Royal Ascot: One of the Most Prestigious Events on the British Social Calendar

Durante una semana de verano, los más altos estamentos de la sociedad y la aristocracia británicas se dan cita en Ascot. La prestigiosa competición hípica es un desfile de exclusividad.

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King Charles and Queen Camila attend Royal Ascot

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Ascot is a small town in Berkshire just six miles from Windsor Castle. It is the location of a world-famous racecourse that has close ties to the British royal family. Used all year round for thoroughbred flat racing and jumps, its most important meeting is Royal Ascot, which has taken place over one week in June since 1711. Founded by Queen Anne – whose last years were depicted in the recent film The Favourite – this sporting and social event has time-honoured traditions that include a rigidly enforced dress code best known for its extravagant hats, and a daily Royal Procession.


Each day of Royal Ascot week, at 2pm sharp, members of the British royal family make an entrance in horse-drawn carriages. They head for the Royal Enclosure, which is exclusively reserved for the family, guests and household of the monarch. 


There are three other enclosures: the Queen Anne and Village Enclosures, and the open-air Windsor Enclosure, where there is no formal dress code. All offer views of the racetrack. But to check out the horses before the races start, and to be close to the excitement around the finish line, the more expensive the enclosure the better. There are also private boxes available in the grandstand


At Royal Ascot, there are six races a day of different lengths, measured in furlongs (stretches of around two hundred metres.) Young female and male horses of under four-years-old are called ‘fillies’ and ‘colts’ respectively; older horses are called ‘mares’ or ‘stallions’. The most prestigious trophy is the Gold Cup for which mares and stallions compete. Over all races at Royal Ascot, there are millions of pounds of prize money to be won.

Royal Ascot
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Lulu Kyriacou is a British equestrian journalist with the magazine Grand Prix. Over the course of her career she has travelled the world, attending high-profile horse racing events. But, she says, of all of these the Royal Ascot in Berkshire, England is really something special. Held for one week in June at one of the most prestigious racecourses in the world, the event is famous for its class distinctions, its social and its fashion element, as well as for its racing. As Kyriacou told Speak Up, it excels in all these regards
Lulu Kyriacou (London accent): It is unique. It’s not only the fact that the Royal family attend all days. The racing is top class: the best jockeys, the best trainers, the best horses. You invariably see champions racing at Ascot. It is a bit more expensive going [there] than going to some of the other meetings, but it’s just an occasion. It’s very social. Ascot still has that caché that it’s a place to be seen. And they have certain traditions: you drink Pimm’s, which is mixed up in big punch bowls. And you eat strawberries and cream, smoked salmon, caviar. The staff couldn’t be nicer. As long as you’re not falling around drunk or being obnoxious, they are just as deferential to the average person as they would be to the Queen.


There is a strict dress code that applies to the Royal Enclosure, and (to a lesser extent) the Queen Anne and Village Enclosures, whatever the weather. Kyriacou outlined the basic rules.

Lulu Kyriacou: Ladies are not allowed to show too much leg and they’re not allowed to show too much bosom, chest. The skirt can be no shorter than… I think it’s four inches above the knee. They may only wear trousers if it’s a trouser suit. And the trousers and the jacket must match. The gentleman must wear a suit. If you’re in the Royal Enclosure ladies must wear a hat – and they mean a hat, not a little fascinator - and gentlemen need to wear morning dress, which is long tailcoats and a top hat. And that is rigorously enforced. 


It’s not just the ladies and gentlemen that look fabulous at Ascot; the horses too are in prime condition. They travel, micro-chipped and with passports, from as far away as Australia to run at the event. We asked Kyriacou how they were transported.

Lulu Kyriacou: Fifty years ago, if you wanted to take your horse from France to England, you had to go by rail or road. But now, the horses fly. Generally not sedated. The only stressful bit for the horses is the take off and the landing. [But] they have very experienced flying grooms that go with them.


There is big money in racing: in prize money, and in money won in bets. Bookmakers place odds on the horses based on their ratings. But animals are unpredictable, and there are many surprises. The best way to spot a winner, advised Kyriacou, is to pay for one of the enclosures close to the paddock, where the horses are paraded before the race. We asked her what it was you looked for in a possible winner. 

Lulu Kyriacou: If you see one walking round the paddock and it looks nice, it has pricked ears and a nice look on its face and a shiny coat, maybe that’s the one to bet on, even if it is a big price.


Sometimes, female horses and male horses run together. But equality does not stretch to the jockeys and trainers, said Kyriacou.

Lulu Kyriacou: Generally, colts are stronger than fillies but not always. And as far as jockeys go, there isn’t really a difference, although it’s much harder for a lady jockey to get rides. There are female trainers, there are female jockeys, and some of them are extremely good and extremely successful, but it is harder for them to get forward; it used to be a 100 per cent male-dominated industry, and so there still is some of that.


The racing is very exciting, but it can look cruel. To protect the horses, however, the rails are made of plastic and, Kyriacou assured us, the whipping looks worse than it is.  

Lulu Kyriacou: The whips are now cushioned. They’re very short so they don’t have much bend in them. They make a noise as they hit the horse but they don’t really hurt them, they don’t make welts or cut the skin. And the jockey is only allowed to use the whip a certain amount of times. If a horse on a racetrack has an accident the vet is there in thirty seconds.

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