I don’t do hats. I just don’t have a hat head, unless you count the woolly kind with a bobble on top. Yet somehow I didn’t think it would be acceptable to parade one of those around amongst Britain’s elite at Royal Ascot. I’d wanted to strut my stuff at ‘Ladies Day’ for years, and mum’s semi-significant birthday this month seemed like the perfect excuse. Only problem was finding a dammed hat!
In the end I settled for a jaunty number that was neither hat nor fascinator, mainly because the excellent sales woman in our local store remarked that it made me look younger. Since when did I become so old that those sort of comments matter???
Sophistication has never come easily to me. I’m the one who walks into tables, trips over my own feet, and feels more comfortable in wellies. How was I going to survive Ladies Day? Yet I’ve always been a bit of a closet princess. I used to live in a castle (I’ll tell you about that someday!), attend balls, and wear gowns, and have always delighted foreigners with my ‘posh’ English accent.
Ladies Day at Royal Ascot however both terrified and excited me. I fully expected to feel like a fish out of water, but the prospect of placing my first ever bet, seeing the Queen and watching the races was just too thrilling to miss.
Tips on how to survive Ladies Day at Royal Ascot
1. Choose your enclosure wisely.
There are several different enclosures at Royal Ascot to choose from, depending on your budget and what you want to experience.
Windsor – a less formal enclosure and much cheaper option than the Queen Anne, this area has great views of the race track. Yet it is some distance from the winning post and the main action. One bonus however is that picnics, blankets and chairs are allowed!
Queen Anne – we were really happy with our choice of the Queen Anne Enclosure. It’s right in the thick of the action, with fabulous views of the Royal Procession, the Parade Rings and the racing track. You can also get fairly close to the winning post too, which is pretty cool. Picnics aren’t allowed, but the lawns behind the Grandstand had several eating places and watering holes to choose from. You can also pre-book afternoon tea!
Royal – entrance is by invitation only, so get hobnobbing!
The traditional car park picnic before entering the enclosures is popular, but to be honest it’s not a great setting, surrounded by cars, and mud if it’s been raining. We opted to grab a bite to eat at one of the many food stalls inside the Queen Anne Enclosure, just try to avoid the lunchtime rush if you want a seat!
2. Check the Royal Ascot dress code carefully.
If you want to survive Ladies Day you’ll know it’s all about playing dress up, outrageous hats included! There sure were some monstrosities there in the millinery department, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t more. Probably less than 10% of visitors had on something truly special, whilst the rest had clearly just popped down to their local department store. Me included. There are strict dress standards, such as no thin shoulder straps or short skirts, but there were some race goers who had clearly slipped past the dress ‘police’ on the door. Some of the ladies would have looked more at home on a tacky hen party weekend in Prague than at Royal Ascot. It certainly made me realise I had nothing to worry about!
3. Plan your day before you arrive.
I was worried there would be a lot of hanging around between races, but it was in fact quite the opposite. If you want to bet and watch each race (and collect your winnings) there’s barely time to even grab a drink let alone have lunch! So make sure you have a good breakfast just in case!
We decided to watch each race from a different vantage point, which worked superbly.
We alternated between the Grandstand tiers, the track side lawns up near the winning post, and right up next to the track itself. For other races we waited by the Parade Ring to see the horses and jockeys close, as well as the winners being presented with their trophies afterwards.
You should also work out where you want to watch the Royal Procession from…the Parade Ring, the Grandstand or the rails.
4. Learn how to place a bet.
I didn’t have a clue about this so embarrassingly spent an hour watching ‘how to’ You Tube videos before the big day. It was quite an education. There are good guidelines on the Royal Ascot website too, and you’ll definitely get more out of the day if you don’t turn up clueless.
Purchase a race card for £5 (you can pre-pay for these when you book your ticket and pick them up at kiosks inside the enclosure). It’s a programme for the day and has all the race information you’ll need to make your betting decisions.
Understand betting jargon.
The most important terms you need to know are:
Each Way – if you aren’t confident of picking a winner, you can hedge your bets by putting a stake on ‘each way’. This basically means your bet consists of two wagers. The first is for your horse to win, whilst the second is for the horse to simply be ‘placed’, or to come in second or third.
For example a total bet of £5 will give you £2.50 wager on a win, and a £2.50 wager on a place. If your horse does win, you will cash up on both wagers, whereas if your horse comes in second or third, you just win on half of your total bet.
Odds – the likely ratio of winnings to bet placed. Odds at the bookmakers are displayed as a fraction. If the odds are 7/1 this means you’ll win £7 for every £1 bet placed. If the odds are 7/2 this means you’ll win £3.50 for every £1 place (just divide the first by the second!).
Favourite – the horse most likely to win. This therefore means the odds will be low (e.g. 2/1) so you won’t win much.
Stake – the amount you wager.
5. Know your 3 betting options at Royal Ascot:
Totepool – this works more like a lottery, and initially sounded much simpler than the other betting methods. There are several different bets with the Totepool, but the most popular is the ‘placepot’. This just requires you to pick a placed horse in each race. So you can win without backing a winner! Yet in reality we found working out the rules really confusing, and were already losers after the first race! Personally I wouldn’t bother in future with betting this way.
Betting Ring – by far the most fun way to place bets, this was definitely our favourite. Rows of individual bookmakers are lined up in front of the Grandstand, showing their available odds. Betting only opens for one race at a time (I’d foolishly thought we could place bets for all races at once). Odds do change, so keep an eye out and pounce when you think they’re at their best. The bookmakers don’t all have the same odds either, so it’s worth shopping around. Just remember where you placed your bet so you know where to return for your winnings (the name of the bookies does appear on the ticket!).
Here you can place ‘win’ or ‘each way’ bets. I was most successful with each way bets!
Betting shops -there is a betting shop with fixed odds on the concourse, but we thought it was more exciting to enjoy the constantly changing odds of the betting ring so didn’t try this option.
Set yourself a betting budget and stick to it. I didn’t and still haven’t dared tot up just how much money I lost!
6. Decide on a method of choosing which horse to back.
There are 6 races on Ladies Day (also known as Gold Cup Day). Choose a horse, a jockey, an owner or a colour. It really doesn’t matter which way you do it, and the experts often get it wrong too so just go with what you feel. Mum and I began our day reading about the form of the horse, looking carefully at the odds and betting accordingly. Whilst mum won on her first race (which I’m obviously delighted about and not at all jealous), these tactics failed miserably for me.
On the second race I went with the jockey and picked Frankie Dettori, as at least I’d heard of him! Alas he didn’t win. So with the third race I moved on to a much easier and fun method. Choosing the horse with the coolest name! This worked and I came away with a rather handsome wodge of cash thanks to Ajman Princess who came second at 33/1 (I’d bet each way). I wasn’t quite so lucky with Burmese, Tiberian or Wasir but hey, you can’t win ’em all.
Later in the day we got a bit silly and placed bets on horses with ridiculous odds. Funnily enough the ones at 100/1 didn’t perform and I promptly lost everything that I’d won. I justified this by declaring it was about enjoying the day rather than making a profit, although I was
irked overjoyed that mum actually came away with more money than she arrived with!
7. How to arrive?
Many people opted to come by train, but we chose car (despite the hefty £30 car parking charge) to give us more independence. Just leave PLENTY of time as the roads get totally clogged up with race traffic. We aimed to get there at 11.30 but in reality didn’t set foot in our enclosure until after 1pm and nearly missed the Royal Procession.
8. Think about your footwear.
What is more important, looking posh or being comfortable? If you want to survive Ladies Day you need to think carefully about this. I hedged my bets and put a pair of my trusty fold up ballerina pumps from Butterfly Twists in my handbag for when my heels got too much. Which I was incredibly thankful for once I realised we’d be on our feet the ENTIRE day. And no, heels aren’t great on damp grass!
9. To sing or not to sing.
There is a tradition that racegoers in the Royal and Queen Anne Enclosures are invited to sing around the bandstand after the last race of the day. Classics such as Rule Britannia, and We’ll Meet Again are belted out across the lawns. Singing isn’t my forte, so we took the opportunity to leave before the masses descended on the car park.
After all, Cinderella left the ball early didn’t she!
10. Take an umbrella.
Just in case the traditional English summer lives up to expectations! We were so lucky we didn’t have to use ours despite the ominous thunder clouds that loomed over the track the whole day (the heavens opened just as we returned to the car).
So did we survive Ladies Day? The Verdict
I was a little apprehensive about being out of my depth at Royal Ascot, but needn’t have worried. The whole day was actually quite a relaxed affair and didn’t feel half as pretentious as I feared. The emphasis really is on everyone having a good time, from the highest royal to the lowliest subject.
Ladies day was so much fun. I loved learning how to bet (and can see why some people are addicted!) and the anticipation of each race was excitement itself! I thought the hordes of people would make me uncomfortable (I’m not a crowd person), but actually they were what made the day. It felt great to be a part of something special, and the buzz of the crowd, the power of the horses thundering past and the roar as they reached the winning post made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
I’ve always said going to Royal Ascot would be a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, but now I’m not so sure. We did more than just survive Ladies Day and I’d quite happily go again.
Just as long as I don’t have to buy a new hat!