The Horse Rider's Journal

Gems from Ascot’s history books


In homage to Longines and Ascot celebrating ten years of timing winners blazing across the finish line, here are five treasures from the legendary racetrack.

TEXT Anne Ulrikke Bak PHOTOGRAPHY Ascot & All Over Press

Ascot’s credentials hardly need verifying, but if you want proof of just how next level-fabulous the legendary racetrack is, please refer to its picnic policy: the only permitted alcoholic drink is sparkling wine and champagne. Which is rather fitting for a place where master watchmakers Longines keep track of time with an elegant chronometer and milliner collaborators include the likes of Stephen Jones, Phillip Treacy and Lady Laura Cathcart. This year, Ascot and Longines are celebrating 10 years of partnership (Longines are Official Timekeeper as well as the Official Watch of Ascot and Royal Ascot) and to mark the occasion, we thought we’d look through the treasure box that is Ascot’s 300-year history to dig out some eccentric and glamorous anecdotes.


The time Queen Anne did a reverse Scarlett O’Hara with green velvet curtains

Queen Anne founded Ascot Racecourse in 1711, and the first race meeting ever held there took place on Saturday, August 11. It is said that she imported a large quantity of forest green velvet from France to dress up her Yeoman Prickers, who were there for crowd control and used their prickers to move racegoers off the course. That particular practice wouldn’t look good today, but the green livery with gold facing has never gone out of fashion, and lives on in today’s Ascot Greencoats, the ceremonial guards for HM The Queen at Royal Ascot. Rumour has it that Queen Anne had yards of the French fabric left over and did a reverse Scarlett O’Hara by having curtains made up from it for all of Windsor Castle.

A Royal Ascot steward adjusts his hat during Day Five of the Royal Ascot meeting taking place at Ascot Racecourse, Ascot, Berkshire, on June 18th 2016

The time Yeats redefined poetry in motion

Hearing the name Yeats makes most people think of the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. But for race enthusiasts, the true Yeats is the Irish thoroughbred who won four unprecedented Gold Cups before retiring in 2009. A statue to commemorate his achievement now stands in the Parade Ring, and a Yeats miniature by the equine sculptor Charlie Langton was presented by Ascot to Juan-Carlos Capelli, Vice President of Longines, as a gift for the Ascot x Longines anniversary. Fun fact: the equine Yeats was actually named after W.B. Yeats’ brother, the painter Jack Butler Yeats who was a bit of a sportsman himself and won a silver medal for his painting The Liffey Swim at the Paris Olympic exhibition in 1924.

Horse Racing - Royal Ascot - Ascot Racecourse - 21/6/07 Yeats ridden by jockey Mick Kinane (Dark Blue) on his way to winning the 3.45 Gold Cup Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Scott Heavey Livepic
Yeats ridden by Mick Kinane in 2007. Credit: Action Images / Scott Heavey

All the times HM Queen Elizabeth II ruled (which is technically all the time, but you know what we mean)

It’s no secret that the Queen is quite the horse enthusiast. Throughout the years Her Majesty has had 22 Royal Ascot winners, and as recently as 2013, her filly Estimate won the prestigious Gold Cup with Ryan Moore in the saddle. (You can read our interview with Moore here where he speaks about riding for the Queen.) In 1954, when the Queen’s horse Aureole won, he had suffered a minor eye injury a few days before the race. Prior to the race, the Queen asked her jockey, Eph Smith (who wore a hearing-aid) whether he thought they would win. Smith’s reply: “Well, Ma’am, we are rather handicapped. The horse is blind in one eye and I’m deaf!” This year, the Gold Cup was renamed The Gold Cup In Honour of The Queen’s 90th Birthday, and the flowers and Royal Enclosure badges were themed with the Queen’s racing colours, which are similar to those used by her father and great-grandfather; a purple and scarlet jacket with gold braiding and a black cap. Some say that their first garbs were made from material left over from curtains in Windsor castle. A pattern seems to emerge. Let the Queen’s style help you step up your own Ascot wardrobe game – we’d like to see the turban back in biz!

Members of The Royal Family attend Royal Ascot, Ascot Racecourse, Ascot, Berkshire, UK on the 17th June 2016. Pictured: Queen, Queen Elizabeth Ref: SPL1303845 180616 Picture by: James Whatling Splash News and Pictures Los Angeles:310-821-2666 New York: 212-619-2666 London: 870-934-2666
Credit: All Over Press / James Whatling

The time hot pants nearly made it into the Royal Enclosure

In 1971 Royal Ascot approved hot pants for women as part of an outfit – ie a skirt with a slit to the hip. But the Duke of Norfolk, the Queen’s representative at Ascot, immediately put his foot down. “I wish to make it abundantly clear,” he said, “that the only form of ladies trousers permitted will be suits with long trousers.” At the time, the papers were keen to mention that the Duke’s family motto was “Virtue alone unconquerable”. It seems that the Duke of Norfolk was waging quite a war on fashion. As the New York Times wrote on April 28, 1971: “Last year his officials turned away a debutante wearing a two‐piece midi outfit with a bare midriff. Before that, the trouser suit was banned and previous fashion victims included Bermuda‐length shorts”.

The time bowler hats almost brought on a strike

The bowler hat is synonymous with Ascot, where it’s worn by the Ascot Stewards. It’s hard to imagine the Brits ever objecting to something as quintessentially British as the bowler hat – originally commissioned by William Coke to protect his gamekeepers’ heads from low-hanging branches when out riding – but nevertheless, the headgear nearly brought on a strike in the 1950s when it was introduced as a dress code to address slipping standards.

A man shelters from the rain under an umbrella at the race course in Ascot Berkshire England

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