Ascot Racecourse… From the Past to the Present

There are few sporting venues that can match the rich heritage and history of Ascot Racecourse. Over the past 300 years Royal Ascot has established itself as a national institution and the centrepiece of the British social calendar, as well as being the ultimate stage for the best racehorses in the world.

It was Queen Anne who first saw the potential  for a racecourse at Ascot, which in those days was called East Cote. Whilst out riding in 1711, she came upon an area of open heath, not far from Windsor Castle, that looked an ideal place for “horses to gallop at full stretch”.

The first race meeting ever held at Ascot took place on Saturday, 11th August 1711. Her  Majesty’s Plate, worth 100 guineas and open to any horse, mare or gelding over the age of six, was the inaugural event. Each horse was
required to carry a weight of 12st and seven runners took part. This contest bore little resemblance to racing seen at Ascot today.

The seven horses were all English Hunters, quite different to the speedy thoroughbreds that race on the flat now. The race consisted of three separate heats which were four miles long (each heat was about the length of the Grand National course), so the winner would have been a horse with tremendous stamina. Sadly, there is no record of the winner of the first Plate.

The racecourse was laid out by William Lowen, who was assisted by a team of helpers, William Erlybrown, a carpenter, Benjamin Cluchett, a painter, and John Grape, who prepared the paper work for racing. The first  permanent building was erected in about 1794 by George Slingsby, a Windsor builder. It held 1,650 people and was used until 1838.

In 1813, Parliament passed an Act of Enclosure. This Act ensured that Ascot Heath, although the property of the Crown, would be kept and used as a racecourse for the public in the future. Racing at Ascot was now secure.

The precise origin of the Royal Meeting is unclear; it was an event that evolved perhaps, rather than was introduced at a specific time but the first four day meeting took place in 1768. Arguably, the meeting as we know it today started to take shape with the introduction of the Gold Cup in 1807. Royal Ascot was the only race meeting held at Ascot until 1939.

Although founded by a Queen and located on Crown property, the administration of Ascot has always been handled on behalf of the Crown by a representative appointed by the Monarch. The racecourse was run on behalf of the Sovereign by the Master of the Royal Buckhounds up until 1901, when Lord Churchill was appointed as His Majesty’s Representative. He was responsible for running the course and determining entrance to the Royal  Enclosure.

In 1913, the Ascot Authority was established by an Act of Parliament. His Majesty’s  Representative became Chairman of the Authority with the Clerk of the Course acting as Secretary. Today, as Ascot Authority (Holdings)  Limited, Ascot retains both these positions, but with the additional appointment of trustees and non-executive directors, a Chief Executive and departmental directors, of which the Clerk of the Course, who is also Racing Director, is one.

Until 2001, Ascot Racecourse was a private company – with no accounts published. In January 2002, as part of the preparation for the redevelopment, Ascot incorporated Ascot Racecourse Ltd, which was established as the organisation responsible for running the Racecourse.

Ascot Racecourse closed for a period of twenty months on 26th September 2004, for a £220 million redevelopment. As owner of the Crown Estate, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth reopened the racecourse on Tuesday 20th June 2006.

Her Majesty The Queen, as an owner and breeder of racehorses takes a keen interest in the races. Over the years The Queen has had great success with her own horses. The Jockeys riding Her Majesty’s horses can be distinguished because the jockeys wear her racing colours, which are the same as those of King Edward VII and George IV as Prince Regent – purple body with gold braid, scarlet sleeves and black velvet cap with gold fringe.

The Queen traditionally presents the Gold Cup, along with the Royal Hunt Cup and The Queen’s Vase. These three trophies are made every year and presented to winners to keep. Challenge Trophies, many of which are antique, are presented to the winners of the remaining 27 races, and are returned after the year to be presented to the next winners.

There are two tracks – Flat and Jumps (both Chase & Hurdle) and Ascot is a right- handed course, slightly in excess of 1 mile 6 furlongs. Famed for being a tough course, especially over fences – 73 foot climb from the lowest to highest point (Swinley Bottom up to the Winning Post), the Racecourse covers 179 acres, plus exterior car / coach parks and the  grounds are looked after impeccably by the 12 regular ground staff.

Royal Ascot in June is the most valuable race meeting in Europe, with over £4 million in prize money on offer, featuring seven Group One races and eighteen group races in total, viewed in over 20 countries. The Royal Meeting is also Britain’s most popular race meeting, welcoming approximately 300,000 visitors across the five days of the event. There are currently 70 full-time staff at Ascot Racecourse but the workforce increases by over 6,000 temporary staff during Royal Ascot.

Facts and Figures Ascot’s facilities are available for hire throughout the year for a variety of different purposes, including conferences, banqueting, exhibitions, dinner dances, product launches and weddings. The Racecourse is visited by over 500,000 racegoers a year, accounting for 10% of all UK racegoers. Ascot was the first racecourse in Europe to reach the 500,000 racegoer milestone in December 2001. During the months of June and July a  tripledecker temporary structure, equipped with fully functioning lifts, is erected in the Old  Paddock to house The Carriages Restaurant, The Bessborough Suite and The Sandringham Restaurant. Up to 1,400 covers are provided each day in this premier facility.

The reservoirs on site in the middle of the track collect rain- water from the grandstand roof and the Winkfield and Heath tunnels, which is subsequently used to irrigate the track when required.

Sodexo Prestige, working under the banner of Ascot Hospitality has been the sole catering contractor at Ascot since 1998.

There are 39 kitchens operational for Royal Ascot with 25 specific to the new Grandstand, plus finishing kitchens, one for every two boxes.

There are also over 100 bars and food outlets around the racecourse and 247 private boxes. During the 5 days in 2012, the following quantities were consumed:

• 51,549 bottles of Champagne

• 44,524 glasses of Pimm’s

• 173,776 draught pints of beer

• 50,000 pistachio and raspberry macaroons

• 2,050 fresh lobsters

• 35,000 local spears of asparagus

• 3,300 punnets of strawberries

There are 26 exciting racedays throughout the year at Ascot Racecourse, many of which, feature additional entertainment and activities to enjoy in between the races.

The next raceday is Ascot’s Christmas Meeting on Saturday, 22nd December. It’s the most valuable day of the Jumps season, featuring the highest quality hurdle race, the Grade 1, £150,000 Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle. Off the track, the whole family can join in the festive fun, whether it’s a ride in the fairground, listening to Christmas tales live from the Bandstand or even meeting Santa’s reindeer.

All entertainment is free of charge and  accompanied children aged 17 and under go racing for free. Generous group and advance discounts are available and tickets can be purchased at or by calling 0870 727 1234.

Leave a Reply