Ascot: over 300 years of racing history
A history of the royal racecourse – from Queen Anne spotting its potential as a racecourse to racing held behind closed doors during the Covid lockdown and the return of crowds in 2022
Summer 1711 It was Queen Anne who ﬁrst saw the potential for a racecourse at Ascot, which in those days was called East Cote. Whilst out riding she came upon an area of open heath, not far from Windsor Castle, that looked an ideal place for “horses to gallop at full stretch.”
June 1711 Charles, Duke of Somerset instructed Sir William Wyndham, Master of the Royal Buckhounds, to have the open heath cleared of scrub and gorse in preparation for a race meeting.
August 1711 The ﬁrst race meeting ever held at Ascot took place. Her Majesty’s Plate, worth 100 guineas and open to any horse, mare or gelding over the age of six, was the inaugural event. Each horse was required to carry a weight of 12st and seven runners took part.
September 1711 The success of Her Majesty’s Plate in August meant the second meeting followed soon after in September.
1744 The Yeoman Prickers were formed. Employed by the Master of the Buckhounds, their distinctive livery of forest green coats with gold facings are worn today by the Ascot Greencoats, who attend Royal Ascot each year.
1752 The popularity of attending the racing at Ascot was becoming apparent in social circles, prompting the Duke of Bedford to write that when arriving in London “I could ﬁnd no soul to dine or sup with.”
1768 The ﬁrst four-day meeting took place.
June 1791 The Oatlands Stakes was run at Ascot – an important landmark race as it was the ﬁrst handicap race, where the weights of the runners were adjusted according to their form to give them, in theory, equal chances.
1793 The ﬁrst permanent building was erected by George Slingsby, a Windsor builder. It held 1,650 people and was used until 1838.
1807 The inaugural running of the Gold Cup for three-year-olds and upwards. It is signiﬁcant that the ﬁrst Gold Cup was won by a three-year-old, as this was an event designed to attract horses bred to compete much younger than had been the case the previous century. In the modern era, three-year-olds do not run in the race.
1813 Parliament passed an Act of Enclosure which ensured that Ascot Heath, although the property of the Crown, would be kept and used as a racecourse for the public in the future.
Racing at Ascot was now secure. The Master of the Buckhounds continued to manage the races and the racecourse – just as it was more than 100 years before.
1820 George III died and the Prince Regent ascended the throne as George IV. He immediately ordered alterations to be made to the Royal Stand by John Nash. Nash’s alterations did not satisfy the King and so, in 1822, Nash designed a new Royal Stand, erected in just ﬁve weeks.
1822 The Royal Enclosure was born when King George IV commissioned a two-storey stand to be built with a surrounding lawn. Access was by invitation of the King where he entertained his friends in style.
1825 King George IV’s greatest legacy to Royal Ascot was the Royal Procession. The King leading four other coaches with members of the Royal party drove up the Straight Mile in front of the crowds. A diarist of the day commented; ‘the whole thing looked very splendid’.
1837 Turf on the track was relaid by the Clerk of the Course, William Hibburd, to improve the ground. Rails and posts were constructed along the track.
1838 Queen Victoria made her ﬁrst visit to Ascot as Sovereign. To mark her ﬁrst visit, the Queen inaugurated a new race over one and a half miles, known today as the Queen’s Vase (now two miles).
1838 Horses were numbered in the racecard.
July 1838 A decision was made to construct a new stand between the betting stand and the Royal Stand. The new stand took 10 months to build and was warmly welcomed when it opened a year later on 20 May. The lower half of the stand could hold about 3,000 people and contained a betting hall.
1839 For the ﬁrst time at Ascot the judge hoisted the number of the winner onto a large blackboard, thus putting an end to disputes as to which horse had won.
1856 The railway was brought to Ascot with the opening of the Staines to Wokingham line.
1861 (approx) Racing in the mid-19th century was becoming more professional with Ascot appointing its ﬁrst official Clerk of the Scales, James Manning, whose family stayed in the post until 1970, latterly working for the Jockey Club.
1861 Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, died and Queen Victoria never returned to Ascot.
1862 A new race at the meeting was named after Prince Albert: The Prince of Wales’s Stakes.
1863 Prince Albert, eldest son and second child of Victoria and Albert, known as Bertie, attended his ﬁrst Ascot meeting aged 21 and continued to lend his support to the Royal Meeting with enthusiasm. He restored the Royal Procession and revived the custom of inviting overseas visitors to Ascot.
1873 Ascot witnessed the ﬁrst victory for the riding phenomenon Fred Archer. Over a 14 year period, he rode 80 winners at the racecourse.
1896 The Grandstand clock tower was erected.
1901 Racing at Ascot took place in sombre mood to mark the death of Queen Victoria. Prince Albert ascended the throne as King Edward VII.
1901 The role of Master of the Buckhounds was disbanded and a new role created, that of the King’s representative – the ﬁrst man to undertake this role was Viscount Churchill.
1901 All three stands in the Royal Enclosure were demolished under the instruction of King Edward VII and two new stands were built between September 1901 and May 1902. The total cost was £28,350.
1902 A third stand was built at a cost of £27,636. This stand included lifts, the ﬁrst to be installed on a British racecourse. In order to have the work completed by May, 1902, some 500 men were employed on the task, working day and night shifts.
1908 The ‘Five Shilling Stand’ was built, later known as the Silver Ring Stand, at a cost of £30,000.
1911 The third week in June became the Royal Week.
1912 Racegoers began to arrive by car and, for the ﬁrst time, cars were allowed to park on the Heath.
1913 The Ascot Authority was established by an Act of Parliament. His Majesty’s Representative became Senior Trustee of the Authority with the Clerk of the Course acting as Secretary.
1926 The Royal Enclosure buildings were extended and a new Iron Stand was erected. Ascot began to install a new watering system, with the facility to dispense around two million gallons of water onto the turf.
1929 The Tote building was constructed (still standing today, beside the Pre-Parade Ring). The designs had been agreed by the Racecourse Betting Control Board (RBCB), the authority overseeing wagering at this time.
1936 George V died and was succeeded by his eldest son, who became Edward VIII. The new King was a keen follower of horseracing but he never attended the Royal Meeting as reigning monarch. By the end of the year Edward VIII had abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson.
1937 George VI and Queen Elizabeth attend their ﬁrst Ascot race meeting.
1940 Racing at Ascot was cancelled and the racecourse was commandeered by the army, with the Grandstand providing accommodation for gunners of the Royal Artillery.
May 1943 Racing at Ascot resumed, with an eight-race card.
May 1945 Ascot staged its ﬁrst post-war ﬁxture and the 19-year-old Princess Elizabeth attended for the ﬁrst time.
1946 Major Crocker Bulteel was appointed as the Clerk of the Course, regarded as ‘the outstanding racing administrator of his day.’ The Duke of Norfolk was appointed as the King’s Representative.
1946 The Ascot ﬁxture list extended to include racing in July, September and October.
July 1951 The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth was run for the first time, being an amalgamation of races run in July and October, to create a prestigious mid-summer race for three-year-olds and upwards over one-and-a-half miles.
1955 The rules of divorce were relaxed and divorcees were able to enter the Royal Enclosure. However, a redevelopment of the Enclosure shortly before this had added the new Queen’s Lawn. Entrance was by invitation only and the Court rules governing divorce still applied.
June 1961 The Grandstand was demolished and the Queen Elizabeth II Stand was built. It took 11 months to build, with 550 workers at a cost of £1 million. The stand represented a state-of-the art facility at the time, accommodating 13,000 people and 280 private boxes.
1965 Jump racing took place for the first time at Ascot, with the turf from Hurst Park, which closed a year earlier, used for the newly laid National Hunt course
June 1964 The first three home in the Queen Anne Stakes were disqualified for interference and the race went to Brook
1975 There was a strike by stable staff and BBC outside-broadcast staff refused to cross picket lines and there was no television coverage.
September 1996 Frankie Dettori wins all seven races on the card with Wall Street kicking things off at 2/1, with subsequent winners at 12/1 (Diffident in the Diadem Stakes), Mark of Esteem at 10/3 in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, 7/1, 7/4, 5/4 and finally on Fujiyama Crest at 2/1 having been backed in from a morning price of 12/1.
April 1998 Lord Hartington, Her Majesty’s Representative, revealed that changes to the racecourse were being contemplated.
2000 Ascot stages its first Segar Cup (the inaugural event was held at Goodwood in 1999), a team event involving four teams of jockeys
2001 In order to facilitate the redevelopment, Ascot incorporated as Ascot Authority (Holdings) Limited, the most signiﬁcant milestone in its structure since the 1913 Act of Parliament.
2002 Plans were announced to redevelop Ascot Racecourse. The existing Queen Elizabeth II stand was to be replaced and the course realigned. The Golden Jubilee was celebrated and Royal Ascot was extended from four to ﬁve days.
September 2004 Ascot held its last meeting with the old facilities. Demolition of the stand began and the redevelopment programme commenced.
June 2005 Royal Ascot was staged at York Racecourse.
June 2006 The new Ascot stand was opened on time and on budget, but met with complaints about viewing and required further expenditure at a cost of £10m to rectify the bad site lines
June 2009 Yeats won his fourth Gold Cup, beating Sagaro’s record, set in the 1970s.
2011 Ascot celebrated its Tercentenary.
October 2011 Ascot host the first British Champions Day, when Frankel won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes
June 2012 The country celebrates The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The Golden Jubilee Stakes becomes The Diamond Jubilee Stakes and is won by Australian trained Black Caviar.
2010 to 2012 Frankel, officially the greatest racehorse since ratings began, makes ﬁve appearances at Ascot, winning at two, three and four. He retired unbeaten with 14 wins, his last race being the Champion Stakes on Ascot’s Champions Day.
June 2015 Following an extensive review of the European sprinting programme, a new Group 1 six-furlong race, the Commonwealth Cup, is added to the Royal Ascot programme.
June 2015 Frankel Statue unveiled by The Queen.
January 2017 The Queen’s Vase is promoted to Group 2 status.
2017 The new Village Enclosure opens and the jumpsuit is introduced to the Royal Enclosure dress code. ITV Racing becomes the host broadcaster, with presenters Francesca Cumani and Ed Chamberlain (pictured)
2018 Prize money at Royal Ascot exceeds £7m for the ﬁrst time
2019 Queen’s Vase reverts to a ﬁve-day closing race and is run for £225,000, an increase of £25,000.
2020 The Covid lockdown meant Royal Ascot, along with the track’s other fixtures, was run behind closed doors. There were seven races on the first four days and an eighth race on Saturday – the extended cards were introduced to help maintain the Horserace Levy Board’s income.
March 2021 Prize money for the Royal meeting was announced at £6m, an increase of 66% but still £1m down on pre-Covid years
June 2021 Crowds can return to Royal Ascot but limited to 14,000 each day as part of an experiment to allow a greater numbers of spectators to attend sporting events. Seven races per day have been retained, with Saturday reverting a seven-race card.
June 2022 The racecourse welcomes back crowds to all enclosures for the Royal meeting