Horse racing has a unique ability to produce ‘instant experts’. They’re the spectator who pays attention for no more than one week of the year, but is quite comfortable waxing lyrical on the nuances of the sport, about how the different conditions will suit different horses and generally employing the lingo of the turf to clumsy, ill-fitting effect.
And, really, it doesn’t get any more exciting for these fairweather pundits than Royal Ascot – the biggest five days of racing in Europe. It’s a meeting steeped in tradition and attracting the cream of the crop. So, with the nags in their barriers, here’s your inside running on how to bluff your way through it all.
Much of Royal Ascot’s appeal derives from the fact it is mind-bendingly old.
The racecourse was founded in 1711, and the first race – with a purse of 100 guineas – was held in August that year.
Back then, horse racing was a genteel past-time and the track enjoyed royal patronage – hence the name. Even today, the poshest part of Ascot is the Royal Enclosure, where the course’s highfalutin dress code was initiated. Men of elegance were expected to wear waisted black coats and white cravats with pantaloons.
Ladies were required to wear hats, a rule that remains in place even today within the Royal Enclosure.
Naturally, Royal Ascot has become more inclusive with the passing years but plenty of pomp and ceremony remains. Every year, the Queen and members of the royal family attend, arriving in a horse-drawn carriage with the royal procession taking place at the start of each race day before the raising of the Queen’s standard.
Bluff your way through: ”Did you know that, at various stages in Royal Ascot’s history, men and women weren’t permitted to mix in the course’s public areas? And there were also strict divisions between the different social classes. Goodness me – imagine that. How far
There are five days of racing at Royal Ascot, running from Tuesday to Saturday, with six races each day and nearly £4m in prizemoney up for grabs.
The Group One events, of which there are three on the opening Tuesday and one every other day, are the main attractions.
The most prestigious races are probably the Prince of Wales’s stakes on Wednesday, the Gold Cup on the Thursday and the Golden Jubilee Stakes on the Saturday.
Royal Ascot attracts competitors from all around the world and this year a record-breaking 10 horses have made the trip from across the Atlantic, while the Asian contingent includes the Singapore-trained Rocket Man, setting his sights on the Golden Jubilee after an impressive lead-in in Dubai.
Bluff your way through: “Sure, the sprints may be the glamour events, but for me it’s all about the longer trip, the events where the stayers come to the fore. As a Royal Ascot highlight, it’s hard to go past watching Yeats, that noble Irish thoroughbred, powering to his fourth consecutive Gold Cup in 2009.”
Weather pending, about 300,000 people traipse out to Berkshire every year.
The event’s popularity has created something of a division among committed racing fans – some are admittedly gratified by the attention while others carp about the off-field frippery detracting from the serious business of gambling and horse-fancying.
A few years ago, organisers felt the scene was becoming too chavvy, so they implemented a crackdown on bare midriffs, fake tans, flashy jewellery and over-the-top-footwear.
Women were also warned they would not be admitted if their underwear was visible.
Bluff your way through: “Fascinators were really popular a few years back but some people think they are a bit passe now. But my one, in coffee and cream, goes perfectly with my knee-length mocha and bronze Grecian-style dress.”