More Than a Horse Race: The King George Festival at Ascot

The King George Festival at Ascot is one of the most important weekends on the British Flat racing calendar and the atmosphere is always lively and colorful. Next weekend’s signature race, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (or the “King George” as it is informally called), commemorates Her Majesty The Queen’s late parents and typically attracts many of horse racing’s most acclaimed champions. This year will see 2015 winner Postponed attempt to become only the third dual winner of the event after Dahlia (1973, 1974) and Swain (1997, 1998). The Luca Cumani-trained colt looks primed for the feat after besting the field by 4 ½ lengths at the Queen Elizabeth Coronation Cup at Epsom on June 4.

A Short History of The King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes

In 1946 a 2 mile race for 3 year olds was established at Ascot and named for King George VI. Two years later a second event, named after the King’s consort Queen Elizabeth, was created. It was held at Ascot in July and covered a distance of 1 ½ miles. In 1951 Major John Crocker Bulteel, Clerk of the Course at Ascot, was keen to create a 1 ½ mile race for horses aged 3 years and older. He wanted this race to have international significance and attract only the top horses. As such he combined the King George VI with the Queen Elizabeth and The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes were born.

In its early days the race was not commercially sponsored. That changed however in 1972 when De Beers began what would become more than 30 years as primary sponsor of the event. In recognition of De Beers’ sponsorship, and with Queen Elizabeth’s consent, the name of the race was changed in 1975 to The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. When the De Beers sponsorship run came to an end following the 2006 festival the name of the race resumed its traditional configuration.

With a purse in excess of £1,000,000 the King George is the second richest horse race in Britain (after the Epsom Derby), the de facto European mid-season, middle distance championship as well as an integral part of the Breeder’s Cup Challenge series.

The Festival

King George weekend at Ascot is more than a single race however. While it doesn’t have quite the panache of Royal Ascot in June it is nonetheless a major social event and one of great heritage and prestige. With Windsor Castle a scant 6 miles from the venue, members of the Royal Family regularly attend and the global thoroughbred community is also well-represented.

As July is typically the warmest and sunniest month of the English year King George weekend presents the perfect occasion for a picnic on the lawn amid tranquil breezes and fresh air. The dress code is smart and conservative – jacket, collared shirt and tie for men; no bare chests, shorts or trainers for anyone – as is fitting for the traditional English garden party setting. Of course glamorous, high fashion hats abound.

  • Friday this year will see a six-race card which includes the prestigious John Guest Brown Jack Stakes (named for the legendary winner of 7 different Royal Meetings) and the Listed Woodcote Stud Valiant Stakes. Guests will also enjoy a wide variety of fine dining experiences including à la carte luncheons and afternoon teas as well as 5-Star dining in the Royal Enclosure.
  • Saturday is highlighted by the annual running of the Group One King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Before and after the race guests will enjoy pitch-perfect entertainment amidst a relaxed and inspired atmosphere to make for a day none will soon forget.

The Race

Far be it from us to offer horse racing tips but this year’s King George is shaping up to be one for the ages. 39 top-class entries are scheduled to vie for the winner’s circle including 14 3-year olds, a slew of 4-year olds and last year’s champion the now 5-year old Postponed; who seeks to postpone retirement by becoming only the third dual champion in the history of the King George.

Ireland will be well-represented with 14 entries lead by Investec Derby champion Harzand who aspires to become the first colt to capture the Derby/King George double since Galileo accomplished the feat in 2001.

Saddling paddock at Royal Ascot on race day.

Saddling paddock at Royal Ascot on race day. Copyright Karen Foley.

Perpetual contender Khalid Abdullah is represented this year with 3 entries, including last year’s Prix du Jockey Club winner New Bay and up-and-comer Exosphere.

Other horses to watch include Gold Cup favorite Order of St George, 2,000 Guineas winner The Gurkha and impressive filly (and Epsom Oaks victor) Minding with her blazing speed and signature 4 white socks. The Grey Gatsby, Elite Army, Eagle Top and Wings of Desire will also make their bid for thoroughbred immortality.

The King George Festival offers something for every lover of top-class, traditional entertainment from 5-Star dining to world class racing to the fun and flair of fashion. Don’t miss July’s premier social and sporting event: The King George Festival at Ascot: July 15 & 16.


Article by Chris Herbert who is a guest writer for