Royal Ascot Race Histories
Royal Ascot is steeped in history and below is a brief guide to the stories behind some of the most famous races:
The Queen Anne Stakes (Group One)
Founded in 1840, the Queen Anne Stakes commemorates the monarch who established racing at Ascot in 1711. Run as the Trial Stakes until 1929, the Queen Anne Stakes was first awarded Group Three status in 1971, becoming Group Two in 1984. The race, attracting Europe’s top older milers, achieved the highest three-year average rating of any Group Two race in Britain from 1999 to 2002 according to the then International Classifications and was elevated to Group One status accordingly in 2003. At that time, it moved from the traditional opening race on the card to the fourth race. However, in 2008 it reverted to its traditional slot, opening the meeting.
The Coventry Stakes (Group Two)
First run in 1890, the race was named after the ninth Earl of Coventry, Master of the Buckhounds between 1886 and 1892. This is the first Group contest of the year for juveniles. Many top class horses win this race before going on to achieve greatness and, in 2004, the race was promoted to Group Two status.
The King’s Stand Stakes (Group One)
A Stand Plate was first run on the round course in 1837, becoming the Royal Stand Plate in 1858. The race was re-named the Queen’s Stand Plate in 1860 for two-year-olds, over the sprint distance of four furlongs, finally becoming the King’s Stand Plate in 1901. Today the race remains a sprint, although now run over the minimum trip of five furlongs for three-year-olds and upwards. In 2005, it became the first British leg of the Global Sprint Challenge and in 2008 it was promoted to Group One.
The St James’s Palace Stakes (Group One)
Named after the Tudor Royal residence, the inaugural running of the St James’s Palace Stakes in 1834 was a walkover for the Derby winner Plenipotentiary. This race features the best male milers from the Classic generation, often attracting horses that have run in the English, French and Irish 2,000 Guineas.
The Ascot Stakes (Handicap)
First run in 1839, the Ascot Stakes is run over two-and-a-half miles. Like the Gold Cup and Queen Alexandra Stakes, this race provides a thorough test of stamina. It is one of just four races at the Royal Meeting in which the field passes the winning post twice. The race attracts horses that have run in the early season staying handicaps, most notably the Chester Cup.
The Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed)
First run in 1839 over the straight mile course, this race was originally designed to attract three- year-old colts and fillies that had competed in the early season Classics. It is now run over the minimum distance of five furlongs and restricted to two-year-olds.
The Jersey Stakes (Group Three)
The Jersey Stakes replaced the second leg of the Triennial Stakes in 1919. Named after the fourth Earl of Jersey, who was the Master of the Buckhounds between 1782 and 1783, this specialist seven-furlong contest is framed for three-year-olds who have yet to win a Group One or Group Two race, but have often competed at that level, including in the Guineas.
The Queen Mary Stakes (Group Two)
Named after the consort of King George V, this race was first run in 1921. The first major race of the season exclusively for two-year-old fillies, The Queen Mary Stakes is run over the minimum distance of five furlongs and provides a useful opportunity to assess their ability and potential to perform at Group One level. It was promoted to Group Two status in 2004.
The Duke of Cambridge Stakes (Group Two)
Until 2013 run as the Windsor Forest Stakes, this race was a new addition to the Royal Meeting in 2004 and part of an industry-wide initiative to encourage connections of the leading Classic generation fillies from the previous year to keep their stars in training. Run over the straight mile course, it is open only to fillies and mares aged four or over. As a Group Two race, Group One winners carry a penalty, so the option of the Group One Queen Anne Stakes, where no penalties are carried, is still open to the very best fillies.
The Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Group One)
The Prince of Wales’s Stakes, first run at Royal Ascot in 1862, is named after the son of Queen Victoria (later to become King Edward VII). Originally staged over a mile and five furlongs, the race often attracted horses that had participated in the Classics. There was no Prince of Wales’s Stakes from 1946 until 1968, a year before the current Prince of Wales’s investiture in 1969, when the distance changed to one mile and two furlongs. In 2000, The Prince of Wales’s Stakes was upgraded to Group One status and restricted to four-year-olds and upwards.
The Royal Hunt Cup (Handicap)
The Royal Hunt Cup always provides one of the greatest spectacles of the Royal Meeting as a maximum field thunders up Ascot’s straight mile course for one of the biggest betting races of the season. First run in 1843, it was originally staged over seven furlongs and 155 yards. The current distance of a mile was established in 1955 when the straight course was re-aligned as part of the previous redevelopment.
The Sandringham Stakes (Listed Handicap)
Originally registered as the Fern Hill Stakes, this race was part of the traditional Heath Day card on the Saturday after Royal Ascot. It was renamed the Sandringham Stakes, after the royal residence, as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002. This is a competitive Listed handicap over a mile, limited to three-year-old fillies only.
The Norfolk Stakes (Group Two)
First run in 1843, this race was formerly known as the New Stakes and staged over a distance of just under four furlongs. It was renamed after the Duke of Norfolk, Her Majesty’s Representative at Ascot between 1945 and 1972, in 1973. For two-year-olds, it was promoted to Group Two status in 2006.
The Tercentenary Stakes (Group Three)
The Tercentenary Stakes became the new name for the Hampton Court Stakes in 2011, when the racecourse celebrated 300 years since its inauguration. It was also been promoted from Listed to Group Three in tandem. The race was originally part of the Saturday Heath Day card, under the title of the New Stakes, and joined Royal Ascot as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002. This 10-furlong event is restricted to three-year-olds.
The Ribblesdale Stakes (Group Two)
This race, mirroring the Oaks, is named after the fourth Baron Ribblesdale, Master of the Buckhounds between 1892 and 1895. First run in 1919, this race was originally staged over a mile for three and four-year-olds. It is now restricted to Classic generation fillies and run over the longer distance of a mile and a half.
The Gold Cup (Group One)
Founded in 1807, the Gold Cup (which, contrary to popular opinion is not called the “Ascot Gold Cup”) is the oldest and one of the most prestigious races at Royal Ascot. Staged over the marathon trip of two-and-a-half miles, the race is a stiff test of stamina and attracts the very best staying horses in Europe. Many horses have distinguished themselves with dual Gold Cup wins, enhancing the race’s reputation as a specialists’ event. Sagaro won three times in the 1970s but Yeats did better still, becoming a four-time winner in 2009. The Queen’s Estimate won the 2013 Gold Cup, providing her with her 22nd Royal Ascot winner.
The Britannia Stakes (Handicap)
First run in 1928 over the straight mile of the Royal Hunt Cup course and run under similar conditions today. Open to three-year-old colts and geldings only, the Britannia is almost as popular these days as the Royal Hunt Cup.
The King George V Stakes (Handicap)
Like the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes, this is a handicap for middle distance performers, staged over one and a half miles. The inaugural running was in July 1946, as part of the first fixture staged at the racecourse after the Royal Meeting, before the race was transferred to Royal Ascot in 1948. It is for three-year-olds.
The Albany Stakes (Group Three)
This race was first run in 2002 as the Henry Carnarvon Stakes, honouring The Queen’s late racing manager, and proved so successful that it was promoted to Group Three status in 2005. Restricted to two-year-old fillies, the six-furlong event provides one of the first opportunities of the season for promising types to prove their ability and go on to harbour Guineas aspirations.
The King Edward VII Stakes (Group Two)
Formerly known, and still colloquially referred to as the Ascot Derby, this race was inaugurated in 1834 and regularly featured horses of both sexes that had competed in the middle-distance Classics. First run as the King Edward VII Stakes in 1926 and now restricted to three-year-old colts and geldings, it still attracts horses that have competed in the Derby.
The Commonwealth Cup (Group One)
The Commonwealth Cup is a completely new race in 2015 and joins the King’s Stand Stakes and Diamond Jubilee Stakes to become the third Group One sprint at Royal Ascot. The race, to be run over six furlongs, is restricted to three-year-olds and has been put in place as a Europe-wide measure to create a better Pattern for young sprinters and improve the quality of sprint races on the continent. Several races in the run up to the Commonwealth Cup have been promoted in tandem, including the Pavilion Stakes at Ascot in April to Group Three.
The Coronation Stakes (Group One)
First run in 1840, the Coronation Stakes was founded to commemorate the crowning of Queen Victoria in 1838. This mile event is the fillies’ equivalent of the St James’s Palace Stakes and attracts horses that have run in the English, Irish and French 1,000 Guineas.
The Duke of Edinburgh Stakes (Handicap)
Originally the Bessborough Stakes, named after the fifth Earl of Bessborough, who was Master of the Buckhounds between 1848 and 1866, the race was renamed the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes in 1999. First run in 1914 as a five-furlong event for two-year-olds, it has now evolved into a middle distance handicap for three-year-olds and upward.
The Queen’s Vase (Listed)
Named to honour Queen Victoria and first run in 1838, this race became the King’s Vase in 1903 and reverted to its original name of the Queen’s Vase on the succession of Queen Elizabeth II. Run over two miles, this contest provides a thorough test of stamina for three-year-olds and winners of this race often go on to compete in the Gold Cup in future years. Estimate completed the double in 2012 / 2013.
The Chesham Stakes (Listed)
Named after the third Baron Chesham, who was the last Master of the Buckhounds from 1900 to 1901. First run in 1919, the Chesham Stakes replaced the first leg of the Triennial Stakes, which had been run over five furlongs for two-year-olds. Now a Listed contest, the race takes place over the longer distance of seven furlongs.
The Wolferton Handicap Stakes (Listed)
First run in this form in 2002 as part of the five-day Royal Ascot meeting to celebrate The Queen’s Golden Jubilee, this is a Listed handicap over 10 furlongs for four-year-olds and upwards.
The Hardwicke Stakes (Group Two)
Named after the fifth Earl of Hardwicke, Master of the Buckhounds between 1874 and 1879, the race was first run in 1879. The Group Two contest continues to attract the best older middle distance horses today, and is often an informative guide to the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) in July. It is run with no Group One or Two winners’ penalties as a quasi Group One race with regular Group One rated horses competing.
The Diamond Jubilee Stakes (Group One)
Formerly known as the Cork and Orrery Stakes, Royal Ascot’s most prestigious sprint was given a new – the Golden Jubilee Stakes – and elevated to Group One status to celebrate The Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. Ten years later, it assumed the mantle of Diamond Jubilee Stakes. First run in 1868, this six-furlong contest was originally named after Lord Cork, another Master of the Buckhounds. In 2005, the race became the second British leg of the Global Sprint Challenge and this year, it becomes a race for four-year-olds and upwards, as the three-year-olds have the Commonwealth Cup option.
The Wokingham Stakes (Handicap)
The inaugural running of the Wokingham took place in 1813, making this race the oldest handicap at Royal Ascot. This famous sprint is named after the market town seven miles from Ascot Racecourse, and the first dual winner was appropriately also named Wokingham (1881 and 1882). Over the years, the race has developed a reputation as a fiercely competitive handicap and one of the major betting heats of the season.
The Queen Alexandra Stakes (Conditions)
Run over the marathon trip of two-and-three-quarter miles, the Queen Alexandra Stakes is not only the longest race of the meeting, but also the longest contest run under Flat racing rules. Named after the consort of King Edward VII, the race was first run in 1864 as the Alexandra Plate over three miles. It will always be associated with Brown Jack, arguably Royal Ascot’s greatest equine legend, who won this race on six consecutive occasions between 1929 and 1934. The Queen Alexandra Stakes always closes the meeting and although, or perhaps because of its extreme distance in a time when so much emphasis is on speed, it has become a national institution and is affectionately supported by regulars.
Allison is the Publisher of Eclipse Magazine. She loves going to the Races and is learning to bet (despite being officially the worst bettor in the History of the Universe), there’s a lot more to learn…