For the benefit of overseas readers, “Royal Ascot” is a particular race meeting that traditionally takes place in about the third week of June each year, at a course that is owned by the Queen. The land is one of the few pieces of personal property she or her family owns (another is the country house and small estate at Sandringham, Norfolk, purchased by her great-grandfather, Edward VII) and passed to her forebear George I (as Elector of Hannover) from Queen Anne as one of her legatees.
Although the racecourse at Ascot is a 1711 foundation, the tradition of the Sovereign inviting his/her friends to a private race meeting is younger, only about 100 years old in its present form.
Racehorse owners and trainers from all over the world now take part as this is a very well-broadcast and prestigious meeting. As a visitor, you can attend in one of three capacities: firstly, the Silver Ring is fully open to the public, and the composition of those present is “democratic” in the extreme. Then, there is Tatersall’s or “members” as per any other racecourse, where you might go to (a) get a better view of the actual racing, and (b) to talk “horse” more seriously and perhaps make more money rather than consume so much alcohol while seductively underdressed (see the Silver Ring for that.) Then finally there is, only here, the Royal Enclosure.
Traditionally, the Queen attends all four days, and before the start of each day’s racing at about 1.30 pm, arrives by horse-drawn carriage with her personal guests of the day, from Windsor Castle, parading down the straight of the course in view of all spectators.
The Royal Enclosure is open only to those who have attended it before. You can’t just turn up, pay up and attend: if you desire to be there, then you have to be proposed by someone else who knows you well, and who has attended at least four times previously in his/her own capacity. A sponsor is limited ordinarily to proposing a maximum of two persons per year.
It is indeed remarkably difficult, if not impossible, to persuade a mere acquaintance with the right credentials to do sponsor one, on the spur of the moment, say at a city drinks party. The system which therefore controls who has actual physical access to the Sovereign in this recreational environment is therefore a prime example of a spontaneous and self-regulating institution, involving some private property (that is to say, the sovereign’s in this case) which all libertarians ought to be pleased with.
Libertarians will also be pleased that divorced persons have been able to be present in the Royal Enclosure for some time, since HM the Queen Mother chose not to exercise her veto on this matter any more, about 1980.
Furthermore, it is entirely possible for a deserving or otherwise-clever-person, who does the right things (such as being a supermodel, or pop star, or merely a cleverish middle-class and sociable individual – of either sex – with a good education and non-stalinist-social-graces) to get into the Enclosure. This is a positive vindication of the sheer level of mobility that is present in liberal English society, even today, under Gordon Brown and a level of state fascism not seen since, er, I can’t remember when.
So actually, Royal Ascot, far from being a preserve of “toffs” in top hats (an anachronistic pejorative only really used in anger these days by Stalinists and Nazis and other pre-capitalist-barbarians with no manners or socialisation-skills) is actually highly democratic, libertarian and inclusive. You can even get to rub shoulders with people like the Queen Mother (until 2002) and so on. I can’t think of any other race meetings where this is so clearly the case, and you have to go to F1 meetings to get the same cosmopolitan flavour.