Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Royal Ascot: England's Kentucky Derby

Is The Royal Ascot a HugeParty? Yes, it's a FancyHugeParty!

Just outside of London you will find a Horse Racing HugeParty. Dress to impress, eat and drink like a proper Englishman (or woman), and bet your entire travel budget on horses.

The Royal Ascot, Silver Ring, #HugeParty

On June 21, 2014, I attended The Royal Ascot with three friends (one from Chicago and an awesome married couple from London). The event is legendary, a fantastic mixture of high-end living and epic partying. The Royal Ascot is most easily compared to The Kentucky Derby stateside, except FIVE Days long!

The Royal Ascot Crew

A Short Trip from London

Realize this, you will be chastised for declaring that Ascot is in London. Upon the simplest of Google searches, I realized too late that Ascot is a city in an entirely different part of England. Unfortunately I didn't conduct this search beforehand... multiple Ascotians (Ascotites?) let me know they were not Londoners.

Scene from the rail, 25+ horses running a the same time!
The Champagne Started to Take Control

Catch a train from Waterloo station and venture 45 minutes west of London to Ascot, United Kingdom... home of Ascot Racecourse. Bring some booze for the trip, everyone else will be.

"Afternoon Tea", which included Jam & Cream on Scones

Read more here after the jump...

What to Expect?

  • Fancy (Formal) - People dress up for this formal affair. I'd use the term fancy, but fancy dress means dressing in funny costumes in England. The degree of formal wear depends on the section you're sitting in, but you can expect to see plenty of gentleman in "morning wear" (Top Hats and Vests), and women in summer dresses and hats (much like Kentucky Derby).
  • Champagne Picnic - If you have tickets for the Silver Ring (largest area, cheapest tickets), pack a picnic. Ascot abides by a one bottle of champagne per attendee, maximum four per picnic. I'm fairly confident you can sneak other booze into Ascot, we just didn't plan that far ahead. This was also my first opportunity to try "Afternoon Tea", minus the tea part. Cucumber/Butter finger sandwiches and Jam/Clotted Cream Scones didn't sound appealing, but were actually quite tasty!
  • Betting - Betting is a bit different at Ascot. I won't go into detail, you can watch here. One thing you should know, is that there are small "mom and pop" betting stations that give different odds. You can shop around, haggle a bit, and find the right bet you'd like. Pretty fun experience.
  • Cost - Not cheap, buy tickets well in advance or they will sell out and have to buy on "black market". You could also try to buy on site from scalpers, but there's no guarantee. Food was expensive and beers were somewhat reasonable for a live sporting event. All vendors took credit card, so save your money for the actual gambling.
  • Avoid!!! - Leaving immediately after the Event. Shortly after the last race, hordes of young and fun Brits pack the beer garden (with DJ) or beer tent (with live band). The party doesn't stop until much later.
Fancy Hat
Fancier Hat
Fanciest Hat!


Morning Wear at Ascot. Fancy.
Quite frankly, with the large amount of people, you'll run into a varying degree of friendliness and fun people. The Silver Ring is a rowdy crowd and it's where the action is. Afterwards, bars in Ascot are packed with winners toasting to their gambling prowess and losers sulking at the bottom of a bottle.

We found ourselves at Jagz Jazz Club, very close to Ascot train station. With live music, eight bars ready to serve and a large outdoor venue, we were able to meander through the crowd and enjoy quite a raucous event. Most people were welcoming and impressed at our attendance to what is perceived to be a secluded event.
Jagz Jazz Club, Live Music, Beer Garden

Varying HugeParty

One thing I've alluded to above would be the varying formal affair at Ascot. In conducting research beforehand, most articles speak of the formal  pageantry of the event, one where the Queen attends, and British people dress to impress. You'll see plenty of those people headed to the Grandstand (expensive seats) and Royal Enclosure (invite only).
Crowded Bars outside of Ascot

They don't tell you about The Silver Ring. The largest area, but darkest secret about Ascot. DJs, Live Music, countless bottles of champagne and beer throughout the day fill The Silver Ring. This is where the #HugeParty is realized.

Not Sober Sunsets: Ascot Edition

The Aftermath....
After a long day at the track we slugged onto a late train back to London. With not much gas left in the tank we struggled to continue our efforts at a local pub. I left Ascot a winner, both in my betting, and in life experience!

Horse Racing Quote

"A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries." – Will Rogers

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