Ascot Racecourse is situated in the Royal County of Berkshire in South East England, next to Windsor Great Park and less than seven miles from Windsor Castle. The racecourse was the brainchild of the last of the Stuart monarchs, Queen Anne who, in 1711, identified a tract of land on East Cote Heath – near Swinley Bottom, where the Royal Buckhounds were kennelled – as ‘ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch’.
The first race, Her Majesty’s Plate, worth 100 guineas, took place on August 11, 1711 and so began a connection between Ascot Racecourse and the Royal Family that has endured until the present day. That said, following the death of Queen Anne in August, 1714, Ascot Racecourse fell out of favour, but returned to prosperity under the auspices of Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland – the erstwhile ‘Butcher of Culloden’, but also a keen sportsman – over four decades later. Landmark dates in the subsequent history of Ascot include the first four-day, Tuesday-to-Friday fixture in 1749, the erection of the first Royal Stand in 1790 and the first Royal Procession in 1825.
Nowadays, Ascot Racecourse is famous worldwide as the home of Royal Ascot, which was ‘temporarily’ extended to five days in 2002, to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, but has kept the extra day ever since. The Royal Meeting, staged annually in June, features eight Group One races, including the traditional highlight, the Gold Cup, run over two-and-a-half miles on the Thursday, also known as ‘Ladies’ Day’. Other notable fixtures staged, on the Flat, at Ascot Racecourse include the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in July and British Champions Day in mid-October.
Of course, Ascot Racecourse is dual-purpose, with National Hunt racing first staged in 1966, following the closure at Hurst Park Racecourse in Surrey four years earlier. Notable National Hunt races include the Grade Two Ascot Hurdle in November, the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle in December and the Grade One Clarence House Chase in January.