What to expect at The Races
There are two types of horse racing events in the UK – National Hunt and Summer Racing. The main difference being that the former takes place during the winter months and is known as Steeplechase (i.e. fences and ditches) and the latter takes place during the summer season and is known as Flat Racing (no jumps as, in theory, the ground is too hard in the summer for the horses' legs).
You do not need to be a member of a racecourse to attend a race meet, although for some of the more high profile events, such as Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood, entrance to the top enclosures may be restricted to members-only for that particular meet.
The proceedings for the day are to arrive about an hour or more before the first race, allowing you time to ‘study the form’ (check which horses are running and their odds), meet with friends, enjoy a drink/luncheon in a restaurant or perhaps a picnic, and then head over to your enclosure in plenty of time to place your first bet.
The minimum amount allowed for betting ranges from £2 to £5 depending on which bookkeeper you choose. The most important thing to remember is to not bet what you cannot afford to lose!
Bets can be placed up until a few minutes before the race starts and the odds can change very quickly, so be sure to choose the bookmaker offering the best odds for your horse.
It is perfectly acceptable to cheer your horse on, especially during the last few furlongs but try to ensure that you are not screaming in someone’s ear! If you have won then you will need to wait patiently in line to collect your winnings, or you can pick them up later in the day if the queue is long. Do keep any emotions in check – undue gloating or indeed sulking is not acceptable!
There are also differences in the acceptable dress codes for each of these events:
National Hunt is winter dress and Summer Racing is summer dress and the two should not be confused.
The Cheltenham Festival, for example, which is held in March, has no dress code but generally people tend to make a bit of an effort if they have tickets for the top enclosures. This is the perfect time for both men and women to bring out their tweeds.
Not only is tweed now back in Vogue but it is also a warm material making it perfect for those winter winds that can blow across open racecourses.
For summer racing a lovely summer day dress with a hat is the most popular choice but do check the guidelines for the enclosure that you will be in as they can vary enormously.
There are so few events nowadays to wear a hat that it certainly elevates the day to something special when we do have the opportunity.
However, do be aware that it is incredibly difficult to greet someone with a kiss when you are wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and also try to be conscious of obstructing other people's views. Fascinators are a personal choice, some people love them and some people don’t but either way do check if they are permitted within the enclosure that you have tickets for.
Most importantly, choose your shoes wisely; you will be on your feet for most of the day and you will walk a surprisingly long distance. There is nothing that spoils the image of an elegant lady at the races more than a woman who is hobbling in shoes better suited to a nightclub, or, even worse, taking them off and walking down the road in bare feet!
I would also recommend taking a pashmina as it can get quite nippy later on in the day.