In Britain, and the rest of Europe, a Group One race is a horse race of the highest calibre, as designated by the European Pattern Committee. Group One races include some of the most prestigious, valuable and historic races in Britain, over distances between 5 furlongs and 2 miles 4 furlongs, on Grade One racecourses, such as Ascot, Newmarket and York.
Some Group One races, such as the ‘Classic’ races – that is, the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby and St. Leger – are restricted to certain age groups and others, such as the Nassau Stakes and Sun Chariot Stakes, are restricted to a specific gender. However, generally speaking, horses of the same age and gender compete at level weights in Group One races, with weight-for-age and weight-for-sex allowances for three-year-olds competing against older horses and fillies and mares racing against colts and geldings, respectively.
Of course, Group One races can occasionally be downgraded; to maintain Group One status, over a three-year period, the average official rating of the first four horses home in the race in question must be 115, or more. From 2018, in Group One races, other than two-year-old races, in Britain, a horse must have achieved an official rating of 80 to be allowed to run in the first place.
Ascot Racecourse was founded in 1711, by Queen Anne, who declared an area near Ascot, or ‘East Cote’, village ‘ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch’. The first race, Her Majesty’s Plate, was staged in August that year and, for a short time, Ascot Races was a highlight of the Court social calendar. However, Queen Anne died in August, 1714 and, thereafter, support for Ascot Racecourse dwindled, until its fortunes were revived by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, during the reign of his nephew, King George III, over five decades later. The first Royal Meeting, in a recognisable modern form – that is, a four-day meeting – was staged in 1768, with the first Royal Stand, which later became the Royal Enclosure, erected in 1790, and the first Royal Procession taking place in 1825, by which time King George IV was the ruling monarch.
Ascot Racecourse, in Berkshire, South East England maintains a tradition of ringing a bell when, in races run on the Round Course, horses turn into the short finishing straight. Of course, Ascot Racecourse was founded by Queen Anne in 1711 and, for centuries afterward, racegoers were allowed to walk on the course. Indeed, spectators encroaching on the racecourse before the whole field had passed caused a series of dangerous incidents during the nineteenth centuries, as the result of which horses were hampered and jockeys thrown and, in some cases, seriously injured.
Historically, the ringing of the bell served as a warning to anyone still on the track that the field was approaching. However, even today, with a running rail to define the racing surface, a crowd barrier and security personnel to prevent anyone from distracting horses or jockeys, let alone walking on the track, whilst a race is in progress, the tradition endures. As a footnote, it is worth noting that, while it is unlikely to cause any confusion, a bell also sounds at Ascot Racecourse to notify racegoers that all the jockeys for the upcoming race have weighed out and are about to mount their horses and leave the parade ring on their way to the start.