Ascot was a royal idea from the start. Today, England's famous racecourse refers to only one four-day meeting, in mid-June, as "Royal Ascot," because that is when the royal family traditionally attends, but its connections with the crown go back to 1711. In the spring of that year Queen Anne rode out in her carriage from Windsor Castle, observed the rolling beauty of the heathland about her and ordered the Duke of Somerset to map out a track. The first meeting was held in August, and Royal Ascot has thrived on a mixture of blue bloods, high and low fashion and genuine racing enthusiasm ever since (following pages). To be in that area of the stands surrounding the Royal Box and known as the Royal Enclosure (right) is to have climbed to the peak of the social season. Only about 8,000 badges granting admission to the Enclosure are issued; formal dress, previously required, was made optional just this year. Betting during Royal Ascot is usually three times that of a regular meeting, though only the volume increases, not the size of the wagers. "In fact," says one betting agency official, "it is quite a sight to see the long line of top hats at the four-bob windows."
In the VIP parking lot across the road from the racetrack, picnicking is high style. The tailgate belongs to a Rolls or a Bentley, well-aged Scotch and champagne are the drinks and liveried footmen are brought along to serve.
Ascot is a splendid place to be seen as well as to see. Ladies with outlandish hats are sure of an appreciative audience, and groups of young mods come up from London and stand around expectantly, hoping a photographer will pass.
Behind the new stands that comprise the Royal Enclosure, the elite of England mingle before the Queen and Prince Philip arrive and the racing begins. The royal entourage rides out from Windsor Castle in limousines but transfers near the course to open landaus drawn by four Windsor grays to make a suitably regal entrance.