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While many racecourses can rightly claim a proud heritage, and a spot among the most prestigious events of British sport, none can quite hold a candle to Ascot Racecourse. Located just north of London, and opened by Queen Anne in 1711, this racecourse, and its most famous event the Royal Ascot, hold a special place in the lives of the Royal Family. The eponymous race was held in August of its opening year, with seven horses running three 4-mile heats, carrying a weight of around 76kg, all for a prize of 100 guineas, around £12,000 nowadays.
Royal Ascot encompasses a number of different races and events. One of the highlights of the event is the Gold Cup, one of the most prestigious long-distance races in the world. It is a Group 1 flat horse race in Great Britain open to horses aged four years or older. Its run over a distance of 2 miles 3 furlongs and 210 yards (4,014 metres), and it is scheduled to take place each year in June.
Another blue chip event which takes places during Royal Ascot, is King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. This infamous race is a Group 1 flat horse race in Great Britain open to horses aged three years or older. It is run at Ascot over a distance of 1 mile and 4 furlongs and it is scheduled to take place each year in July.
It is Britain's most prestigious open-age flat race, and its roll of honour features some of the most highly acclaimed horses of the sport's recent history. The 1975 running, which involved a hard-fought battle to the finish between Grundy and Bustino, is frequently described as the "race of the century". Many of its winners subsequently compete in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and a number go on to have a successful career at stud. The race is often informally referred to as the "King George". In more recent years the event has been won some of the sports biggest names, as Frankie Dettori has been the winning jockey on 5 occasions in the stakes, while Aiden O Brien has tasted success 4 times as the winning trainer.
The link to Royal Family is still strong, with the reigning monarch being the owner of the estate. The Queen has also attended Royal Ascot every year of her reign, with the Royal Procession forming a big part of the day. Queen Elizabeth and other members, particularly The Prince of Wales arrive in the royal procession, and her standard is raised before the racing of the day commences. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Earl and Countess of Wessex also attend. This aspect of Royal Ascot no doubt pays tribute to the history of the Royal Family, but it also represents changes within the relationship between the Royal Family and the racecourse; the Golden Jubilee Stakes were renamed the Diamond Jubilee stakes in 2012 following the anniversary of the Queens rise to the throne, the Windsor Forest Stakes were renamed the Duke of Cambridge Stakes to recognise Prince Williams new title, and the Queen also opened the redeveloped grandstand in 2006.
Ascot Racecourse remains a uniquely independent icon of British sport. In a time where many other tracks and meetings are subject to sponsorship and corporate interest, the course remains in public ownership. 102 years after Queen Anne opened the course for the first time, Parliament signed it into law that the course must remain in public ownership. Further laws were also put in place in 1913 to establish the Ascot Authority, the entity that manages the racecourse to this day.
The course has also strived to live by this inclusive ethos. Following criticism that the new Grandstand didn’t accommodate for enough people to watch the racing, instead focusing on restaurants, bars and hospitality, the course invested a further £10 million to ensure that there was more terraced areas for racegoers to experience this fantastic track.
2017 and 2018 were, and continue to be, another exciting year for the course. With a total of 26 days of flat racing, running from May to October, and special jumps meetings through the winter months, it remains a thoroughly in demand course.
Free from corporate sponsorship in the same way other meetings and comparable events have become in recent years, Royal Ascot has a style all its own, with classic pageantry and ceremony exemplified in events like Ladies Day and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. Combine this with its varied racing calendar, and a day out to Ascot is sure impress.