Ascot is far more than Ladies' Day and big fancy hats. It's more than the five days of Royal Ascot celebrated in June each year, too. In fact, the best known race course in the world has a programme of flat and jump meetings throughout the year, as well as all sorts of other events.
You may have missed Royal Ascot itself, but there's no reason why you shouldn't visit the world's most famous race course for one of the other meetings and try your luck. And this year there's an additional incentive, as the racecourse is coming up to its third century. It was Queen Anne who, in 1711, while out riding close to Windsor Castle, came upon an area of open heath that looked an ideal place for "horses to gallop at full stretch". Since then, there have obviously been a lot of changes, both in the horses that race – this year for a total of £14 million in prize money – and in the course itself, which now has two tracks (jumps and flat) and all mod cons. Seventy full-time staff are needed to take care of the facilities, but during Royal Ascot – the high spot of the season – thousands of additional temporary staff are taken on to deal with the 300,000 visitors who attend over the five day event.
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Ascot is a place to see and be seen, but having money riding on the outcome of a race makes it all the more interesting; there are different ways to place a bet at Ascot including at tote kiosks or with an individual bookmaker in the betting ring
Ascot attracts over half a million race-goers each year. The ground is tended by 12 regular ground staff, who ensure the grass is kept to the regulation 4" for flat racing and 5" for jump racing
There is a strict dress code for the different enclosures, with more formality required during Royal Ascot. In the Royal Enclosure, ladies are required to wear "formal day dress with a hat or substantial fascinator" while gentlemen must wear either black or grey morning dress, including a waistcoat, with a top hat. On other days, the dress code is more relaxed, although smart clothes are definitely encouraged
There are plenty of different restaurant options at the racecourse, and picnicking is governed by strict rules: although informal picnics are allowed in the car park, the only areas where formal picnics are allowed to be brought in are the Silver Ring and the Heath, and only then if they are brought in a hamper or cool bag/box
There are a number of places to see the horse at different stages of the race, including the Pre-Parade Ring, where they warm up 25 minutes before their race, the Parade Ring, the Unsaddling Enclosure and the Winner's Enclosure
The annual racing calendar accounts for just 25 days a year. At other times, the extensive facilities are available for hire for conferences, exhibitions, weddings, banquets etc.
Nearly 50,000 bottles of champagne were consumed during Royal Ascot in 2010. And no doubt plenty more toasts will be drunk on August 11th, 2011, when the race track celebrates the 300th anniversary of the first meeting