regularly rides The Queen’s thoroughbreds is Ryan Moore. CNN reported that Moore is the monarch’s jockey of choice. Moore told CNN “it’s not really different and it’s very easy to ride for her. There’s no pressure. She’s just very easy going. Riding for her is a great experience.” Ryan Moore, who also regularly writes for Betfair who cover major events such as the Royal Ascot and Cheltenham, won the Gold Cup last year. The Queen presented him with the trophy. 

The royal association with Ascot has made the races an important part of Britain’s sporting heritage. Every year around 300,000 visitors come to the Royal Ascot to get a glimpse of the Royal Family. Ladies Day has become famous throughout the world for the dresses and hats worn by the ladies. Without the Royal Family Ascot wouldn’t be the event it is today. 

Samantha Hills