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A Day at the Races: Royal Windsor Racecourse

Whilst equestrian sports are usually associated with the upper classes, you don’t have to be up on your high horse to enjoy watching a group of jockeys hoof it to the finish line. Whether you prefer to watch at home on the TV, fancy a corporate box, or like to be in the thick of things at ground level, there’s nothing quite like serendipitously putting your money on the winning horse and seeing some hefty returns. So, we headed to Royal Windsor Racecourse on their Irish night to see if watching horse racing is all it’s (whip)cracked up to be.

Whilst it hasn't enjoyed racing fame for as long as Ascot, racing began at Rays Meadow, the current site of Royal Windsor Racecourse in 1886. Their website states that “Windsor races did not attempt to compete with Ascot, but gave opportunities to owners of lesser horses in a pleasant setting not far from London” and this sentiment can still be felt today, with Windsor’s friendly, accessible atmosphere. Whilst there is a smart dress code, you don’t have to go the whole hog with a hat and fancy dress, you are even allowed to wear jeans (without rips or tears). There’s also many quirky features that make a day watching the races at Windsor unique, including that it is one of the only racecourses to be surrounded by water, meaning you have to catch a boat up the River Thames, in the shadow of Windsor Castle (the location of the recent Royal Wedding) to arrive at the jetty.

Image Credit: Emily May
 
A few neigh-sayers may be sceptical about a visiting a race course, due to disagreeing with equestrian sports on an ethical level, especially the fact that jockeys use whips to gee their horses past the winning posts. However, when we were speaking to professional jumps jockey David Crosse at Windsor, he emphasised that whips (which are now all air cushioned by law) are used only for encouragement, and even demonstrated a hard whip crack on a gentleman’s hand to prove that they weren’t painful!

Image Credit: Emily May
 
With this ethical reassurance in place, you’re free to place your bets with unbridled enthusiasm, and without being saddled with the worry of bad karma. At Royal Windsor, betting starts from as little as £2, so you can enjoy a bit of harmless gambling without breaking the bank. Racing rookies may end up choosing horses to back based on the colour of the jockey’s jacket, or a hilarious horse name, but if you’re in need of a bit of help, you can always buy a £10 “lucky dip” packet which places readymade bets for you, or seek some advice. David Crosse informed us that jockeys themselves are the worst tipsters. However, he was somehow on the money for every race he advised us about on Irish Night, which you’d be thankful for if you need a bit of a return after splashing out on a corporate box. Royal Windsor’s hospitality packages start from £99 per head and features can include a box with a clear view of the finish line, wine, food and even special privileges – we were taken to view the horses being loaded into the starting boxes for one race. If you get the chance to see the latter, we advise taking a slow motion video so you can watch back the horse’s rapid take offs in half time when you get home.

Image Credit: Emily May
 
Whilst some may enjoy the glamour of a corporate box, you can also get in the thick of the action by milling around at ground level, where there’s bites and booze a plenty, and arguably a better, close-up view of the racecourse. When we visited Windsor, there were flame grills and Guinness huts (obviously in homage to the Emerald Isle for Windsor’s Irish Night), and smoky barbeque smells combined with cheering fans to create a buzzing, excitable yet relaxed atmosphere. Windsor also programme a variety of musical acts to add to the occasion, with previous and upcoming performers including the Dublin Legends (formerly known as The Dubliners), Sophie Ellis Bextor, A Freddie Mercury Tribute Band and even the Kaiser Chiefs! Don’t miss seeing the beautiful creatures trotting proudly in the nearby parade ring and winner’s enclosure, or the victorious jockeys on their way to the weighing and changing rooms for what Irish Jockey David Cross described to us as a bit of “banter” and “great craic”. But don’t expect to chat for long, when we were at Royal Windsor, we caught a fleeting glimpse of recent Derby winner William Buick before he shot off out of sight.

Jumps jockey David Crosse (left) and Derby winner William Buick (right). Image Credit: Emily May
 
Royal Windsor Racecourse is located on Maidenhead Road, Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 5JJ.
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