Ascot Racecourse, situated approximately six miles from Windsor Castle on land leased from the Crown Estate, has always enjoyed Royal connections. The racecourse was founded, in an area originally known as ‘East Cote’, by Queen Anne in 1711 and, although what would eventually become ‘Royal Ascot’ would develop, piecemeal, over the next few decades, the first recognisable, four-day Royal Meeting to place in 1768, during the reign of King George III.
However, it was King George IV who initiated the Royal Procession in 1825, five years after his accession to the throne, following the death of his father, in 1820. The tradition has continued ever since. Nowadays, a 2pm sharp on each of the five days, including Saturday, Her Majesty The Queen and other members of the Royal Family make their way in convertible carriages, known as Ascot Landaus, each drawn by four Windsor Grey horses, from the Royal Gates at the far end of the racecourse, along the Straight Mile, to the Parade Ring.
The Wokingham Stakes is a traditional, high-profile six-furlong handicap, officially rated ‘Class 2’, which is open to horses aged three years and upwards and officially rated 0-110. Named after the historic market town in Berkshire, seven miles west of Ascot, the Wokingham Stakes was inaugurated in 1813 and is currently scheduled as the penultimate race on the fifth and final day of Royal Ascot in June each year.
Indeed, the Wokingham Stakes is the oldest of the handicap races still run at the Royal Meeting and, with total prize money of £175,000, £108,937.50 of which goes to the winner, the race falls into the category of ‘Heritage Handicap’. In common with similar races, such as the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood, the Great St. Wilfrid Stakes at Ripon and Ayr Gold Cup, the Wokingham Stakes tends to attract a high quality field; in 2019, the lowest rated horse in the field, Sir Maximilian, was rated 95. Nevertheless, with a safety limit of 30, the Wokingham Stakes is invariably a popular betting heat and has thrown up winners at 33/1 twice, 25/1 and 14/1 in the last ten renewals.
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.