Royal Ascot is the most valuable race meeting staged in Britain, offering in excess of £7 million in prize money, and takes place at Ascot Racecourse, in the Royal County of Berkshire, in June each year. Situated approximately six miles from Windsor Castle, Ascot Racecourse was founded by Queen Anne in 1711 and has enjoyed a close association with the Royal Family ever since.
The Royal Enclosure can be traced back to 1807, during the reign of King George III, and King George IV made the first Royal Procession, originally known as the Royal Parade, up the Straight Mile in 1825. Each day of the week still begins with the Queen and various members of the Royal Family arriving by horse-drawn landau. They are joined in the Royal Enclosure – entrance to which is strictly regulated – by international heads of state, high-level dignitaries from home and abroad and the rich and famous from around the world.
Traditionally, Royal Ascot was a four-day, Tuesday-to-Friday fixture, with a less formal fixture, known as the Heath Meeting, held on the following Saturday. However, in 2002, Royal Ascot was extended to five days to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and, prompted by overwhelming demand, the Heath Meeting was subsequently assigned, permanently, to the history books.
Royal Ascot is a major sporting and social event, attracting 300,000 racegoers over five days. The five-day programme features a total of thirty races, of which eighteen are Group, or Pattern, races and eight are Group One ‘feature’ races. Day one features the Queen Anne Stakes, the King’s Stand Stakes and the St. James’s Palace Stakes, but the remaining Group One contests are spread evenly throughout the week; day two features the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, day three, also known as ‘Ladies’ Day’, features the Gold Cup, day four features the Commonwealth Cup and the Coronation Stakes and day five features the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Royal Ascot attracts leading thoroughbreds not just from Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe, but also from North America, the Far East and Australasia. In 2012, for example, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes was famously won – albeit only just, after a surviving a calamitous error by jockey Luke Nolen – by Australian ‘supermare’ Black Caviar, having her one and only start outside her native country.