Royal Ascot: A quintessentially British icon
(CNN)Britain’s royal family, toffs, top hats and world-class horse racing — there is little more quintessentially British than Royal Ascot.
The summer spectacle, which begins Tuesday in Berkshire, west of London, combines high fashion with the cream of Flat racing.
Soaked in tradition and glamor, the event dates back to 1711 and comes with the royal seal of approval.
Queen Elizabeth II has attended the event for more than seven decades, both as a spectator and a successful horse owner, and has enjoyed 23 winners over the years.
Her Majesty arrives each day in a horse-drawn carriage with other members of the royal family, a practice dating back to 1825. The royal procession conveys the monarch from nearby Windsor Castle, past the packed grandstands, to the Royal Enclosure.
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, made her first appearance at Ascot last year joining Prince Harry and the Queen for the first day of the race meeting.
“It’s not an official occasion for her [the Queen] but she comes because she loves horse racing so much. It makes you very proud to be British,” said Aly Vance, host of CNN’s Winning Post.
Ascot Racecourse itself is one of the world’s most beautiful venues to watch the sport of kings.
It features two tracks — flat and jumps — on a greensward about six miles from Windsor Castle.
In fact, it’s technically still the property of the British royal family, however Parliament passed a special act in 1813 to ensure that the course remains public.
Paying homage to tradition, visitors are expected to adhere to the strictest of dress codes.
Men’s fashion has remained relatively unchanged for centuries, with those in the Royal Enclosure asked to wear black or grey morning dress and top hats.
Women must wear a dress or skirt that comes below the knee, with straps of at least one inch in width. Jump suits or trousers are now allowed and hats or headpieces with a solid bases of four inches must be worn.
However, within the rules and regulations, there is plenty of room to be adventurous and the choice of head wear is always a hot topic of conversation.
Women are encouraged to save their best outfits for Ladies’ Day, a long-lasting tradition which has become a highlight of the social calendar.
“It’s not more important than the horse racing but fashion is a huge element of Royal Ascot,” added Vance.
“It’s a very different fashion, very elegant. Having a traditional dress code but where you can be a little adventurous. You seem some amazing outfits over the week.”
Not only is Royal Ascot a jewel in the racing calendar, it’s also one of the important events in the British summer social scene, along with the Henley Royal Regatta and Wimbledon.
“It’s as much a social occasion as it is a sporting occasion,” said Vance.
“There are a huge number of people there who probably don’t go to any other race meeting but will go to Royal Ascot because it’s a place to be seen at.”
Amidst the pomp and ceremony, the stellar racing action is the centerpiece of the week.
There are six races a day for the five days of the meeting with eight Grade One contests. In all, runners and riders are competing for a share of the $8.85m (£7 million) prize purse.
Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’ Stakes is the richest race, with the winner claiming just shy of $1 million (£750,000).
“It features a horse called Sea Of Class, who finished second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe last year,” Vance said, identifying the race as the highlight of the week.
Sea of Class, making her first start since finishing runner-up to Enable in the Arc, will take on another talented four-year-old filly in Magical, as well as the impressive Crystal Ocean and Waldgeist in the eight-runner field.
The Gold Cup
Thursday’s Gold Cup, a marathon of more than two miles, is Ascot’s oldest surviving race.
The Queen will present the victorious jockey and owner with their trophies.
Last year’s winner was Stradivarius, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori for champion trainer John Gosden, who will have a strong hand again this year.
Gosden said Stradivarius was in fine form ahead of his defence, but there will be stiff competition from Godolphin’s Cross Counter and the Mark Johnston-trained Dee Ex Bee.
“If you win any race at Royal Ascot you’ve got be very happy,” said Gosden.
The 48-year-old Dettori, who has won 60 races at Royal Ascot in 31 appearances, told the event’s social media channels: “It’s the reason we get up early in the morning, to try to get some winners at Royal Ascot. Usually on the first day my hair stands up like Don King. It’s an amazing atmosphere and you never lose that buzz.”
A number of runners are also traveling in from abroad in the hope of winning one of the prestigious contests.
Horses from New Zealand, Japan, Australia, and the US are expected to line up, adding an international flavor to the week.
“All connections just adore that meeting,” said the 10-time champion trainer Michael Stoute. “For professionals it’s a very big thing.”