Horse racing, like many sports around the world, is a mostly British creation, largely exported to Britain’s former colonies and possessions. In the US it takes the most recognizable form of the annual Kentucky Derby, itself an inspiration from the grand Royal British horse races that have been occurring for hundreds of years.
On Friday I had the opportunity to participate in one of the most well-known and greatest British summer traditions, Royal Ascot, for my company day out. Men sporting morning coats and top hats and women in stilettos with a variety of creative hats and fascinators, the crowd was mostly what I expected it to be. The grounds themselves were immaculate with well manicured gardens and lawns and plenty of champagne booths and bookies scattered throughout the park. It is a very formal affair and for men suits and ties are the basic prerequisite for entry.
We had admission to the Grand Stand area which ultimately means we had entry to the stands that were most level to the race track. However, the nature of Ascot is that you spend much of your time wandering the grounds, moving between bookies and viewing the horse race from the various corners of the stadium nearest to your bets. You are also likely to picnic at one of the many picnic areas scattered around the grounds. The upper section of the stands, the Royal Enclosure, requires the most formal of dress and you will not be admitted without the morning coat and top hat.
While I am not a big gambler and I know almost nothing about horses, it is important to get involved in the races to keep the day interesting. One uninformed bet and sixty seconds later with twenty quid lost I decided to focus the rest of my time and effort on drinking the non-stop flow of champagne while trying to spot the Queen in the Royal Enclosure.
As far as food and beverage go, the norm is strawberries and champagne. You can drink pints of lager, but it feels a bit misplaced in this setting and the selection isn’t the best. There is also plenty of Pimm’s on hand, but I would suggest sticking to the magnums of champagne if you are part of a large group. As the day progresses, the people watching only becomes more interesting.
The only slightly unfortunate part of the day was the weather which was inconsistent throughout the event. However, even with a few showers, Royal Ascot is still an enjoyable experience with plenty of club houses scattered around where you can escape the rain for a few minutes before hitting the bookies and the race course once more.
Overall, Royal Ascot is a great day out regardless of your interest in horse racing. The spectacle of formality is worth the observation and you couldn’t come up with a better place to just people watch if you wanted to. Well worth the journey down, Royal Ascot should be towards the top of the list of British summer activities. Participating in the pomp and splendor of this most royal and English of traditions is an experience in itself and you can understand why it sets the standard for every other horse race in the world. -- K.V.