Saturday 18th February 2017
A SHORT HISTORY OF ASCOT
Few sporting venues can match the rich heritage and history of Ascot Racecourse. Over the past 300 years, Ascot has established itself as a national institution; with Royal Ascot becoming the centrepiece of the British social calendar and the ultimate stage for the best racehorses in the world.
It was Queen Anne in 1711 that first saw the potential for a racecourse at Ascot (in those days called East Cote). Whilst out riding near Windsor Castle she came upon an area of open heath that looked, in her words, “ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch”.
The First Race Meeting
The first race meeting ever held at Ascot took place later that year, on Saturday 11th August. The inaugural event was Her Majesty’s Plate, worth 100 guineas and open to any horse, mare or gelding over six years of age. Each horse was required to carry a weight of 12 stone and the seven runners were all English Hunters, rather different to the speedy thoroughbreds that race on the flat today.
The nature of the contest also bares little resemblance to modern day racing at Ascot. That race consisted of three separate heats, each four miles long – about the length of today’s Grand National course. The winning horse would have required tremendous stamina, but sadly there is no record of who claimed that first Plate.
Queen Anne's gift to racing, founding the Royal Racecourse, is marked by the tradition of opening Royal Ascot with the Queen Anne Stakes.
The First Racecourse
The racecourse was laid out by William Lowen, assisted by a team including a carpenter, a painter, and a racing administrator. The first permanent building was erected around 1794 by a local Windsor builder. Holding 1,650 people, it was used for almost fifty years.
In 1813, Parliament passed an Act of Enclosure, which ensured that Ascot Heath, would be kept and used as a racecourse for the public in the future. Racing at Ascot was now secure.
The precise origins of the Royal Meeting are unclear, as the event evolved from the first four-day meeting that took place in 1768. The meeting as it’s known today only really started to take shape with the introduction of the Gold Cup in 1807. Royal Ascot was the only race meeting held at Ascot until 1939.
The Gold Cup remains the feature race of the third day of Royal Ascot, traditionally the busiest day of the week and colloquially known as “Ladies’ Day”. In 2009, Yeats, ridden by Johnny Murtagh and trained by Aidan O'Brien, won his fourth consecutive Gold Cup – a magnificent achievement, and one that is unlikely to be repeated.
Although founded by a Queen and located on Crown property, the administration of Ascot is handled on behalf of the Crown by a representative appointed by the Monarch. Up until 1901, the racecourse was managed on the Sovereign’s behalf by the Master of the Royal Buckhounds. In 1901, Lord Churchill was appointed as His Majesty’s Representative, responsible for running the course and determining entrance to the Royal Enclosure.
The Ascot Authority was established in 1913 by an Act of Parliament, with His Majesty’s Representative becoming Senior Trustee. Today, as Ascot Authority (Holdings) Limited, Ascot has a formal board chaired by Johnny Weatherby, Her Majesty's Representative (Senior Trustee) and Chairman.
As an owner and breeder of racehorses, Her Majesty The Queen takes a keen interest in the races, and has had great success with her own horses over the years. The jockeys riding Her Majesty's horses can be identified by The Queen's racing colours: purple body with gold braid, scarlet sleeves, and black velvet cap with gold fringe – the same as those of King Edward VII and George IV as Prince Regent.
During Royal Ascot, The Queen traditionally presents the Gold Cup and The Diamond Jubilee Stakes. New versions of these trophies are made each year and presented to winners to keep.
Ascot Racecourse closed for a £200-million redevelopment in 2004,and was reopened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on 20th June 2006.
Highlights at Ascot since 2006
There have already been several historical landmarks in the short period since Ascot Racecourse reopened in 2006 and none more memorable than the four timer of Gold Cup wins by Yeats, culminating in remarkable scenes after his final victory in 2009.
In 2011, Ascot celebrated its tercentenary and staged the inaugural QIPCO British Champions Day, now the climax to the European flat racing season.
Ascot was at the heart of the country’s celebrations to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, with the Golden Jubilee Stakes renamed the Diamond Jubilee Stakes and won by Australian legend, Black Caviar.
In 2012 the world’s four top horses on official ratings ran at Ascot, something no other venue could claim and king of them all, of course, was the mighty Frankel.
Frankel retired victorious and unbeaten in 14 runs after the Champion Stakes, having competed at two, three and four at Ascot – five wins in all at the Berkshire track including two at Royal Ascot and two on British Champions Day.