Get out your top hat — it’s Ascot time!
Britain’s most iconic horse race event attracts the world’s finest racehorses to compete for millions in prize money — and the royal family takes center stage.
PEOPLE spoke with Juliet Slot, Commercial Director at Royal Ascot, to get all the details on Britain’s racing of the event of the year, which kicks off on Tuesday.
1. Royal Ascot is steeped in tradition.
Royal Ascot came to be soon after 1711, when Queen Anne rode out from Windsor Castle to the field where the race now takes place, and said, “This would be a fine place for a race,” according to Slot. The first event was held later that year, and has continued since.
And a tradition that’s almost as longstanding as the race itself is the royal procession — it was introduced in 1825 by King George IV. The procession sees Queen Elizabeth and her guests make their entrance to Ascot in a number of Landau carriages every day at precisely 2 o’clock. The Queen‘s carriage leads the procession, with others following behind. Only invited guests of the Queen are granted seats in the carriages. It’s a formula that works: The royal procession “doesn’t change year to year,” Slot says. “It’s exactly the same.”
However, things don’t always stay the same in every aspect of the event. Last year, they’re introducing a new enclosure — the Village Enclosure — the first new enclosure introduced at Ascot in 109 years.
2. The Royal Enclosure’s parking lot just may be the event’s most exclusive spot.
Entry to the Royal Enclosure doesn’t guarantee you a parking spot in the enclosure’s lot. In fact, Slot says there’s a 100-year-long wait list to nab one of those coveted parking spots. Why? Well, not just as a matter of sheer convenience, but for the social factor, too. Before entering the races, Royal Enclosure guests will gather in the parking lot (or as the Brits call it, a car park!) for a picnic.
“You might find celebrities, and members of different royal families from around the world,” Slot says. “And they’re having a good old-fashioned English picnic in the car park, before they arrive and come into the Royal Meeting.”
3. The Queen oversees the event, and gets final approval on everything — including the dress code.
Throughout the planning process, Her Majesty’s Representative, Johnny Weatherby, is in constant communication with the Ascot team, relaying details back to the Queen to make sure she understands what they’re doing and getting her insight on any changes.
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The whole reason the hats at Ascot became such a thing is because the royal family laid out the standards and rules for what constitutes a “formal” dress code — which includes hats. (Do you ever see the Queen at a formal daytime occasion without a topper?) Slot says that though some of the hats can get a little outrageous, they don’t encourage that, and instead hope their guests will embrace tradition while still being fashion-forward. “I would say that we have the odd novelty hats, but we actually don’t encourage it,” she says. “We want the event to be perceived as very stylish.”
4. The whole thing takes a lot of preparation, and there are lots of moving parts.
Before Royal Ascot has even started, event organizers are already preparing for next year’s event, Slot says. And it makes sense why: The event is five days long, with 30 total races — six per day. Three hundred thousand people are expected to attend Royal Ascot this year. Tickets start at $59.