Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ascot Racecourse

Ascot Racecourse is by far the most important racecourse in the United Kingdom. It is located in the small town of Ascot, Berkshire, not far from Windsor Castle. There are 26 days of flat racing in spring and jump racing during the winter organised at Ascot, the highlight being Royal Ascot. Apart from racing, it hosts special events such as a cocktail party in July, a concert in August, a beer festival in September and fireworks in October. It has always been associated with the aristocracy and the Royal Family.

It was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne, so it celebrated its 300th anniversary this year. For the inaugural event on 11 August 1711, seven horses raced on three separate heats, each four miles long. Today the Queen Anne Stakes continues to be run in her memory. Several acts were passed in the course of the 19th and 20th century, making it a public racecourse and creating the Ascot Authority (the company that manages the racecourse). Ascot racecourse was closed in 2004 for renovation, and re-opened 20 months later. The costs of the redevelopment reached £200 million. But it was criticised on the ground that it gave too much space for restaurants and other facilities and not enough for patrons to watch the racing. Therefore new renovations were carried out in 2006, improving the view from lower levels of the grandstand. The renovations cost £10 million.

When going to Ascot, races can be watched while standing on the different platforms or the grandstand. In addition, the facility has more than 300 meeting rooms which can be booked. The most conventional and practical one is the Ascot Pavilion which can be divided into three rooms and accommodate 100 to 1100 people. There are other rooms like the Ascot Exhibition Hall and the Queen Anne Building but the most popular is the Royal Ascot Racing Club. On non-race days it can be hired out as a private facility. There are, of course, several restaurants but the Parade Ring Restaurant is the most exquisite one.

The most prestigious event is definitely the Royal Ascot held for five days in June. It dates back to 1711 and is a centrepiece of the British social calendar. It is said to be the ultimate stage of the best racehorses in the world. Every year Royal Ascot is attended by the Queen herself and the members of the Royal Family. Every day they arrive in a horse-drawn carriage with the Royal procession taking place on the racecourse itself. There are three enclosures attended by guests on Royal Ascot week. First-time applicants can gain membership by applying to the Royal Enclosure office. They then receive a badge which can only be used by that person.

Ascot Racecourse is known for its dress code and extravagant hats. On the 300th anniversary eccentric artistic creations for hats and dresses were worn by visitors. On the other hand, especially in the Royal Enclosure, the dress code is very strict. The women need to wear a day dress of appropriate length adding a hat or a fascinator. Men wear a black or grey morning dress with top hat.

Ascot Racecourse is an important part of British culture with a long history. It is associated with quality, excellence and is considered a memorable day out; an event that no Briton can ignore.

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