Royal Ascot from A to Z
Marcus Armytage takes us through the alphabet of the most important race meeting in the Flat calendar
A for Queen Anne, who, while out riding from Windsor Castle in 1711, came across a patch of heath near East Cote that looked ‘ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch’ and for Australia, whose horses have been successful here this century. Home supporters watching a big screen back in Melbourne were aghast when their heroine, the unbeaten filly Black Caviar, only just squeaked the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes due to jockey inattention.
B for Brown Jack, a Champion Hurdler that won a record seven consecutive Royal Ascot races (the Ascot Stakes followed by six Queen Alexandras), and Beau
Brummell, the Gok Wan of Regency England, who set the dress code for the Royal Enclosure. He took five hours to get ready (longer than my wife) and polished his shoes with Champagne. B is also for Ascot’s traditional bell, which rings for jockeys to mount and for runners entering the home straight on the round course.
C for Viscount Churchill, the first sovereign’s representative—letters requesting admittance to the Royal Enclosure were sorted into three trays: Certainly, Perhaps, Certainly not—and cleaners, 2,400 of whom will keep the place spotless on a 24hour cycle.
D for divorceés who, until 1955, were not allowed in the Royal Enclosure, and for ebullient Frankie Dettori, who has ridden 50 winners at the meeting.
E for Elite Racing, the cheap-as-chips (£17 a month) multiple-membership syndicate that owns (and bred) Marsha, likely favourite for the King’s Stand Stakes, and late jockey Pat Eddery, who rode 73 Royal Ascot winners.
F is for Frankel, the greatest horse since ratings began—his 11-length victory in the 2012 Queen Anne Stakes for a desperately ill Sir Henry Cecil was his most impressive run—flesh (if in doubt, keep it covered) and
fashion. Ascot is worth £33 million annually to the rag trade.
G for Gold Cup, the oldest and most prestigious race run over 21∕2 miles. It was famously—and joyously—won by The Queen’s filly Estimate in 2013.
H for the 400 helicopters that will descend on the meeting, for chief executive Guy Henderson and for Highclere, the high-end syndicate run by Harry Herbert.
I for ITV, which makes its debut as racing’s terrestrial broadcaster.
J for the jump trainers, such as Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins, who are usually worth following in the long-distance handicaps, for Joan Collins, who once tried to get away with wearing someone else’s name badge, and for jumpsuits, which will be allowed in the Royal Enclosure for
the first time.
K for King Edward VII Stakes—effectively a consolation race for the Derby—and for King’s Stand Stakes, the five-furlong sprint for older horses. The race was originally called the Queen’s Stand Plate, but switched for Edward VII.
L for Ladies’ Day, now a ubiquitous marketing strategy, but, when started in 1823, was way ahead of its time, for William
Lowen, the man credited with laying out the racecourse on the instruction of Queen Anne, for stretch limos (about 1,000 of them) and lobsters—it’s not a good week for them, with 3,000 on order.
M for morning dress—black or grey is compulsory for gentlemen in the Royal Enclosure unless they’re in the Services or foreign, in which case, uniform or national dress passes muster— mad hatters (below, someone always wears a fruit bowl on their head) and jockey Ryan Moore, who won a record nine races in 2015.
N for the 16th Duke of Norfolk, who was Her Majesty’s Representative from 1945 to 1972, and for The New Stakes, which was named after him in 1973. Ascot must have been a piece of cake; he organised two coronations, Winston Churchill’s funeral and managed the England cricket team on an Ashes tour in 1962–63.
O for one (that is, Car Park number 1)—you only get a spot there when someone dies.
P for Lester Piggott—the long fellow rode 116 winners at the meeting—and picnic. The big invite is from a trainer to join his post-racing celebration in the owners’ and trainers’ car park—as Hugo Palmer is sponsored by Winston Churchill’s favourite Champagne house, it’s worth expressing an interest in having a horse with him pronto.
Q for The Queen, owner of the racecourse, Qatar, now a major force in the bloodstock industry, quail’s eggs, which will be daintily dipped in celery salt, and, although it might not be the done thing to talk about money, the new stand cost 220 million quid.
R for Royal Procession (above), inaugurated by George IV in 1825, by some margin the most stylish way to arrive and a huge honour, although a sheikh’s mother allegedly took umbrage when she discovered she wasn’t riding in the same landau as The Queen and returned to London in a huff.
S for strapless, which is absolutely verboten in the Royal Enclosure, Swinley Bottom, the furthest point of the racecourse and invariably the softest part of the track, successful trainer Sir Michael Stoute and the popular evening singsong around the bandstand.
T for top hats and trophies, of which all bar three have to be returned. Winning trainers receive a snuff box and breeders get a strawberry dish, but not until a special lunch in July.
U for umbrellas, which hopefully we won’t be needing.
V for senior vet Dr Svend Kold, who has done 30 years’ duty, and Village Enclosure, new this year, in the centre of the course. It’s the first new enclosure since the ‘Five Shilling Stand’ morphed into the Silver Ring.
W for wine, about 40,000 bottles of which will be consumed, plus 50,000 bottles of Champagne, and winners’ enclosure, where everyone dreams of being.
X for X-ray machine to scan instantly any horse that pulls up lame.
Y for Yeats, the horse that won a record fourth Gold Cup in 2009, and Yeoman Prickers, whose distinctive green livery with gold facings the gatemen wear.
Z for zeitgeist, which Royal Ascot will never lose.
Frankel, one of Ascot’s greats