Royal Ascot Opening Day

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What You Need to Know

  1. The first day of Ascot, known as Opening Day, gets the world's most glamorous horse racing meet off to a flying start. As well as top-class racing, the day is also famous for its glitz, high fashion and royal patronage
  2. In 2017, the Opening Day of Ascot will be Tuesday 20th June. As always, it will attract a huge crowd, though tickets for the Silver Ring can often be purchased on the day
  3. The doors open in the middle of the morning, giving you the chance to soak up the atmosphere, as well as check out the runners
  4. For many, the big highlight of the day is the Royal Procession. Here, at 2pm, the Queen rides in her carriage down the Straight Mile, waving at the crowds before taking her seat in the Royal Enclosure
  5. Opening Day features a full programme of racing. A total of six races are held on the afternoon, including three prestigious Group 1 events
  6. The three biggest races, including the Queen Anne Stakes and the King Stand's Stakes, are great for having a bet on, but always do your homework and research the form guides before you put any money down
  7. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket to Opening Day, remember that Royal Ascot has a strict dress code, especially for the Royal Enclosure and the Grandstand

What is Opening Day at Royal Ascot?

Royal Ascot is famous the world over for its glitz, glamour, royal patronage and, of course, for its top-class racing. The annual meet, which is held at the Ascot racecourse in Berkshire, is the most valuable on the UK racing calendar, with prize money of more than £5.5 million attracting some of the world's top thoroughbreds, as well as the best jockeys and the leading trainers in the sport.

All the action gets underway on Tuesday, known, quite simply as Opening Day. The first day always attracts huge crowds, including members of the Royal Family and plenty of other aristocrats and celebrities. As you might expect, then, Opening Day really captures the imagination and makes headlines around the world, not only for its racing but also for the high fashion on display.

What You Should Expect

Royal Ascot prides itself on its rich heritage and tradition, and so the experience of a race-goer in 2015 would be familiar to a fan attending the event in 1915 or 2015. Central to this tradition is the fact that each day follows a strict schedule.

So, the Opening Day schedule is as follows:

  • 10.30am: Gates Open: Before the action begins, guests have plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy a drink and some early lunch and just start enjoying themselves. What's more, you might want to get to Ascot early to have a look at the runners and inspect the ground, especially if you're serious about your betting. There are also plenty of stalls and stands where you can learn more about racing and pick up some memorabilia from the big day.  
  • 14.30: First Race: The racing gets underway in the early afternoon. Be sure to place your bets a few minutes earlier at the very latest as there are often queues. Also, be aware that things happen very punctually at Ascot – the Queen doesn't like to be kept waiting!
  • 14.00: The Royal Procession: Perhaps the most quintessentially British event on the sporting calendar, each afternoon of the Ascot meet, the Queen rides in a carriage down the racetrack. After riding down the Straight Mile, waving to the enthusiastic crowds, she will then take a turn of the Parade Ring before taking up her place in the Royal Enclosure.   
  • 17.35: Last Race: The day's racing comes to an end relatively early, especially in comparison to some other summer meets. Given this, you need to be sure you have all your bets in on time to avoid disappointment.  
  • 18.00: Music Around the Bandstand: Once the final race is over, you can still stay around at Ascot and enjoy some typically British entertainment. If your ticket permits, head to the Bandstand, where classic, patriotic songs and other old favourites are performed, to the delight of the happy crowds.

The Day's Racing

Alongside the glitz and the glamour and the fashion show taking place in the enclosures, Opening Day also includes a full programme of top-drawer racing, including three big Group 1 events. In order, the races of the first day of Royal Ascot are:

  • 2.30pm: The Queen Anne Stakes: Getting Royal Ascot off to a flying start is this Group 1 classic. Open to horses aged four-years-old and above, it's run along the Straight Mile and offers a prize fund of £400,000.
  • 3.05pm: The Coventry Stakes: The second race of the day is this Group 2 event. Run over a course of 6 furlongs, it’s a race for young novices and has a prize purse of £130,000.
  • 3.40pm: The King's Stand Stakes: The second Group 1 race of the day, this is open to novices aged three-years-old and above. It's a fast and furious race along a straight track of precisely 5 furlongs in distance and the winner gets the largest portion of the £395,000 prize purse.  
  • 4.20pm: The St James's Palace Stakes: Straight after the Opening Day highlight is the third and final Group 1 race of the first day's action. This time, the race is open to three-year-old colts only. The runners bolt along the Straight Mile as they compete for a prize purse of £395,000.   
  • 5.00pm: The Ascot Stakes: After the fast sprints comes this two-and-a-half marathon epic. The race is a Handicap event and is open to horses aged four years and above. A relatively small prize purse of £70,000 is on offer.
  • 5.35pm: The Windsor Castle Stakes: The final race of the day is a Listed event open to horses aged just two-years-old. It's run over 5 furlongs and again offers a £65,000 prize purse.

Opening Day Dress Code

The dress code at Royal Ascot is arguably as famous as the racing, if not more so. Not for nothing do pictures from the meet appear on TV screens and in newspapers the world over. So, as you might expect, the emphasis is on formal and stylish, with an official Royal Ascot Style Guide published each year so as to avoid any confusion or potential embarrassment.

Generally speaking, the sartorial rules for the different parts of the racecourse are as follows:

  • Royal Enclosure: As you might expect, if you're lucky enough to be sitting close to the Queen, you'll be expected to make an effort. So, in the Royal Enclosure, formal daywear is obligatory. This means black or grey morning suits, complete with tie and waistcoat and (uncustomised) top hat for the men, and smart, modest dress for the women. In terms of rules for female guests, they require hats to be worn at all time, plus all tops and skirts should be of modest lengths and proportions. 
  • Grandstand: The rules for the Grandstand at Ascot are still strict, though they are more relaxed. Men are simply required to wear a standard suit and tie at all times, while ladies need to wear formal dress complete with hat or fascinator. Again, the rules state that modesty should be observed at all times, so no strapless tops or dressed and no shorts or short skirts.
  • Silver Ring: For ticket-holders in the Silver Ring, no formal dress code applies, though many people still like to make the effort. That said, fancy dress, replica sports shirts and any promotional clothing is not permitted and will see you barred from the racecourse.

If you have any doubts about what you are required to wear, it's always making double-sure. After all, you don't want to get all the way to Ascot only to be turned away from Opening Day for wearing the wrong thing. So, for more information, consult the official Royal Ascot Style Guide 2017.  

Getting to Royal Ascot

Whether you're travelling by car or by public transport, getting to Ascot to see the Opening Day action for yourself is straightforward.

  • If you're travelling by car, then you will find Ascot Racecourse just off Junction 6 of the M4. After turning off here, follow the A332 towards Windsor and you will then see plenty of clear signs for the racecourse.
  • Alternatively, by train, you can catch a train directly to Ascot station from Reading and London Waterloo. From Ascot station is just a short walk and is well sign-posted. Plenty of taxis are also on hand during major meets, including the day of the Gold Cup.

For more information on getting to Ascot to see the Gold Cup action in person, check out the official website, where you can also find information about getting to the course by coach or even by helicopter. 

Note that during the Royal Ascot meet, a strict dress code is enforced. In the Royal Enclosure, for instance, women, must wear a day dress and a hat, while men must be dressed in a formal morning suit, complete with top hat.

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