Ascot: 300 years of royalty and fashion

Thu Jun 16, 2011 5:16am EDT
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By Paul Majendie

ASCOT, England (Reuters) - Royal Ascotis celebrating its 300th anniversary as High Society's perfect summer cocktail with a unique mix of royalty, fashion and racing thoroughbreds.

Ladies Day on Thursday is the highlight of the week at the world's most famous racecourse, opened in 1711 after Queen Anne first spottedits potential when riding in the forest near Windsor Castle.

Long gone are the days when the Royal enclosure at Ascot was so exclusive that divorcees were banned from its sacred lawns and women had to wear gloves.

Aristocrats once reigned supreme but now X-Factor supremo Simon Cowell has a box at Ascot. Singers Shirley Bassey and Bryan Ferry are handing outracing trophies this year although the honor of giving the prize to the winner of Thursday's Ascot Gold Cup always goes to Britain's Queen Elizabeth.

She parades up the Ascot straight every day in an open-topped landau, offering priceless cachet to the summer season when socialites head from Ascot to Wimbledon and then on to the Henley Royal Regatta and Glyndebourne opera.

Paparazzi on the hunt for the most outrageous hats on Ladies Day do not have to look far. Publicity seekers sashay about in over-the-top concoctions in the daily fashion parade that was immortalized by flower girl Eliza Dolittle in the musical "My Fair Lady."

"You cannot think of Ascot without thinking fashion in the same sentence," said designer Amanda Whateley who is showing her collection once more at Royal Ascot 2011.

The ever elegant Bryan Ferry, lead singer of Roxy Music, sported top hat and tails to present one of the trophies.   Continued...

<p>A band walks through the car park as people picnic on the second day of racing at Royal Ascot in southern England June 15, 2011. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett</p>