I attended my first Ascot this year - in fact, I've now been twice in the space of three months. I'd never been to a racing event or placed a bet before, so this was a whole new field for me. Literally.
In my head were two opposing expectations: people falling all over the shop and making fools of themselves and the Queen very regally watching the horses race. My first experience erred towards the latter... but only just about. It was a friend's birthday, after all! Okay, so I may have only won £3.50, but it was faaaaaaabulous, dahling.
The different enclosures have different dress codes. From all-out hats with diameter requirements to colours of suit pants allowed, check before you rock up in that off the shoulder, thigh length dress. The cheapest enclosure, Windsor, doesn't actually have a dress code, but everyone still dresses formally anyway. It just gives you an excuse to forgo the hat and shoulder straps.
Get there early for a good spot
It goes without saying, really, but even more so in the Windsor Enclosure. We got to the track itself by half 11, and easily got some chairs and a table in what we thought was going to be a "quiet bit" with a great view of the track, and was really close to a bar and betting stand. Fast forward half an hour, and we were surrounded by people. And potential chair stealers.
You can also take blankets, or mats, and sit on the grass too. Make sure you don't end up with mud on your butt though - we saw many ladies and gentlemen with telling mud marks on the back of their outfits.
Word of warning, get to the town in time to get to a cash point. The majority of bars and betting stands are cash only.
I would say Ascot is more of a group day out than a couple, or pair, kind of activity. The races themselves are only about 2 minutes long, so the rest of the time is spent chatting and enjoying each other's company.
We were a group of 9 and came armed with a picnic full of snacks and a cooler full of alcohol. Those of us who came via the Ascot Express were entitled to a free glass of champagne (which was appropriately downed at 11:45am), from which we kept the glasses to refill with our own stuff. It was basically a day-long piss-up with the added bonus of potential winnings, being outside and getting dressed up!
Going to Ascot and not placing a bet is like going to the hairdressers and not getting your hair done. You don't have to bet big money: a little £2.50 on an outright bet will mean you only stand to lose just that... or you could double your money at the very least if you win!
Make sure you know exactly what you're betting though; a £5 each way bet on 7 horses tots up to seventy quid, as one of my friends learned pretty sharpish. "Each way" means you have more of a chance at winning - as you get money if your horse places first, second or third - but it doubles your bet. So, £2.50 each way on Belgravia would mean you parting with £5, but getting money back if Belgravia placed first, second or third (she didn't. Hmf.) This is how I won my grand total of £3.50, on a second-place horse. Oh yeeeeah, the BIG BUCKS.
Although it might be tempting to leave collecting your winnings until the end of the day, be warned that some of the betting stalls start closing up soon after the last race. By all means, you don't have to collect after each race, but just make sure you do so in a timely fashion after the last horse has passed the line.
If you can, make sure your group has at least one race card. These can be purchased at one of the stalls, or it comes free with your Ascot Express train ticket. This details each of the horses and their ratings for each race. It doesn't show the odds, but this can be Googled pretty easily. I would recommend going for at least one horse that's a favourite to win, but also, throwing caution to the wind and betting on one you just like the name of. We had winnings for both in our group - one of our lot won £50 in the end!
Look out for Liz
Don't miss the Queen doing her rounds before the first race. On our day, the fourth day, this was at about 2pm. Whether you're into the royal family, or not, it a pretty cool moment to see ol' Liz waving right in front of you (in a rather nice mint green suit and hat!) and it will definitely impress any ex-pat friends who aren't from England: "Oh my gawd, you saw the Queen with your OWN eyes?!"
Also, be very thankful that this is an event with royal attendees. Although they sure as hell won't be gracing the loos in the Peasant Pound, as one of our group coined our enclosure, the temporary toilets are actually okay! They have faux wooden floors, are stocked with loo roll and soap, don't smell and there are loads of them!
Happy horse racing! I'm off to drive one's car around one's manor...