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The Best Royal Ascot Traditions

Royal Ascot is one of the biggest horse racing events in Britain each year. The 5 day event at the Ascot racecourse is attended by 300,000 people, which is about 5% of the attendance for all of the racing events in Britain in a year. The land on which the race course was built is owned by the Royal Family, who lease it for the racing events, and it covers 179 acres, or 72 hectares. Located about 6 miles, or 9.7 km from Windsor, the races are regularly attended by the Royal Family, the Queen herself attends Ascot several times a year.

The main event in Royal Ascot is the Royal Meeting, which is held each year in June and comprises 31 races, which are in different Grades, run over a range of distances and are open to horses of different sexes and ages. The main event however is not only about racing, there are social events that include activities such as outdoor parties, dining, live music and much more. These activities date back to the times when the horse racing event was a social event for the British elite classes, who would go to the races to enjoy all kinds of entertainment.

Royal Ascot opened to the general public in 1813, allowing people from all classes to enjoy the festivities, and it made some major developments in the following 200 years. Despite this, there are some traditions that have stuck with Royal Ascot, and have now become a staple in each event.

Royal Traditions

Royal Ascot in June always begins with the Royal Procession, which is a parade in which the Royal Family are driven in their coaches, to the Royal Enclosure or Grandstand. The Royal Progression is the opening ceremony of the event, and once it has concluded the main races can start.

Visitors will also notice the ceremonial guard for the Royal Family. These guards dress in smart Green coats and are called the Greencoats or the Yeoman Prickers, whose job to guard the Royal Family dates back over 300 years to Queen Anne who founded the races. Once the races became open to the public, their responsibilities increased and they had to control the crowds, using their prickers to make sure no racegoers went onto the course. These days Greencoats are more like tour guides, who assist guests around the grounds and can offer lots of insight into the history of the races and provide guests with interesting facts.

Dress Codes

Up until 1783, there were no rules about what colours jockeys should wear. This created some confusion amongst racegoers, and finally a law was passed that jockeys must wear the same colours of their horse's owners. Back in those days, most owners were Duke or Lords who owned land and had their own coat of arms or family insignia. Nowadays there are 18 colours that jockeys can choose from before going into the race, and they can choose whether they want to wear stripes or wear only one colour. The British Horseracing Authority, or BHA, register the colours and make sure that none of the combinations are used twice.

When buying tickets to go visit Royal Ascot, new racegoers will notice that there are some tickets that specify dress codes. In horse racing events, dress codes are taken incredibly seriously, with some of the rules dating back over 100 years.

In the late 19th century top hats were popular with all social classes and were worn by many people in Britain. As time went on they were abandoned as they went out of fashion in everyday use, but at racing events they remain part of the dress code. Men in the Royal Enclosure must all wear top hats. While it is possible to buy modern top hats, the vintage hats with silk tops, made with traditional materials are hard to come by. Many racegoers look for antique models that they can buy and have professionally refitted and cleaned for use. These antique top hats are in great demand, although it is hard to find top hats in decent condition that come in the right size.

Other dressing traditions have been slightly adapted to fit in with modern fashion. In the early 19th century, Beau Brummel, a close friend of the Prince Regent, stated that men of elegance all wear waisted black coats with white cravats and pantaloons. He also added a necktie to the look, but did not wear any ornamental medals or additional items of decoration on top. The fashion was adopted by the Lords and other members of aristocracy of the time, and has remained part of the Royal horse racing culture. One thing that perhaps was not carried on was Brummel's habit of taking five hours a day to dress and then having his boots polished in champagne.

Brummel was not the only racegoer who took wearing formal attire seriously. Sir Gordon Carter, the Clerk of the Course from 1910 until his death in 1941, was also a strict dresser. Carter's military discipline when it came to dressing was famous, as he changed his outfit five times a day, wearing his riding clothes in the morning and finishing the day with his evening attire. He would dine on an eight course meal for dinner that started included iced melon, soup, fish, entree, water ice, a saddle of lamb, sweet and savoury desserts followed by coffee liqueurs and cigars. Perhaps most bizarrely, Carter even had his shoelaces washed and ironed each night to prepare for the following day.

The formal dress codes did not only apply to men, as women would wear formal dresses and special hats to the races. The Gold Cup Day, the day of perhaps the most prestigious race in Royal Ascot event in June, is also known as "Ladies day". This term dates back to 1823 when an anonymous poet described the ladies on the day as "when the women, like angels, look sweetly divine". Women have dressed elegantly to the races with special attention put on ladies day. Women mostly wear floral dresses or bright colourful dresses with decorative hats in complementing bright colours. This is with the exception of the Black Ascot in 1910. In 1910, King Edward VII died, and as he was a regular at Royal Ascot the racegoers paid tribute to the king by coming all in black. The newspapers reported that all of the members sitting in the Royal Enclosure were dressed in black, save for the white flowers or pearls that the ladies were wearing.

Though nowadays it is possible to attend any of the race days, even the Thursday Ladies day, in a section which does not specifically require formal dress, a number of keen race goers will still abide by the tradition and the women in the Royal Enclosure will certainly have special formal dresses and hats for the occasion.

Why To Visit Royal Ascot

The Royal Meeting at Royal Ascot is open to members of the public, and anyone who is interested can buy a day ticket to see any of the races. The event is quite a spectacle and is definitely worth a visit for the sheer glamorous atmosphere. Racegoers may be able to try out the catering options or any of the activities on site, or they may want to head straight to the main races.

It is possible to buy tickets that are even closer to the action, though for seated tickets in the stands there may be dress codes, so it is important for new racegoers to look closely at the specifications of each ticket and make sure that they come dressed appropriately.

Watching horse races is an experience like no other, from when the horses line up to when they start running across the tracks. For fans who want to see the best variety of horse racing, Tuesday and Friday have the highest Graded events, while Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday have more mixed races, though each day has its own historical races.

Betting on horses is also an age-old tradition that is still possible at the Ascot Racetrack. Racegoers can place money on the horses they want to back and then enjoy the race even more as they have a horse they can cheer on.

Horse betting is a form of gambling, and therefore it is important for bettors to only play with money they can afford to lose. For more information or helpful guides on how to gamble responsibly, there are organisations such as that can provide guidance.

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