Ascot is approximately 6 miles from Windsor Castle in Berkshire. South West Trains operate a frequent service from Reading, Guildford and Waterloo Station. The railway station is only a 7 minute walk from the racecourse. Road users should follow signs to Ascot via Bracknell from the A332 Windsor-by-pass.
Ascot is synonymous with quality and is the venue for 13 Group 1 races, over a third of the total number held in the British flat racing season. The track stages 18 days of flat racing, including five at the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting in June. There are also eight days of high class National Hunt racing during the winter months.
The course is regarded as one of the fairest in the country, a galloping track of around 14 furlongs. There is a straight course of one mile which stages several big handicaps during the summer. There is an uphill finish which puts the emphasis on stamina. There is no discernible draw bias, although it could be argued that horses drawn low to middle draw hold a slight advantage in large fields.
Ascot Horse Racing History
Ascot was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne and the opening race of the Royal meeting still carries her name. The inaugural Ascot Gold Cup took place in 1807, making it Ascot’s longest surviving race. Jump racing was not introduced at Ascot until 1965 but quickly became established as one of the leading venues. The racecourse was closed for a £200 million redevelopment in 2004 with the following season’s Royal meeting being transferred to York. The course was reopened by Her Majesty The Queen on 20th June 2006.
Royal Ascot is of course the jewel in the crown with 18 Group races, attracting top class thoroughbreds from around the globe. Over 300,000 people pass through the gates during Royal Ascot week with Thursday’s Ladies’ Day being one of the biggest days of the year for the fashion industry. The Royal Procession precedes the racing each day with the meeting accessible to a worldwide TV audience in excess of 650 million. Over £7million of prize money is on offer at one of the truly great festivals of British racing.
The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes in July and Champions Day in October are also highly significant in the British racing calendar. Ascot also stages the Shergar Cup, a challenge event between teams of jockeys. The Girls team secured a famous victory in 2015, defeating GB and Ireland. The Shergar Cup is named after the 1981 Derby winner who also won the King George at Ascot that season.
Day One of Royal Ascot features three Group 1 contests, starting with the Queen Anne Stakes. The St James’s Palace Stakes and the King’s Stand Stakes guarantee a blistering start to the week. The feature race on the second day is the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, the richest race of the week. The Ascot Gold Cup is still regarded by many as the signature race of the Royal meeting and is the headline event on Ladies’ Day. The Commonwealth Cup and the Coronation Stakes are Friday’s Group 1 offerings with the Diamond Jubilee Stakes rounding off the Group 1 action on Saturday.
The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes in July is the most prestigious race held at Ascot. Prize money for the Group 1 all-aged mile and a half race was raised to £1.25million in 2018. The Champion Stakes was moved from Newmarket in 2011 and is the centrepiece of Champions Day, the grand finale of the flat racing season. The inaugural staging of Champions Day featured a victory for Frankel in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
There are three Grade 1 National Hunt races run at Ascot each season; The Clarence House Chase in January, the Ascot Chase in February and the Long Walk Hurdle in December.
It would be impossible to do justice to the number of famous racehorses to have graced the Ascot turf so here are a select few.
The 1975 Diamond Stakes duel between Grundy and Bustino remains one of the most memorable races in turf history. Two stable companions of 1974 St Leger winner Bustino acted as pacemakers to try to stretch Grundy’s stamina. Bustino then took up the gallop and the two horses went toe-to-toe all the way up the straight before Grundy asserted, breaking the previous course record by almost two and a half seconds.
Yeats earned his place in Ascot folklore by winning four consecutive Gold Cups for Aidan O’Brien between 2006 and 2009. Estimate (2013) provided Her Majesty The Queen with a first ever victory for a reigning monarch in the great race. Another stayer worthy of mention is Brown Jack who won the Queen Alexandra Stakes for a remarkable six consecutive seasons between 1929 and 1934. His victories came in the longest flat race run in England over two and three-quarter miles.
Frankel signed off his career here in the Champion Stakes in 2012 but is probably better remembered for his sensational 11 lengths victory in the Queen Anne Stakes earlier that season. That was also the year when Black Caviar made the trip from Australia to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. Jockey Luke Nolen eased her down prematurely and for a heart-stopping moment it looked as though she might lose her unbeaten record. The photograph revealed that she had held on by a head and would remain unbeaten throughout her 25-race career.
Timeform awarded Frankel a rating of 147 after the Queen Anne, eclipsing Sea Bird’s all-time record of 145. Frankel remained unbeaten in 14 career starts, five of them taking place at Ascot.
Many great jumpers have also won at Ascot including Arkle, Mill House and Flyingbolt. But perhaps the most exciting National Hunt race seen at the track was Desert Orchid’s hard-fought victory over Panto Prince in 1989. He successfully conceded 22lbs to his rival in the Victor Chandler Chase, now run as the Clarence House Chase. French-trained Baracouda won the Long Walk Hurdle four times between 2000 and 2004. Big Buck’s (2009-2011) and Reve De Sivola (2012-2014) each recorded three consecutive victories in the Grade 1 staying hurdle.
Ascot Top Jockeys and Trainers
Lester Piggott rode a staggering 116 Royal Ascot winners including eleven Gold Cups. Three of those came aboard Sagaro (1975-1977). Frankie Dettori will forever be associated with Ascot for his “Magnificent Seven” on 23rd September 1996. The Italian won on Wall Street (2-1), Diffident (12-1), Mark Of Esteem (100-30), Decorated Hero (7-1), Fatefully (7-4), Lochangel (5-4) and Fujiyama Crest (2-1) at the accumulated odds of 25,051-1. The day is believed to have cost the betting industry in the region of £30million.
The late Sir Henry Cecil trained 75 Royal Ascot winners in his career, a figure that was only equalled by Sir Michael Stoute in 2016. Aidan O’Brien has been the dominant force at the Royal meeting in recent times, equalling Cecil’s record of seven winners in 2016. Jockey Ryan Moore became the first post-war jockey to ride nine winners at the meeting in 2015.