Sarah Royal Ascot horse racing event

How to have ‘jolly good show’ at your very first horse racing event

Earlier this year I went to my very first horse racing event – and it only happened to be Royal bloody Ascot! Phwah phwah phwah – I say!

Me and my friend Katie from work were lucky enough to go and were in the Queen Anne Enclosure too (the next one down from Royal!). We even had time for a spot of Afternoon Tea, and I can honestly say the day was fabulous, spiffing, marvellous and whatever else all these posh folk who regularly go to the races say.

Royal Ascot horse racing exterior

Royal Ascot afternoon tea

Royal Ascot horse racing flags exterior

Beforehand, I googled loads of tips about the races and you get the standard ones, but there were few from the perspective of a first-time racegoer. So, that’s why I’ve put together a guide covering everything you need to know for your first horse racing event, from the basics of betting and what shoes to wear, through to carefully orchestrating your photos and pre-drinking on the coach/train without being a drunken mess. Yay!

Pre-drinking

It’s the advice we’ve all received about pre-drinking at some point… and all subsequently ignored. Take it slow. Like seriously. With the gates to many horse racing events opening at 10.30am, people can be up and travelling from as early as 6.00am. And I’m pretty sure you can guess when the drinking starts… straight away! I know we Brits treat the phrase ‘go hard or go home’ like one of the 10 commandments, but all I’m going to say is this. If you’re glugging champers like it’s lemonade at, say, 7.00am and carry on like that when you’re at the races, don’t be surprised if you see a snap of yourself in the Daily Mail the next day, captioned with the phrase “a drunken race-goer on the ground… with her legs in the air.” Oh dear.

TOP TIP: If you’re travelling on the coach or train and are drinking, pour your drinks into plastic bottles beforehand. On my way to Royal Ascot, I watched women struggling to pour champagne into teeny tiny flutes, as well as a man drop a can of cider and the whole thing emptied out down the coach aisle. Both were equally painful to watch.

BASIC Betting guide

Royal ascot horse racing event betting guide

This is literally a beginner’s guide to betting. I am in no way saying I know anything about the intricacies of betting (because I really don’t) and I just want to give newcomers an idea of the very basics of what to do.

Each way – This is effectively two bets – one where you are betting for your horse to win, and the other where you are betting on it to place (usually in the top three or four). You obviously win more money the higher up your horse is – so if it’s in 1st place you’ll win the most. When betting each way, you double the amount you put on. So if I said I am putting £5 each way on a horse, I am betting £10. This is good if you think your horse will rank but are not sure if it will win (e.g. it could have long odds). It’s a great way to back an outsider and still profit if it wins. Remember, if your horse doesn’t win but ranks, you will still lose half of what you have put on (as you bet for it to win, as well as rank).

Here’s an example from the UK Racing Guide:

So, if you have a £10 each way bet on a horse at 4/1 that will cost you £20, with £10 on the win and £10 on the place part of the bet. If it wins both bets win, so you get £10 x 4 = £40, plus your £10 stake back for the win portion. You also get your each way bet too, so ¼ of 4/1 is 1/1, or evens, so you get £10 plus your stake of £10 so £20 in total. Overall you get £70 for a profit of £50. If the horse finished second, third or fourth you would lose your £10 win bet but make a £10 profit from the each way win to leave you level overall.

To win – You are betting for your horse to come in first place. Yes, it really is that simple – even I understood it!

There’s other types of betting like single, multiple and straight forecast (where you pick the top two horses in the race in the correct finishing order), but like I said, I’m a beginner and I just stuck to each way and winning betting.

I’d recommend you plan what you’re going to bet and bring a certain amount of money. When you’re in the moment, have had a few drinks and you’ve maybe even won a few races, it can be SO tempting to hand more cash over for bets. Since I was a complete beginner at Ascot, I took £40 knowing that I was unlikely to see that cash again.

Luckily I only had losses of about £8, but I am glad I was strict with myself because if I’d have bet £300 and lost £300, I would not have been a happy Sarah.

TOP TIP: Buy a race guide beforehand. At Ascot, they were £4.50 and gave you all the details of the horses (like their previous successes, their weight etc.) and their riders too. Race guides are also great for making a list of your bets.

Food

You know what’s coming. Have a BIG breakfast – you’ll need it to soak up all that booze you’re going to drink… and that’s just on the way there! Seriously, eating isn’t cheating and frankly, I don’t care if a fry up is going to give you a belly, Lisa! It’ll be your saviour when the rest of the squad are steaming and making fools of themselves. I’m not saying don’t get drunk – trust me, get drunk! Just have a bite to eat beforehand so that at all times you say classy, and never venture into trashy territory.

TOP TIP: Most races have food stalls, so plan ahead and look on the relevant website. Or, take a DIY approach and bring your own picnic full of delicious delights! I know that Royal Ascot has a picnic policy (i.e. where you can picnic, etc) and I’m not sure if it’s as strict as the other horseracing events, but I’d look in advance to be sure.

Photos

Sarah and Katie Royal Ascot flower wall

Ok, this is going to sound so vain and like I’m a complete selfie whore (which I’m not, by the way), but people – plan your photos in advance! Let me explain. When it comes to getting photos at the horse racing, you’ll want to take photos of absolutely everything, which I understand. However, do you really want to spend the whole day on your phone and miss out on the experience? HELL NO. So, go on Instagram beforehand, look on location and see where other people have been posing for photos. Trust me, it helps.

TOP TIP: When I went to Ascot there was a huge flower wall designed for photos. Katie and I already knew about this (from our Insta-stalking, of course) and literally legged it when the gates opened so we could get our pic. And thank bloody god we did because it was SO busy after. We had our photo at about 11 am and there was a constant queue for the flower wall for the rest of the day.

The outfit

I’m going to keep this one short. I’m all for people wearing what they feel comfortable in and expressing themselves. But ladies, this is a classy event and you’ll be surprised at how many women you see who’s ta-tas are spilling out for all to see, or have huge thigh high slits in their dresses, leaving very little to the imagination (ooh-err). I’m not saying dress like a nun and am a firm believer in the phrase ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it,’ however, some women can make themselves look cheap and I don’t want that to be you. I want to look at you and shout ‘SLAAAAAY QUEEN!’ whilst typing multiple clapping hands emojis, ok?

TOP TIP: Don’t dress like a whore. No one likes a whore at the races.

Shoes

To me, it’s simple. Wear shoes that you can walk in! Wherever you go, the races is pretty much a whole day of standing up and if your shoes are cutting into your feet or making them bleed (firstly you have my sympathy), they’re really not worth it.

And oh, oh Jesus Christ. What some women did at Ascot made me cringe as if I had an awkward itch.

Halfway through the races, they gave up on their high heels and put FLIP-FLOPS on. *Sassy Southern American voice* aww heeeeeeell no! Girl, you can’t go looking like an absolute queen and then kill it with some shitty fucking flip-flops! If the flip flops were nice it wouldn’t be so bad – but so many of these women had the cheapest, most flimsy ones going and it was such a shame because it really did kill their outfits. But, believe it or not, you can avoid the searing pain of stilettos and still look fab-u-lous…

TOP TIP: Wear platforms/wedges / lower heels that put less pressure on the balls of your feet. Buy gel pads if you’ve got closed shoes. Bring along some fold up shoes that you can fit in your handbag and then change into them after. If all else fails and you want to strut through the pain, don’t take your heels off under any circumstances. Putting them back will be hell on earth.

Getting home

Thought it’s all over when the races are finished? Well – think again! You still have the challenge of finding your way to the train station/coaches and getting home. Personally, I’d advise that when you arrive at the races and aren’t in too much of a drunken state, have a look at your surroundings and try to commit them to memory. Or take a picture of the train station / where your coach is parked. Or even make a note on your phone with directions. Why? Well, when I went to Ascot, a guy’s friend took a ‘shortcut’ to the coach and got lost. We waited, and waited… and waited. But did he show? No. So, the guy’s mate had to get off the coach and go looking for him, meaning that the pair of them missed their coach (the only one going) from Ascot to Coventry. Don’t be like those guys – know where you’re going.

TOP TIP: When I came out of Ascot, it felt like there was loads of time to spare before our coach left. In reality, it took a good 20 minutes to walk to all the coaches and by the time we got on, there was only about 15 more minutes until the coach left. So, get everything done (pictures and all) in the day before you’re planning to leave the races.

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I hope that’s helped you understand what to expect at your first horse racing event! I love writing travel content (I do it every day as part of my job as a copywriter), but above all else, I want to write different things that are going to be of great help to you. I want to give you the tips and hacks that no one else thought to tell you so that you go somewhere (like your first horse racing event!) fully prepared and have the best time possible.

How did you find this guide? Are you off to a horse racing event soon? x