The definitive 10-step guide to the ultimate Royal Ascot experience

Experiences

Royal Ascot has just concluded, and the biggest week in the flat racing calendar did not disappoint. Forbes Australia caught up with all of the pomp and pageantry that one might expect of the oldest horse racing event in Europe to bring you the definitive 10-step guide to the greatest show on turf.  
A general view of the Royal Procession during day four of Royal Ascot 2023 at Ascot Racecourse on June 23, 2023 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
1. Know the backstory 

Royal Ascot is arguably the greatest and most unique showcase of international horse racing in the world. Hosted at one of the great stages of world racing at Ascot, the Royal meeting sees the attendees take a step back to more traditional times, with morning suits and top hats being the order of the day for gentlemen and strict formal daywear for the ladies being obligatory for those that wish to enter the Royal Enclosure. As an event, there isn’t anything quite like it. 

According to international racing expert Kevin Blake: “on the racing front, the Royal meeting hosts five days of world-class action on the track. Representatives from Ascot travel all over the world to try and encourage the owners of the best racehorses to aim them towards Royal Ascot”. 

 “This results in a parade of international stars from the likes of Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, America, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong, amongst others descending on Royal Ascot to try and prove themselves to be the best,” Blake says. 

2. Hit the Goffs Pre-party Auction 
Auctioneer Henry Beeby sells GiveMeTheBeatBoys to Bronsan Racing for AUD$2.11M / GBP£1.1M

The auctioneers Goffs host a horse auction on the grounds of Kensington Palace alongside Privat3’s banking aficionado Reda Bedjaoui. Here amongst the rosé and canapes, you can buy a horse that has an entry to Royal Ascot itself – just the next day. On the most recent occasion, the crowd of hundreds cheered as the famed auctioneer Henry Beeby dropped the hammer for GBP£1.1M (AUD$2.11M) to Bronsan Racing for a 2-year-old horse from Bansha House Stables GiveMeTheBeatBoys that would run the very next day under the legendary jockey Frankie Dettori (more on him later).  

3. Set up Camp 

Ascot is outside of London, and on race days – whether by car or public transport – it feels far outside. Even the most eager and early of racegoers wind up hitting the customary Ascot tailbacks, which can last hours. So staying close to the racecourse is a must. The Fairmont Windsor Park, a 10-minute drive from the course, is the shining jewel in local accommodation – ask Tony at the door for a tip. A truly ‘top geezer’. 

4. Tops and Tails 
Racegoers Holly Poots and Donna Sands in the Royal Enclosure, makeup by @littledollfaceofficial

Ascot offers the finest of the fine regarding hair makeup and sartorial choices. “Ascot is a great place to meet people, and putting your best face forward makes a great first impression, ” says Alisia Ristevski, a hair and makeup artist with Royal credentials. “It goes back to the age-old saying: When you look good, you feel good.” Every area of Ascot has its dress code: for men, it is topcoat and tails, while for women, the tradition is, and ever will be the hat. Iona Devine is ‘top the pops’ on this, ladies. 

5. Get the inside scoop 
Sydney’s premier bloodstock agent James Harron is one of the sport’s titans in the Southern Hemisphere

Based outside Sydney, bloodstock agent James Harron arrived at Royal Ascot with what can only be described as an entourage of international clients, who have trusted him with acquiring the finest racehorses the Australian dollar can buy. James, originally from a generation of horse experts from Ireland, is one of the leading figures in the Australian bloodstock industry, numbering such horses as Group 1 Golden Slipper winner Capitalist and Group 1 Melbourne Cup winner Fiorente amongst his purchases, with over thirty individual stakes-winning racehorses purchased in ten years of operation. He has another runner this year, Cannonball – alongside a host of Australian interests, the best of whom Docklands took home the gold for the legendary Terry Henderson of OTI Racing @otiracing in Melbourne. 

6. Wave to the Royal Procession 
Britain’s Prince William, Prince of Wales (L) and Britain’s Catherine, Princess of Wales (C) smile as they arrive in a horse-drawn carriage, part of the Royal Procession on the fourth day of the Royal Ascot horse racing meeting in Ascot. Image: Getty

Before the world’s finest racehorses thunder down the track, the regal charm of the procession of the British royal family adds a touch of English pageantry to the already glamorous affair. Led by the esteemed members of the British Royal Family, elegantly adorned in their finest attire, the procession echoes an aura of timeless tradition and grandeur. The magnificence of the event was amplified by the resplendent carriages drawn by stunning horses as they made their way through the cheering crowds. From the King’s arrival to the graceful presence of other royal dignitaries, the Royal Procession at Royal Ascot 2023 exemplified the presence of King and Queen, Charles and Camilla, leaving an indelible impression on all who gathered to return a gentle wave to the regal spectacle. 

7. Rub elbows with the celebs 
Lydia Millen in her Royal Ascot attire, made by LK Bennett & a host of other UK creators. Image: Instagram

Whether it’s the royal Zara Tindall or Clooney or Becks, Ascot always boasts a cadre of domestic and international stars for you to socialize with over a glass of Pimms. Keep an eye out for Sydney’s own Jules Robinson in the Royal Enclosure as she dazzles in a vibrant orange dress created by Mariam Seddiq. 

Jules Robinson and Cam Merchant. Image: Supplied

Amongst more notable British personalities were Ms Lydia Millen wearing an LK Bennett silk dress and Emily London hat combination – made in the UK, naturally. “Ascot is just such a unique celebration of the best of both traditional and modern British culture – there’s nothing quite like it,” she says.  

8. Pick a Winner 
A family affair: Joseph P. O’Brien and Aidan O’Brien (pictured) celebrate wins along with brother Donnacha O’Brien also winning and taking 1st at Royal Ascot

For all the tens of thousands of air miles that will be accumulated by runners en route to Royal Ascot, it is those from neighbouring Ireland that consistently provide the strongest international challenge at the meeting. Spearheaded by those representing Aidan O’Brien, arguably the greatest racehorse trainer of all time, Irish-trained horses regularly win an array of the most high-profile contests at Royal Ascot. There seems to be something lucky about the horse trainer parent and children duos at Royal Ascot that may hold some luck. Two of Aidan’s sons Joseph and Donnacha O’Brien, both world renown trainers in their own rights, both scored big wins over the week – while the mother-daughter combination of Jessica and Kate Harringon blazed to victory in the fillies handicap race with Villanova Queen.

9. Catch a flying dismount 
Airborne Frankie Dettori closed out his last Royal Ascot with a host of winning performances

No guide to Royal Ascot would be complete without a nod to the Italian veteran jockey Frankie Dettori. This meeting would be his very last time on the hallowed turf in Windsor and with 81 career wins at the course, his customary flying dismount was seen a number of times across the 5 days of racing. Most notable was his performance at the most prestigious race of the week, the Gold Cup victory on Courage Mon Ami.

10. Hit the afterparty 
Mother & daughter team Jessica & Kate Harrington (pictured) celebrate with their Kensington Palace Stakes winning trophy

After the racing each day, the bandstand rings out with familiar tunes as a full brass band host the time-tested Ascot singsong. It’s a time for racegoers from every tier of attendance to get together and join a chorus of Delilah or Sweet Caroline together. This view is echoed by Irish horse racing journalist and thoroughbred breeder Kevin Blake: “Royal Ascot is out on its own as a racing spectacle. The quality of racing can be rivalled by some other international meetings, but none of them can compete with the prestige and pomp of Royal Ascot. It is an extraordinary five days, and everyone involved in horse racing wants to be involved in a horse that can compete there.”  

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