Royal Ascot 2019: Queen Elizabeth II leads royal procession, Prince Harry, Meghan absent
Just approaching Royal Ascot, there’s something special in the air.
Maybe it’s the sound of bellowing laughs and brass bands that ring out from the parade ring, or perhaps it’s the high fashion and lavish hats adorning the throngs of racegoers filing into the historic Berkshire venue.
More pertinent, though, and what really sets this event out from the rest, is the royal seal of approval.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has attended every day of every meeting for the last 64 years and her arrival at the head of the royal procession traditionally heralds the start of racing.
This year was no different, and racegoers rushed to the track side to see the monarch and her royal entourage making their way in horse-drawn carriages up the Straight Mile in front of the packed grandstands.
The 93-year-old Queen, in a cornflower blue coat and hat, was joined in the leading carriage by her middle son, the Duke of York. They were accompanied by the King and Queen of the Netherlands, while the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge occupied the second of four royal carriages.
But royal fans hoping for a glimpse of Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, were to be disappointed. It’s just over six weeks after the birth of their first child Archie Mountbatten-Windsor.
Best of British
As the procession made its way towards the Royal Enclosure, the British national anthem rang out as flags waved and cameras clicked furiously.
With all the trials and tribulations facing Britain and its politics in recent years, many spectators see the Queen’s presence as a chance to celebrate all that’s good about the country.
After all, it’s easy to see where you are — the grandstand is covered in gigantic British flags and bunting drapes almost every surface imaginable.
“It’s lovely, we get up and sing the national anthem with a bit of passion. You have to be proud,” one spectator told CNN Sport.
“This is a day you can forget about all of the issues, we just didn’t want to miss it.”
As the pomp and ceremony died down, the racing began, and the atmosphere shifted to one of excitement and suspense.
Spectators, many of whom have never even been racing before, scanned their race cards and become engulfed in the thrill of the sport of kings.
“To me its the best event of the year. I don’t gamble all year but I just love Royal Ascot,” said eager racegoer Ray, who stayed in a hotel overnight to get to the racetrack early with his wife.
The first Group 1 race certainly didn’t disappoint either. Lord Glitters, ridden by Daniel Tudhope, left it late to snatch the Queen Anne Stakes by a neck and three-quarters — winning his connections north of $750,000 (£600,000) in the process.
Brimming with tradition
It’s not just the horse racing that attracts flocks of spectators to this part of Berkshire, west of London, every year though.
The event is also a celebration of high culture and drips with as much glamor as it does tradition.
Top hats and outrageous headpieces bobbed their way around its walkways, their owners stopping for photos or to enjoy the champagne which flows from the numerous drinks stands around the course.
Racing at the venue dates back to 1711, and the infamous dress code is perhaps the most obvious tradition on display.
Both men and women must adhere to strict policies depending on which area of the venue they have tickets for. Standards are policed by a specialized team, who swoop in should an item of clothing be deemed irregular.
The enjoyment that comes with dressing up is the reason many people have battled the crowds to get here.
“It makes the day, watching everyone walk around,” said one racegoer, who bought tickets as a special surprise for her husband. “People look great, it’s really nice to see.”
Within the guidelines, there is room for women to be ambitious with their choice of hat and some of the outfits on display are simply spectacular.
“I love everything that’s British about the dress code,” said Victoria Burgess, who was celebrating her birthday.
“I feel it’s a proud representation of our country. This is us at our best.”
Royal Ascot is certainly a place to be seen. Photographers jostle for position at the entry gates, trying to snap a picture of the prestigious guests that flow into the Royal Enclosure.
Those deemed important enough are also given name tags, a mark of prestige at one of the most celebrated social events on the calendar.
It’s not just spectators who are expected to dress up though — many of the staff enjoy honoring years of tradition too.
Some experienced track stewards have earned the right to wear classic black bowler or “coke” hats, a tradition dating back to 1849.
Despite Royal Ascot boasting the best of British, the week also attracts thousands of visitors from abroad, all desperate to get just a taste of the quintessential spectacle.
“We are really excited. We have the Kentucky Derby and this is the same sort of thing,” said one family, who came all the way from Texas, USA.
“It’s so beautiful here, we feel so under dressed! Everyone has such a unique style. It’s so important to maintain it and to keep the stature of the event.
“The Queen was probably the main reason we came, just hoping to get a glimpse.”
Elsewhere, New Yorker Amy McIlwain felt privileged to attend such an event.
“Royal Ascot is the most quintessential British event there is,” she said.
“You see the Queen; how many people can experience that?”
A number of runners are also traveling in from abroad in the hope of winning one of the prestigious contests.
Horses from New Zealand, Japan, Australia, and the US are expected to line up, adding an international flavour to the week.
As the Queen, who has had 23 winners at Royal Ascot in the past, watched on from her royal box, the racing took center stage.
Hot favorite Arizona won the second race, the Coventry Stakes, in yet another tight finish to give trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore their first win of the week.
The pair soon secured their second win of the day, with Circus Maximus upsetting the odds to win the showpiece St. James’s Palace Stakes under heavy rain.
However, a spot of bad weather couldn’t stop people enjoying the chic picnic benches and food stalls that serve classic British dishes such as fish and chips.
Despite more bad weather being forecast for the rest of the week, no one here will let such a familiar foe get in the way of Britain’s most prestigious summer events.