In horse racing terms, Ascot is the jewel in the crown, especially with its close links to the Royal Family which date back many years. The Royal meeting, which began in 1768, is Britain’s most popular meeting attendance wise, where visitor numbers over the five days total over 300,000.
Ascot though does not have just one key meeting though and racing here is all year round. While Royal Ascot may be the pinnacle on the flat, The Group 1 King George and Champions Day are two other enormous days in the calendar of The Sport of Kings. In the winter months, National Hunt fans are also spoiled for choice. Races such as the Ascot Chase and the Clarence House Chase to name but a few are also run here.
Ascot is situated in East Berkshire. It is approximately 25 miles west of London and is only 6 miles south of nearby Windsor. By road, Ascot can be found at junction 6 of the M4. By rail there is a frequent service to Ascot from Guildford, Reading and Waterloo. Once at Ascot the racecourse is a leisurely 10-minute stroll along wide paths away from the main road. During Royal Ascot, this walk is a sight to take the breath away for those who love their fashion. Smartly dressed gentleman in top hats and ladies in all their finery and sensational colours set the tone for the racing spectacle on the track.
Originally opened in 1711, Ascot is right-handed and has two main courses, one for the flat and one for National Hunt racing, though there are various configurations. In a redevelopment plan that was the biggest investment ever made in racing, Ascot spent £220m on building a new state of the art grandstand. The development took 18 months to complete. It was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen in June 2006. The new capacity is now a whopping 70,000. Ascot, over the course of a year, also has more than 78 live music acts performing, once again proving the aim is to cater for everyone who walks through the turnstiles.
Ascot holds 26 meetings in a typical year. 13 of the 36 annual Group 1 races in Britain are run at the track so, predominantly most are flat fixtures, 18 in total. The National Hunt action though is also of the highest order. Eight fixtures take place between October and March.
The first jumping fixture here took place in 1965 and there are a host of top-class races in a season. In one such race in 2019, The Christy 1965 Chase, Nicky Henderson’s once in a lifetime Altior tasted defeat for the first time in his career. His 19-race unbeaten sequence finally ended, proving the calibre of horse brought to these premises.
Ascot Flat Course
All races from 5f to 7f in length are run on the straight course. The track is wide with a few undulations. Most of the undulations on the straight course are early in the race and the final two furlongs are generally flat with no excuses, allowing horses to hit top speed once the line is in sight.
During the redevelopments in 2005, the course was re-laid. The straight course now drains far better than previously. Statistics prove heavily that hold-up horses are favoured on this track. Big fields favour the pace angle rather than the draw bias and are hard to predict. In races on this course that do not have a big field, a low draw and position on the stands rail is often an advantage although this bias has lessened somewhat in recent years.
The main flat course used for longer races is triangular in appearance and there is just over 1m 6f to a circuit. The run-in on the round course is 2 ½ furlongs. In heavy ground, horses can go wide down the back, under the trees in search of slightly better ground. Once into the straight, the runners fan out in a dash for the line. The far side rail can be the place to be as it is the shortest distance to the winning post from the home turn. On this course there seems to be no significant draw bias as you would expect in longer contests to some degree. As with the straight course, front-running individuals here can find things difficult late in the race, with hold-up performers generally preferred.
Ascot Jumps Course
The course has six flights to a circuit, with two on each part of its triangular shape. The hurdles course is stiff and galloping. From the winning post to the far side initially the track is downhill but then that changes to an uphill climb after around three furlongs.
The drainage is largely excellent, but the ground can still become gruelling. Horses that save energy for the home straight suit the demands here. The final two flights in the straight are well spaced and horses must have momentum and meet them on a good stride. A mistake at this stage can be costly and ground difficult to recover. Trainer Nicky Henderson has a terrific record here with his hurdlers so anything he sends to post is worthy of a closer look.
The chase course has 10 fences to a circuit. There are two open ditches to take and the straight has two plain fences. The completion rate for the course is remarkably low. The fences here come up quickly, especially in the approach to the home straight and are certainly testing for inexperienced horses.
Fences six out to three out are key and must be taken with fluency and in a smooth rhythm. The fences are generally stiff and not forgiving. It is imperative at Ascot your horse is a more than adequate jumper. It is possible to make all if setting the right fractions and jumping accurately but, mistakes are costly. Once again trainer Henderson is the one to watch and he boasts a superb strike rate with his chasers here that has delivered a huge level stakes profit in recent years.
The highlight to most is obviously Royal Ascot, a five-day meeting in mid-June. The world-famous Royal Procession, directly up the middle of the straight mile course, is a spectacle that starts off every day of the meeting shortly before the first race. The Queen especially has enjoyed lots of success as an owner here, with 23 wins to be precise and is associated closely with the course. The meeting has no less than 19 group races of which 8 have group 1 status.
Away from the pattern races the handicaps almost always attract maximum fields. The Wokingham and The Royal Hunt Cup are two of the bigger handicap races at the meeting. The meeting sees 56,000 bottles of champagne consumed, 3,500 fresh lobsters, a massive 5,000 kilos of salmon and some 8,000 Cornish crabs all devoured by racegoers.
Major Races at Ascot
|Start Date||Race||Grade||Last Winner|
|19th Oct 2019||Queen Elizabeth II Stakes||Group 1|
|19th Oct 2019||Fillies & Mares Stakes||Group 1|
|19th Oct 2019||Long Distance Cup||Group 2|
|19th Oct 2019||British Champions Sprint Stakes||Group 1|
|19th Oct 2019||Champion Stakes||Group 1|
|5th Oct 2019||Ascot Challenge Cup||Class 2|
|25th Jul 2020||King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes||Group 1||Enable (4/9)|
|19th Jun 2020||Hardwicke Stakes||Group 2||Fanny Logan (17/2)|
|20th Jun 2020||Wokingham Stakes||Class 2||Hey Jonesy (18/1)|
|20th Jun 2020||Diamond Jubilee Stakes||Group 1||Hello Youmzain (4/1)|
|16th Jun 2020||King Edward VII Stakes||Group 2||Pyledriver (18/1)|
|20th Jun 2020||Coronation Stakes||Group 1||Alpine Star (9/2)|
|19th Jun 2020||Commonwealth Cup||Group 1||Golden Horde (5/1)|
|19th Jun 2020||Norfolk Stakes||Group 2||The Lir Jet (9/2)|
|18th Jun 2020||Ascot Gold Cup||Group 1||Stradivarius (4/5)|
|16th Jun 2020||Ribblesdale Stakes||Group 2||Frankly Darling (11/8)|
|20th Jun 2020||Queen Mary Stakes||Group 2||Campanelle (9/2)|
|17th Jun 2020||Prince Of Wales’s Stakes||Group 1||Lord North (5/1)|
|16th Jun 2020||Duke of Cambridge Stakes||Group 2||Nazeef (10/3)|
|16th Jun 2020||King’s Stand Stakes||Group 1||Battaash (5/6)|
|20th Jun 2020||Coventry Stakes||Group 2||Nando Parrado (150/1)|
|16th Jun 2020||Queen Anne Stakes||Group 1||Circus Maximus (4/1)|
|20th Jun 2020||St James’s Palace Stakes||Group 1||Palace Pier (4/1)|
|15th Feb 2020||Betfair Ascot Chase||Grade 1||Riders Onthe Storm (7/2)|
|18th Jan 2020||Clarence House Chase||Grade 1||Defi Du Seuil (11/10)|
|21st Dec 2019||Ascot Silver Cup||Listed||Regal Encore (16/1)|
|21st Dec 2019||Long Walk Hurdle||Grade 1||The Worlds End (15/8)|