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The History of Royal Ascot

What is Royal Ascot?

Royal Ascot is one of Britain's most famous thoroughbred horse racing events. There are horse races, both flats and jumps, staged throughout each year, but the highlight is definitely the Royal Meeting, a series of races that are held in June each year. These races are traditionally attended by members of the Royal Family and historically were one of the most important events in the British summer social calendar, a time for the social elite of British society to gather for balls and parties.

History of the Horse Racing in Britain

The Royal connection to horse racing dates back to the Jacobean era. James I, King of England and Scotland, discovered Newmarket while he was out hawking, and he felt it had potential to become a place for him to race his own horses. After the Civil War in England, Oliver Cromwell banned horse racing, but this was not to last as after he died, Charles II came to the throne and restored horse racing in 1664. Charles was such a fan of the sport that he commissioned the Newmarket Town Plate and wrote the rules for racing himself. Charles II raced in one of the events himself in 1671 and won, becoming the first and only reigning monarch to win a competitive horse race.

Queen Anne and Royal Ascot

Charles II's niece Anne became the Queen in 1702, and she was even more enthusiastic about horse racing than her uncle was. Queen Anne owned many horses and when she was riding out near Windsor Castle she found an area that was perfect for horse racing. Legend has it she said the land was "ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch". She announced plans in 1711 to create a new Plate and race track.

In the London Gazette, it was announced that

"Her Majesty's Plate of 100 guineas will be run for round the new heat on Ascott Common, near Windsor, on Tuesday, August 7th next, by any horse, mare or gelding, being no more than six years old the grass before, as must be certified under the hand of the breeder, carrying 12 St., three heats, to be entered the last day of July, at Mr. Hancock's, at Fern Hill, near the Starting Post."

The very first race was held in 1711, and was attended by Queen Anne and a "brilliant suite". Any horse, mare or gelding over the age could be entered into the race, with each horse required to carry a weight of 12 stones, or 76 kg, and they raced for Her Majesty's Plate, worth 100 guineas. Seven horses took part in the race, which consisted of three separate heats which were each four miles long. This long distance inaugural race was won by a horse called doctor, owned by the Duke of St Albans.

Horse racing continued to be a popular event amongst the British social elite, with an increasing number of people travelling up to the Ascot racing track to watch the races. Apart from Her Majesty's Plate, not much is known about the exact racing programme or number of races that were held during Queen Anne's reign. What is known is that during her reign, a ceremonial guard was formed for The Monarch to ensure her safety. The Greencoats, or Yeoman Prickers, were originally assembled for organising hunts for the Monarch, but their role changed with the creation of Royal Ascot. Rumour has it that their green jackets were made from leftover velvet from the curtains in Windsor.

Development of Royal Ascot

The races continued through the 18th century, through the reign of several British Monarchs. There were changes implemented over the years, the first was in the 1750s, when more sources of entertainment that were not horse racing related were added to the summer event. This was to entertain the larger audiences, there were many additional side events such as cock fighting, prize fighting, game tents, jugglers, ballad singers, ladies on stilts and freak shows. The first building was erected on the site in 1793, by a local Windsor builder called George Slingsby.

In the beginning of the 19th century, the rules of horse racing were being established by the newly found jockey clubs. This changed the structure of horse racing, and linked up many events that took place in different locations across the country. Most of the races in the country before this time were not recorded or not officiated.

The first officiated racing event was the Gold Cup race, which was created in 1807. The race, which is run over 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 10 yards (4,014 metres), became the key event in Royal Ascot. The Gold Cup, which is held in June, was the first officiated event, with records dating back to the 1807 competition. Other original races also became official in the 19th century, and plenty of new races were added.

In 1813, the racecourse went public. Parliament passed the Act of Enclosure, where the Ascot Heath would remain as property of the Crown, but all races would be open to the public in the future. This change allowed all of the members of British society who were not part of the aristocracy to come and enjoy the events held at Ascot. It also secured the future of the event, as it brought a lot more revenue and kept Royal Ascot horse racing events relevant, as they were guaranteed huge crowds of spectators.

In 1822, George IV commissioned a new two-storey grand stand to be built, to be used as the Royal Enclosure. Access to the Royal Enclosure was only by the invitation of the Monarch. The stand was renovated and further developed over the years, to accommodate the larger family of the monarchs during the Victorian era, when the British Royal Family were related to the German, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, Spanish and Danish Royal Families. The Royal Enclosure still stands today and is used by the current Royal Family for racing events at Royal Ascot.

Royals have always been an integral part of Royal Ascot, with the Monarch and members of the Royal Family almost always present. In 1823, the Duke of York had to attend Royal Ascot, but arrived so late that he had to gallop up the racecourse in the middle of the race. He reached the Royal Stand only moments before the winner crossed the finish point.

Maybe to avoid any further dramatic entries, in 1825 a new event was added to the five day programme of Royal Ascot. The Royal Procession is the parade in which the Royal Family is driven in coaches up to the Royal Enclosure. The inaugural Royal Procession was in 1825 with King George IV.

In 1840, the Queen Anne’s stakes were established. This is the first of the races each summer and was named to honour the Monarch responsible for founding Royal Ascot. A number of races were added over the 19th and 20th centuries, including races of different Grades, distances and races for horses of selected ages or sexes. Royal Ascot was further developed until there were 31 races, which is now the current number of races in the programme.

In 1961, the Queen Elizabeth II Grandstand was opened at a cost of £1 million. The development included 280 dining rooms that also acted as private corporate hospitality boxes. The cost of the new Grandstand was approximately 220 times the cost of its predecessor.

Betting On Royal Ascot

Horse racing is a sport watched by many horse racing purists as well as newcomers who are curious about attending one of the lavish events.

Dating back to the days when Royal Ascot and other horse racing events were reserved for the cream of British society, spectators have always placed bets on the horses competing in the races. This offered spectators more incentive to support one horse over another and could help fund the racing institutions from the proceeds, so it became popular with both the bookie and the bettors.

Nowadays many still enjoy placing bets on horses, either because they have a favourite horse who they want to see win and want to put money on them, or they may want to place a bet to enjoy the atmosphere on race day.

Betting can add a lot of enjoyment to watching horse races, but it is important to gamble responsibly. Setting a budget and controlling how much you play with is a perfect way to avoid losing too much money, there are organisations such as that can help you if you feel you may struggle with a gambling problem.

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