Why Ascot IS still one of the top sporting events of the year?

Ascot racecourse in Berkshire, England, is one of the most well known and visited courses in Great Britain and plays host to over a third of British Group 1 races every year.

Opened in August 1711, Ascot is the sixth oldest course currently in use in the United Kingdom. Known mostly for flat racing, with eighteen flat meetings between May and October each year, the course is dual purpose and stages several important jumps meetings throughout the winter months.

With around 600,000 racegoers attending meetings each year, approximately 10% of all racegoers in the UK, Ascot still remains one of the most popular racecourses in the UK.

So, how does Ascot maintain its popularity after all these years and remain a pivotal highlight of the sporting calendar for so many?

 
 
 

A Royal Connection

With Ascot racecourse situated approximately six miles from Windsor Castle, it enjoys a close association with the Royal family. Indeed, this is shown every June when the Royal Ascot meeting takes place.

First held as a royal event in 1911, the June Ascot meeting is a five-day extravaganza of top quality horse racing. Showcasing some of the greatest race horses, trainers, and jockeys in the world, Royal Ascot attracts more than 300,000 racegoers to the course.

Royal Ascot features eight Group 1 races with at least one held on each of the five days and offers total prize money of over £7 million.

The pinnacle of the meeting is the Gold Cup, held on Thursday each year, which is the most prestigious “stayers” event in Britain and has prize money of over half a million pounds. Held on the famous “Ladies Day”, the Gold Cup helps to attract around 70,000 racegoers on that single day.

Most Prestigious Open-Age Flat Race

Many people, especially the more casual horse racing fans, will only associate Ascot with the Royal meeting in June but it is in July when the most prestigious open-age flat race in Great Britain takes place at the famous course.

The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is a Group 1 race held over a distance of just over one mile and three furlongs with a total prize fund of around £1.25m.

That prize money makes it the second richest race in Britain, behind the Epsom Derby, and the winner usually goes on to bigger and richer races.

Many winners go on to compete in the great Priz de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in France and the King George is also part of the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Challenge. So, the winner of this race not only receives winnings of over £700,000 but they can then go on to compete in two races worth more than a combined £7.5m.

A Day for Champions

Since 2011, Ascot has played host to the richest race day in Great Britain, British Champions Day.

This event, held every October at the end of season highlight of flat racing in the UK, is the culmination of a thirty-five race series known as the British Champions Series.

There are five champions races held on the day as well as a £250,000 1 mile handicap. Four of the five champions races are Group 1 events, which are the Champions Stakes, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, The British Champions Fillies’ and Mares’ Stakes, and the British Champions Sprint Stakes. 

The Champions Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes both offer over £1m in prize money. Even the least prestigious of the champions races, the British Champions Long Distance Cup, is a Group 2 race with around £300,000 in the total prize fund.

A Highlight of the Sporting Calendar

Royal Ascot is known as much for its glamour, fashion and extravagant headwear as it is for the horse racing and offers a day at the races like no other. This has helped to attract die-hard horse racing fans as well as casual racegoers looking to experience what is an unexplainable day out to anyone who has never been.

The five-day event attracts half of the annual Ascot racegoers and earns around three-quarters of its annual income. So, in an attempt to be known for more than just the royal meeting, the Ascot powers-that-be have revamped other events to appeal to a wider audience.

With family days and entertainment, as well and food and beer festivals, Ascot has become more than just a day at the races for many.

Offering something for everyone and attracting those who want more than to just watch the horse racing is the key to longevity and popularity among racegoers and why Ascot meetings are still a highlight of the sporting calendar.

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