Going Racing with Her Majesty

Horses race to the finish line

Next Tuesday is the opening day for the Royal Ascot meeting, arguably the highlight of the British flat racing season and an integral part of the social calendar in the UK. With the World Cup starting tomorrow and Wimbledon less than a month away, Royal Ascot will herald a bonanza period for sports betting companies, with record amounts certain to be staked over the next few weeks.

Ascot is one of the UK’s premier racecourses and it stages some of the richest and most competitive races in the calendar, but it is the Royal meeting that takes center stage. The course is just six miles from Windsor Castle and every day’s racing is preceded by the Royal procession up the course. And yes, you will be able to bet on the color of the Queen’s coat each day.

Racing at Ascot dates back to 1711 and the reign of Queen Anne. The first race, Her Majesty’s Plate, was held on August 11, 1711, with seven horses competing in three separate four-mile heats and all carrying the welter-burden of 12 stone (76kg).

The present Queen has always been a huge supporter of British horse racing, following in the footsteps of her mother, whose horse Devon Loch so famously lost the 1956 Grand National. Queen Elizabeth II has owned a host of famous horses down the years, with Carroza winning the Oaks (the fillies’ equivalent of the Derby) for her in 1957 and Dunfermline winning both the Oaks and the St. Leger, the final “classic” of the season, in 1977. Her colors – the same as those of George IV and Edward VII – are just about the most famous colors in the world of racing: purple with gold braid, scarlet sleeves, and a black velvet cap.

The Royal Ascot dress code

There will be as many fashion pundits as racing commentators at Royal Ascot, especially if the new Duchess of Sussex is in attendance. Meghan, like everyone in the Royal enclosure, will need to abide by Ascot’s strict dress code. Ladies must wear formal day wear: Dresses and skirts should be “of modest length” and midriffs must be covered. Jumpsuits have been permitted since last year, but I will offer you long odds against Meghan wearing one.

A gentleman (the Royal enclosure is not a place for a lads’ day out) must wear black or grey morning dress, including a waistcoat and tie, a black or grey top hat and black shoes. A gentleman may remove his top hat in certain pre-designated areas, but (however could you think such a thing?) customization of a top hat, in your racing colors, for example, is not permitted.

While the dress code is relaxed in the other enclosures at the racecourse, it is still enforced and this year, as my colleague Gina Clarke will be reporting later this week, the Ascot authorities will also be looking to clamp down on the drunken behavior that has blighted so many major British meetings recently.

The racing

This year the racing starts on Tuesday, June 19, with the Queen Anne Stakes. Rhododendron, trained by all-conquering Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien, is likely to go off as the favorite.

Wednesday sees the big handicap of the week, the Royal Hunt Cup, and Thursday, traditionally known as Ladies Day, brings the highlight of the week, the Ascot Gold Cup. Order of St George is the favorite for this one and, if England beats Tunisia in their opening World Cup game, the six-year-old is likely to be carrying some of the biggest bets of the week.

There is more top-class racing on Friday and Saturday, with horses racing for more than £6.5m ($8.7m) over the five days of the meeting.

British racing is under threat at the moment. The reduction in the maximum stakes on FOBTs and possible future legislation on gambling ads might do serious damage to the smaller race meetings in the UK, but Royal Ascot will remain a centerpiece of the sporting and social calendar. All the tickets for this year have long been sold and betting turnover is certain to hit new levels, both on course and online.

If the favorites go in at Royal Ascot, it will be bad news for sports betting companies and bookmakers. Add in the World Cup and Wimbledon and the next four weeks are going to have a big say about the 2018 profit and loss accounts.


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