Ascot racecourse: a brief history

Horse racing has been taking place at Ascot for exactly 300 years. Yet for most of that time there was just one meeting a year, the Royal meeting.

Queen Anne founded the racecourse in 1711, at a time when Ascot was known as East Cote. She described the area of heath land as an ideal place for "horses to gallop at full stretch." And for the first race, Her Majesty's Plate, there was plenty of galloping to be done. This race was in fact a series of three heats, each over a distance of 4 miles, in which the seven runners each had to carry 12 stone. Give you a rather different perspective on flat racing, although of course Ascot still hosts Britain's longest flat race, the Queen Alexandra Stakes.

The first actual track was laid out in the late 18th century, and has remained largely unchanged since then. A Parliamentary Act of Enclosure passed in 1813 ensured that the area, although the property the Crown, would be kept and used as a racecourse.

Until 1939, the Royal meeting was the only racing to take place at Ascot. It remained exclusively a flat venue until shortly after the closure in 1962 of Hurst Park racecourse just across the Thames. Ascot then developed its own jumps course to take over the Hurst Park fixtures. The first meeting on the National Hunt track took place in 1965, and it is that event that is recognised in this weekend's grade 2 Amlin 1965 Chase.

It's perhaps because jump racing is relatively new to Ascot that's the course has yet to establish its place as a major NH venue, although The Long Walk Hurdle and the Victor Chandler Chase are now established as significant Cheltenham Festival trials. The decision in 2009 of the BBC to drop coverage of jump racing Ascot was a disappointment, and while it's difficult to see live action over the fences these days, Dick Francis has at least preserved a view of it in his novel Nerve. "Template jumped the four fences down to Swinley Bottom so brilliantly that I kept finding myself crowding the tails of the pacemakers as we landed."

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