Everything You Need To Know About Ascot Racecourse
Last updated & tested: 2020-01-12
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Ascot races date back to 1711 when the course was founded by Queen Anne – the last British monarch from the House of Stuart. She was a great patron of horse racing and we have her to thank for Royal Ascot – further evidence this is the sport of kings and queens. This corner of Berkshire is a mere six miles away from Windsor Castle, so that close proximity to a royal residence adds even more weight to the concept. More recently the course, which is right-handed and dual-purpose in that it is used for both Flat and jumps racing, has become home to British Champions Day replacing Newmarket.
While the history and prestige of the royal meeting dominates popular thoughts of Ascot, the track is used all year round in one sphere or another. We’ll talk about the top-class National Hunt action as well as the level below, but first a little bit more about the venue. It is a very testing and galloping track that will stretch Flat and jumps horses alike. There’s a straight which hosts races on the level up to a mile and there’s also a round course as you’d expect that reaches its nadir at Swinley Bottom at the end of back straight. Ascot horse racing is used on 26 different racedays, predominantly for Flat racing and 13 of the 36 Group 1 events in the UK are held here. There are three Grade 1s that take place under National Hunt rules, meanwhile. Let’s learn more about the main meetings at Ascot.
Popular Ascot racecourse events for betting
You are certainly not short of events to bet on at Ascot races. From Clarence House Chase day in January right through to the two-day jumps meeting the weekend before Christmas which contains the Long Walk Hurdle, there are National Hunt and Flat fixtures throughout the course of the year. We’ll take you through the main Ascot racecourse events now…
Clarence House and Ascot Chase meetings key for Cheltenham
Six horses have landed the 2m Clarence House Chase at Ascot racecourse in January and gone on to land the fellow Grade 1 Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in the same season. That honour roll includes the great Desert Orchid and in more recent times Sprinter Sacre and Un De Sceaux – a record three-time Clarence House hero. Paul Nicholls is the most successful trainer in it, however, saddling five previous winners.
Supporting this Saturday fixture that is traditionally held the weekend before Cheltenham Festival Trials Day are the 3m Grade 2 Wafrield Mares’ Hurdle and the extended 2m 3f Grade 3 Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle over the same trip as the Ascot Hurdle which we’ll come on to talk about later.
Come mid-February, meanwhile, the 2m 5f Grade 1 Ascot Chase that can be used a stepping stone to either the Ryanair Chase over the same trip or Cheltenham Gold Cup at the Festival has had some of the most popular National Hunt horses of recent times win it. They include dual winners Cue Card (2013 and 2016) and Monet’s Garden (2007 and 2010), but also Kauto Star (2008).
The Listed Swinley Chase is a 3m handicap over fences that has history as a trial run for the old Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown. Horses with Ladbrokes Trophy or Welsh Grand National ambitions in future can go in this one which is one of two supporting races on Ascot Chase day. And the Group 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase over the same trip is a trial for the RSA Chase trial which has been won by the likes of subsequent Grand National hero Royal Athlete, 1997 Cheltenham Gold Cup victor Mr Mulligan and sole dual Ryanair Chase winner Albertas Run.
Before we come to the royal meeting, there’s a couple of decent Flat cards prior to it. The first is on a Wednesday in April where the feature is an early season test for older stayers in the shape of the 2m Group 3 Sagaro Stakes. Double Trigger is the most famous dual winner of that, while there’s also the 6f Group 3 Pavillion Stakes for three-year-olds only. There’s also a Listed straight mile contest in the Paradise Stakes on this card. The Victoria Cup, meanwhile, is a hot 7f handicap in May for four-year-olds and up in May.
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For five days in the middle of June every year, Ascot horse racing is thrust centre stage with a royal audience and procession down the home straight before the action gets underway. That’s how a day’s racing at Royal Ascot works. As noted above, there are six races each day from Tuesday to Saturday, so that’s 30 in total. In amongst hot handicaps and juvenile races galore, there are eight Group 1 events at this meeting.
The first of those gets proceedings underway in the form of the Queen Anne Stakes over the straight mile for four-year-olds and up. Top-class sprinters also get their chance on day 1 of the royal meeting in the King’s Stand Stakes over the flying five furlongs and that race is also open to three-year-olds, who get weight-for-age. The third Group 1 on Tuesday is the St James’s Palace Stakes for three-year-old colts only over the round mile off level weights. As for the supporting cards, there’s a 2m 4f handicap in the Ascot Stakes, the Group 2 Coventry Stakes for juveniles over 6f and a Listed race for older horses in the 1m 2f Wolferton Stakes.
Group 2 action comes thick and fast on the Wednesday of the royal meeting, building up to the main event and top grade Prince Of Wales’s Stakes – a 1m 2f event for four-year-olds and up. There’s an early St Leger trial in the form of the 1m 6f Queen’s Vase (this used to be a two-mile race), a juvenile fillies sprint in the Queen Mary Stakes over 5f and a straight mile contest for the older females in the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (formerly the Windsor Forest). The Royal Hunt Cup is one of the hottest mile handicaps of the season – again on the straight course – and the Jersey Stakes is a Group 3 for three-year-olds only over 7f.
Thursday is Gold Cup day – the acid test for any Flat stayer as this Group 1 is over 2m 4f. This most historic of Ascot races was won four times in succession by the mighty Yeats between 2006 and 2009. He has since become an influential sire of National Hunt horses after these incredible exploits on the track. Building up to the Ascot Gold Cup, we have another juvenile sprint in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes over 5f, a Group 3 1m 2f event in the three-year-olds only Hampton Court Stakes (also known as the Tercentenary) and the 1m 4f Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes for three-year-old fillies. Two handicaps round off the day three card in the form of the three-year-olds colts and geldings only Britannia Stakes over the straight mile and the 1m 4f King George V Stakes, which is open to all three-year-olds.
Two Group 1s headline Friday with the Commonwealth Cup over 6f the newest race at the royal meeting. While that is a 6f sprint for three-year-olds, some top fillies of that age also contest the Coronation Stakes over the round mile in the other main event on day four. The main supporting race is the 1m 4f Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes or the ‘Ascot Derby’ as it’s unofficially known, because three-year-old colts and geldings only go in it. There’s also another Group 2, the Albany Stakes over 6f for juvenile fillies, and a couple of handicaps. The Sandringham Stakes is a straight mile event for three-year-old fillies and the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes is a 1m 4f test open to all horses except two-year-olds.
And so to Saturday, where the 6f Diamond Jubilee Stakes for older horses is the Group 1 feature. Supporting this on the final day of the royal meeting are the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes over 1m 4f again for four-year-olds and up and the ultimate test of a Flat horse’s endurance in the extended 2m 5f Queen Alexandra Stakes – a conditions race that often attracts National Hunt thoroughbreds. Two juvenile Listed contests, the 5f Windsor Castle Stakes and 7f Chesham Stakes (where entries have to be sired by winners of races at 1m 2f or further) complete the card alongside the Wokingham Stakes – a handicap over 6f for three-year-olds and up.
Summer Mile and King George light up midsummer
There are also a couple of meetings at Ascot racecourse in July with the Summer Mile, a Group 2 contest on the round course, happening a couple of weeks before King George weekend. Both of these events are two-day affairs, but the main action at both takes place on the Saturday.
Supporting the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes – a usually hot Group 1 test over 1m 4f – are races like the 6f Group 3 Princess Margaret Stakes for juvenile fillies and the Listed 7f Pat Eddery Stakes which is also for two-year-olds. The King George itself gives three-year-olds who have excelled in Classics and other top-notch races the chance to take on their elders over this middle distance and they get weight-for-age when doing so.
Shergar Cup and Challenge Cup
By far the most novel of Ascot racecourse events, though, is the Shergar Cup in August. It’s a team event where jockeys ride in five of the six races representing either the UK and Ireland, Europe, the Rest of the World and a female riders only contingent. Points are awarded for winners and places down to fifth. There are Dash and Sprint events over 5f and 6f respectively, a mile race, a Classic middle-distance and another 1m 4f contest for older horses and one for Stayers. The team with the most points win the Shergar Cup – named in honour of the 1981 Epsom Derby winner, who was then stolen by the IRA.
Before Ascot Champions Day comes round, there’s another cup on offer in the form of the 7f Challenge Cup – a Heritage Handicap that is always ultra competitive. Over the two days of this meeting, there’s also a couple of Listed races which include the Noel Murless Stakes over 1m 6f for three-year-olds. Group 3 action also takes place with the 6f Bengough Stakes that is open to all horses except juveniles and the Cumberland Lodge Stakes that allows similar entries over 1m 4f.
Ascot Champions Day attractive at end of Flat season
British Champions Day at Ascot is towards the end of October when the Flat season in the UK and Ireland is winding down. The Balmoral Handicap (over the straight mile and open to horses aged three and up) apart, every other race on this card is a championship event. There’s a Group 2 Long Distance Cup over 2m that gives stayers one last chance to shine, the Sprint Stakes is over 6f, fillies and mares have their own middle-distance race over 1m 4f and the Champion Stakes itself is a 10-furlong (1m 2f) test.
The straight mile is also used for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, which like the other three races just mentioned holds Group 1 status. Many of these Ascot Champions Day events were once ran at Newmarket, which is known as the headquarters of Flat racing. Going conditions are usually very different to the royal meeting because it’s a different time of year, and winning horses may need to prove they can act on softer ground than they get during the summer months.
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Jumps racing returns with Sodexo Gold Cup and Ascot Hurdle
When the Flat finishes, National Hunt racing returns with a bang and there’s plenty to get excited about in that sphere at Ascot as the year starts to draw to a close. The Sodexo Gold Cup, usually on the first Saturday of November, is a 3m handicap test over fences that gives promising stayers an early jumps season crack at Grade 3 level. There’s also Listed handicaps over both sets of obstacles supporting this race.
The Ascot Hurdle, meanwhile, is the centrepiece of two days of jumps racing at this venue on the last Friday and Saturday of the month. That often means it clashes with Betfair Chase at Haydock, but it’s the smaller obstacles that provide the main interest on the big day. This hurdle race, sponsored by Coral for some years, is an extended 2m 3f test which mean it appeals to both horses stepping up from two-mile events and more staying types that may contest longer distance contests in future.
Dawn Run (1983) and Annie Power (2013) are two examples of great mares that won the Ascot Hurdle before going on to bigger and even better things. The honour roll also includes Baracouda and Hardy Eustace, who both won back-to-back renewals, and Faugheen who, like Annie Power was trained by master Irish handler Willie Mullins. Supporting the big race is another Grade 2 event, the 1965 Chase over 2m 5f.
Christmas racedays round off busy year
And finally, the festive season is in full swing at Ascot as it hosts Grade 1 action in the form of the Long Walk Hurdle over 3m on the Saturday before Christmas. Prior to that, the Friday of this two-day meeting has a Listed Bumper that has been won by the likes of 2014 Irish Grand National hero Shutthefrontdoor and top-class hurdler Supasundae.
The Grade 2 Noel Novices’ Chase is also on this card over 2m 5f and was famously won by Remittance Man, who went on to land both the Arkle and Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Paul Nicholls has been responsible for three of the last four winners, while there’s also a key trial for the Supreme in the Grade 2 Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle at 2m that Nicky Henderson has saddled five victors.
As for the Long Walk itself, this is obviously important for horses aiming at the Stayers’ Hurdle and the race has thrown up many multiple winners. Long-distance legends like Baracouda (four times), Big Buck’s and Reve De Sivola (three times) have all enjoyed many successes in the Long Walk.
Supporting the Grade 1 are a graduation chase over the Ascot Chase trip of 2m 5f that always attracts classy entries and some hot handicaps. The Silver Cup is a Listed 3m test that was famously won by the great Arkle, but it’s no so fashionable now given its proximity to the racing calendar to the King George VI Chase at Kempton. There’s also a 2m Grade 3 handicap hurdle that multiple Cheltenham Festival race winner Cause Of Causes landed early on his career.
Who is the best bookmaker for betting on Ascot races?
Given we’re dealing with a dual-purpose venue that hosts plenty of great horse racing, you want a bookmaker that offers value across both codes when betting on Ascot. Betfair fits the bill nicely with promotions galore when events from this track are broadcast on terrestrial television. More than that, though, they claim to offer the best prices most often on races all in a bid to get you to place your bets with them. Once you’ve signed up to Betfair, the wonderful thing is that you have access to both their sportsbook and exchange when before they used to be separate. If you’re not aware of what betting on exchanges is like, you can back horses as well as lay them and you’re taking on other punters than the bookies themselves. This could mean an even better price than regular fixed odds markets. There is also access to bets in-running, like in-play betting with football but for horses. Many other bookmakers do not yet provide this service because of how rapidly odds are needed to update with some races taking less than a minute start to finish. As well as getting the best odds guaranteed all UK and Irish horse racing, all this is at your fingertips through Betfair.
Read our Ascot tips before you take a punt
You are never short of things to bet on at this racecourse. Providing Ascot tips thus keeps our experts busy all year round and they carefully consider the best bets on offer right across the Flat and jumps action. Our tipsters are old hands at this game with years of experience and aren’t afraid to money where their mouths are. They’re on the lookout to find the value punt for you, because modern life can be busy and you may not always have as much time to study the races as you’d like. You’ll find three selections put forward per race or card covered on OpenOdds. The first pick is our experts’ main bet to land the spoils. This will not only be reckoned most likely to win, but also the best value and that means sometimes we’ll take on the favourites and be on them on other occasions. Given the competitive nature of many events taking place at Ascot, there is always likely to be a danger and we’ll also highlight which horses fit into that category for you. In big field handicaps, each-way betting can be particularly important, so we’ve also got our experts’ eyes trained on dark horses that may outrun their bigger odds and into the frame. You should find there’s something for every type of gambler in our Ascot tips, which of course tell you at the time of writing which bookies have the best odds.
Tips for races at Ascot
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Lean on our experts for advice on Ascot horse racing
There may be one or two terms or things about betting on races at Royal Ascot or one of the other meetings held at this course that you’re not 100 per cent clear on. That’s nothing to worry about as we’ve made a pledge to leave newbies on gambling on the horses better informed. By visiting the OpenOdds glossary section, you can see all sorts of articles written by our experts that explain racing and betting terminology in plain English. If you want to know the difference between a forecast and a patent, now you can! What is an allowance as opposed to a handicap? All that is explained and more in our easy to understand glossary. Now there’s no need to feel like you’re in the dark with all the horse racing jargon!
When it comes to being across the latest news that affects and entries for Ascot races, meanwhile, our racing experts keep you up to date with all the latest information and developments. When weights for big handicaps come out or are changed due to a non-runner, then that can impact on the betting you’ve either done in advance or thinking of doing before the off. We understand a punter’s perspective on this better than anyone and take an approach to breaking stories that is firmly couched in terms of what does it mean for the market?