One of the real highlights of the social calendar, Royal Ascot week gets more newspaper column inches than any other ‘sporting’ event we can think of, and the vast majority of those barely mention the horses.
Royal Ascot dates back to 1711, when Queen Anne fancied a day or two at the races, so they sorted her out a racecourse. Ascot Racecourse is about six miles from Windsor Castle, so would have been jolly convenient to pop over to, to have a flutter on the Gee-Gees¹. (although I doubt there was much action from the Tote² that day).
These days the Queen attends on each of the five days, every year, and hasn’t missed a day in 64 years. There is a rumour, this year, that she may have to, in order to attend the State Opening of Parliament, (delayed during the ongoing negotiations between the Tories and the DUP) and she has made it known that she is Not At All Pleased about the idea. Not a great start to a parliament, to p*ss off the monarch, Theresa.
The Queen is an avid fan of horse-racing, and owns a good number of runners herself. She has had 71 Ascot winners during her reign. One might, however, suspect however that most of the rest of the attendees are only there because she is, and because there is a plentiful supply of champagne and posh sandwiches.
For the rest of the year, actual horse-racing followers are usually the scattered number of old men sitting in dimly lit ‘bookies’³ with roll-ups and nowhere better to go. That is until the third week in June, when all (usual) bets are off4.
Anyone who is anyone, or wants to be, gets dressed up to parade themselves into the Royal Enclosure. Originally a reserved area for family and friends of George III, the social elite, it is still the only place to be seen. Fine dining from the world’s top chefs and the very best champagne is the name of the game here. Like a Gentleman’s Club, you have to become a member before you can buy a ticket, (or ‘apply for a badge’), having been nominated by a long-standing member yourself.
The dress code is strict. Men must wear morning dress and a top hat, and ladies must wear formal daywear; knee length, modest dresses, and a proper hat. Thursday is Ladies’ Day (yes, originally the only day when a lady was allowed to accompany her beau) and is now quite the fashion show, with some of the most amazing headpieces a milliner could dream up.
For Ascot Week, there are an additional three enclosures, with increasingly relaxed dress codes; Queen Anne, Windsor and the newer, livelier Village enclosures. The more traditional of those frequenting the Royal Enclosure look down their noses6 at the newer, more commercial endeavours – pop-up restaurants and bars, and a DJ in the evening? Preposterous. [I actually think it sounds quite fun, but don’t tell anyone I said that]
Top Tips to Surviving Ascot Week
- Wear your very best suit or dress, even if you are not in the Royal Enclosure, the whole of Royal Ascot is a place to see and be seen.
- Make sure you eat a good breakfast (the drinking starts early), pack a properly British picnic (the bars and restaurants get stupidly busy), and lots English Sparkling Wine. (Here are our top tips on which wine to bring)
- Head down the race course itself early. Her Majesty and the Royal party arrive by horse-drawn coach, ride along the racecourse and then in through the Royal Enclosure to the Royal Box.
- Buy a race card (about £5), which will tell you which horses run in which race, and which jersey to look out for on the jockeys, so you can head for the Tote to place your bets
- After the races, head to the bandstand in the main Grandstand area. A tradition since 1970, everyone gets together for a good old singsong. Check out some of the recordings here.
- If you didn’t manage to get a ticket (or indeed a badge) to the races, you don’t have to miss out on the Royal Parade. Head to the brilliantly named Watersplash Lane, partake in the cakes and tea laid on by Cheapside School Parent Teacher Association, and await the spectacle of the Queen’s horse-drawn procession.
- have a flutter on the gee-gees – to have a flutter means to place a bet. It implies it is only a small bet, but often suggests quite a hefty one that you would rather not talk about. The gee-gees are horses. British children often call horses gee-gee, and you would command a horse to ‘gee up’ to get it to go faster. The term was apparently coined after Mayor Henry Gee who founded Chester Racecourse in 1539. The things you learn on here, eh?
- the Tote – short for the Horserace Totaliser Board, this was one of the first official bookmakers, which was set up and regulated by the Government from 1928 until they sold it to Betfred bookmakers in 2011. Seen as the ‘official’ bookmaker for Royal Ascot.
- the bookies – short for bookmakers – where you go to place your sporting bets, they have shops on the high street, and at the sports arena around the country.
- all bets are off – you would say this when the outcome has become too unpredictable, and you would no longer want to place a bet on the outcome.
- morning suit and a top hat – this dapper gentleman from 1901 describes them better than I can. Hasn’t changed in 116 years.
- to look down ones’ nose – to think that someone or something is not worthy of your time or attention. Try literally looking down your own nose at someone, and you’ll get the idea.
- straight from the horse’s mouth – to get your information from the horse’s mouth is to get it from the most reliable source. Who knows better than the horse who will win the race?
Featured image courtesy of www.ascot.co.uk
(c) 2017 Kayte and Nicer Kate – authors assert moral rights