|In this crowded engagement-list Ascot stands out as the best example of the democratic nature of the Season.|
ADMITTEDLY one aspect of Ascot is exclusive. It is the premier out-of-doors social function of the Season. It is Royal Ascot, and there are not many places left in England that can be labelled aristocratical. There is no need to be ashamed about the tag. In spite of certain elements, England is still a monarchical country with an aristocracy. But the public enjoy the day just as much. On the Heath is democracy in its breeziest sense . . . from champagne to jellied eels ... all contribute to a day graced by the pageantry of the Royal Procession when the Queen and members of the Royal Family with their guests drive along the course, originally, from the Golden Gates, into the enclosure behind the Royal Stand, That moment, crowned by the unfurling of the Royal Standard from the mast over the Royal Box, spans the centuries since the days of Queen Anne and Dean Swift. It mirrors the London Season in miniature.
ROYAL ASCOT is almost the last stronghold where England is shown to be a monarchical country with an aristocracy. It is Royal. It is aristocratical. That does not mean that it is peopled by the type which Goldsmith described:
"Pride in their port, defiance in their eye,
I see the lords of human life passing by."
Such individuals are completely out of date. If anything they belong to Edwardian days. Ascot in essence is much more embracive. It takes in every section of the community commencing with the Queen and Royal Family of England, and gradually absorbs every man, woman and child who has time to make holiday. I know of no other social function which has such contrasts. To watch the pageantry of state as the Royal Procession moves up the course into the enclosure behind the Royal Stand is to witness the spirit of history in motion. Here is a tradition that spans two centuries with three main characters . . . Queen Anne, Dean Swift, and a pretty maid-of-honour.
Ascot came into being at a troubled period of history. The Spanish succession was the cause of a war with France. Whigs and Tories were at loggerheads over the desirability of peace. Scotland and England were eyeing one another with suspicion. In the midst of this international and domestic unrest, the Queen developed a taste for horse-racing. During a drive over the Common at Ascot in the early summer of 1711, she viewed it with an eye as discerning as General Moncrieffe at Westward Ho! and gave orders that a racecourse should be laid out. Shortly afterwards an announcement was made that the Queen had presented a challenge plate. The London Gazette of izth July, 1711, announced that "Her Majesty's Plate of 100 guineas will be run for round the new heath on Ascot Common, near Windsor, on Tuesday, the 7th August next, by any horse, mare or gelding, being no more than six years old the grass before, as just be certified under the hand of the breeder, carrying 12 St., three heats, to be entered the last day of July, at Mr. Hancock's, at Fern Hill, near the Starting Post." The races were actually postponed until nth August, 1711, when Ascot Races were inaugurated by Queen Anne and her suite who drove in state from Windsor Castle.
Swift's connection and the link with the maid-of-honour can be briefly explained. A letter is in existence from Swift to Stella dated 13th August, 1711: "I missed the race today by coming too late, when everybody's coach was gone, and ride I would not" Yet, on loth August, 1711, he wrote: While at Windsor Dr. Arbuthnot, the Queen's physician and favourite, went out with me to show me the place; we went a little after the Queen and overtook Miss Forester, a maid-of-honour, on her palfry,taking the air; we made her go along with us. We saw a place they have made for a famous horse race tomorrow, where the Queen will come/* So much for the traditions and facade of convention that constitute Royal Ascot, though we must not forget, as Curling puts it so nicely, that "We owe our thanks to the First Gentleman in Europe, who founded the Royal procession when he came to the throne as George IV just over 130 years ago.
As regards the racing, it is the ambition of every owner to record a win on this course, not only because the stake-money ranks as the most valuable in the world, but nothing can equal it as a showground of what Britain can do in breeding and racing. I am not enlarging on the different races that are crammed into this stimulating meeting. There are usually six races each day, making a total of twenty-four, with an overall distance of 29 miles 3 furlongs and 35 yards. This includes the longest flat race in England, the Queen Alexandra Stakes run over a course of [?]z miles 6 furlongs and 75 yards. In most people's mind it will always be linked with two names Brown Jack and Steve Donoghue & unique combination of skill and stamina that produced six successive wins in this race, the last time being in 1934 when the gallant old horse was ten years of age.