Ascot Racecourse was founded by Queen Anne in 1711, but it was King George IV who was responsible for the beginnings of the Royal Enclosure and the Royal Procession, in 1820 and 1825, respectively. Nowadays, Royal Ascot is a major event in the British sporting and social calendars, traditionally attended by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the British Royal Family and 300,000 racegoers over five days. Including the latest addition to the programme, the Commonwealth Cup, which was run for the first time in 2015, Royal Ascot now includes eight Group One races, seven Group Two races, three Group Three races and eight fiercely competitive handicaps
The opening day of Royal Ascot features three Group One races, namely the Queen Anne Stakes, the King’s Stand Stakes and the St. James’s Palace Stakes. The Queen Anne Stakes, which was promoted to Group One status in 2003, is run over the straight mile and is open to four-year-olds and upwards. Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation has an excellent record in the race, with eight wins since 1996. The
King’s Stand Stakes, run over 5 furlongs and open to three-year-olds and upwards, is the first Group One sprint of the week and a popular target for overseas contenders. Indeed, the race has been won by horses from Australia (four times), France (twice), Hong Kong and North America in recent years. The third and final Group One race on day one, the St. James’s Palace Stakes, is run over the round mile and is open exclusively to three-year-old colts. As such, the race often brings together the winners of the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Irish equivalent at the Curragh.
The Prince of Wales’s Stakes, run over 1 mile 2 furlongs and open to four-year-olds and upwards, is the sole Group One contest on day two, but the most valuable race of the week with £750,000 in guaranteed prize money. The roll of honour includes some of the greatest racehorses of the last half a century, such as Brigadier Gerard and Frankel, to name but two.
The Gold Cup, run over 2 miles 4 furlongs and open to four-year-olds and upwards, is the undisputed highlight of day three at Royal Ascot, a.k.a. “Ladies Day”. In 2013, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became the first reigning monarch to own the winner of the Gold Cup; the Queen was presented with the winning trophy by her son, Prince Andrew.
The Commonwealth Cup is run over 6 furlongs and is open exclusively to three-year-old colts and fillies. The race has proved a welcome addition to the Royal Ascot programme and, in its short history, has produced some high-class winners, including Muhaarar, named Cartier Champion Sprinter in 2015. The second Group One contest on day four, the Coronation Stakes, is similar to the St. James’s Palace Stakes on day two insofar as it is run on the round mile and open exclusively to three-year-old fillies. Consequently, the race often brings together fillies who contested the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Irish and French equivalents.
Last, but not least, Diamond Jubilee Stakes, run over 6 furlongs and open to four-year-olds and upwards is the second, and slightly more valuable, Group One sprint of the week and the last of the Group One races at Royal Ascot. In 2012, Australian sprinter Black Caviar won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes en route to 25 races, including 15 at Group One level, unbeaten.