Ladies Day has quickly grown to become one of the most popular days of the year at racecourses up and down the land. As of September 2022, Britain boasts a total of 59 racecourses, and all of these tracks put on at least one Ladies Day over the course of the season. There is a very good reason for this as, wherever they take place, Ladies Days can be counted on to provide an excellent atmosphere, a near sell-out crowd, and a welcome dose of class and sophistication to the racecourse.
Here we take a closer look at a type of race day that proves such a huge draw to racegoers of both sexes, including information on what to expect, best-dressed prizes, ticket types and more. For those who fancy taking in a Ladies Day for themselves, we then highlight a selection of the biggest and best Ladies Days that British racing has to offer.
The term Ladies Day actually dates back to 1823. When attending a Thursday meeting at Ascot, an unknown poet described the event as “Ladies Day … when the women, like angels, looked sweetly divine.” That Thursday fixture almost 200 years ago, may not have been an official “Ladies Day”, but the idea soon began to become embedded in the minds of racetrack managers up and down the land.
Over the coming decades, official Ladies Days began to be introduced with increasing regularity, essentially being defined as a race meeting with an added dose of glitz and glamour, with just as much importance placed upon the entertainment in the stands, as the action on the track.
In simple terms, Ladies Day takes a standard day at the races and adds a whole host of extras, many of which are aimed exclusively at the female racegoer. Think live music, a wider range of food and drink options, competitions with excellent prizes, floral selfie stands and more.
One of the first things that springs to mind at the mention of a Ladies Day is the fashion, with the female racegoers in attendance usually taking the opportunity to don their finest frock and generally get dressed up to the nines – all of which goes someway to upgrading the glamour levels in comparison to a standard race day.
Whilst being labelled as “Ladies Day”, gentlemen are of course also permitted – indeed encouraged – to attend. Inspired by the sartorial efforts of the fairer sex, gents showing up for Ladies Day also tend to up the ante in the fashion stakes – less flat caps and jeans, and more full suits and shoes, or at least a decent shirt and smart trousers.
One final thing to note is that you need not have a particular interest in racing in order to enjoy a cracking time at Ladies Day. There will of course be between six and eight exciting equine events on offer, granting the opportunity to experience the thrill of placing a bet and witnessing these wonderful animals in the flesh, but really these days are all about getting dolled up and enjoying food, drink, and socialising, all in the picturesque setting of the racecourse.
Whether you be an experienced racegoer or you have never set foot on a racecourse before, Ladies Days are designed to cater to all tastes, with the aim of ensuring that a good time is had by all. Those new to the experience do nevertheless often like to have at least some idea of what to expect in advance, in terms of the type of atmosphere, ticketing options, food and drink facilities and so on.
Whichever Ladies Day you attend, you can be sure that there will be bubbles, there will be dresses, and, of course, there will be horses. Beyond that, the experience of a first day at the races can seem a little mysterious. Whilst that mystery is all part of the charm and excitement, here we provide a little more information on a selection of the key features of Ladies Days.
Whether they take place in the afternoon or evening, in the summer or during the winter, fun is the watchword when it comes to Ladies Days. From the garden party-style atmosphere of daytime meetings during the warmer months of the year, to evening fixtures in the autumn and winter, everyone is there to enjoy a good time, with the action on the track almost secondary to the merriment in the stands.
Expect lots of ladies in delightful dresses, and often even more delightful hats and fascinators, in addition to a whole host of gents in their finest outfits. Add in flowing drinks, social chatter, laughs, and the general excitement of the racecourse, and you have all the elements for a day or night out to remember.
Exactly what shape your Ladies Day takes is largely down to you. If you enjoy the buzz of a night out on the town, you may wish to base yourselves in the racecourse bar. Or perhaps you prefer a more serene experience, in which case setting up camp on the lawned area closer to the rails, and within sight of the horses may be more your thing – or, of course, you are perfectly free to sample a little of both worlds and take in everything that the racecourse has to offer.
Each course will have its own individual dress code, with separate codes sometimes in place for the different enclosures within the track. A quick online search for the track you are planning to attend will enable you to locate specific dress code details.
That said, most of the stricter requirements apply to gentlemen rather than ladies. For example, gents may only need to wear smart trousers and a collared shirt to enter the cheaper areas at many tracks, but require a full suit, or even top hat and tails in the more prestigious enclosures at the most high-profile meetings of the year. The dress code for ladies in contrast rarely extends too far beyond wearing a nice dress, or smart dress suit, no matter which track or enclosure you happen to be attending.
Keen to reward the ladies for brightening up the stands with their glamour and elegance, almost all Ladies Days will come with an attached “Best Dressed Lady” competition. Prizes range from the always-welcome bottle of bubbly, all the way up to clothing vouchers, significant cash prizes, and even two-week holidays abroad – all the more incentive to up the style stakes when selecting your outfit.
Full details of any Ladies Day competition, including prizes, will be available on the racecourse’s website in advance of the meeting. Also bear in mind that some Ladies Days also run competitions for the best hat, best dress child, and best dressed gentleman – so no excuses for your significant other not to put in the effort too.
Do Racecourses Have Cloakrooms? This will again vary from track to track, but as a general rule of thumb, most racecourses do not offer a cloakroom facility. There are, of course, exceptions – the higher-end enclosures at Royal Ascot do offer this service, for example. Nevertheless, when heading to the races we would recommend travelling light and taking with you only that which you can comfortably carry.
If travelling by car, you would have the option of storing any jackets, a change of shoes and so on in your vehicle, with most racecourse car parks being located very close to the entrance. Alternatively, an emergency pair of shoes may fit inconspicuously into a medium-sized handbag. If in doubt, we would again suggest consulting the racecourse website or contacting the track via email in advance of your attendance.
Whichever enclosure or ticketing option you select, you can rest assured that food and drink will be within easy reach right throughout the day. All general admission areas will contain at least one bar offering draught, wine, and spirit options, in addition to a variety of food choices. This will vary from course to course but expect to find the likes of a fish and chip shop, sandwich stall, burger vans and similar options. These may be located within the main grandstand hall, but often also on the grassed area approaching the track.
Moving up to the Club Enclosure; in addition to all of the above, racegoers are likely to have access to a range of higher-end offerings, for example, a dedicated Champagne/vodka/gin bar, sit-down restaurant, seafood stand and so on. As always, consult the track website to see exactly what is on offer, but the Club Enclosure will almost always provide something to suit all tastes.
The hospitality area sees the track pull out all the stops to meet your culinary requirements. Think three-course a la carte meals, private hot and cold buffets, and the best of the best when it comes to alcoholic refreshments. The bigger the track, and the bigger the meeting, the more spectacular the hospitality areas tend to be.
The exact ticketing options will again vary across the 59 racecourses located on the British mainland, but as a general guide, most courses will offer ticketing options which roughly fall into three broad categories.
Often labelled as the Grandstand and Paddock enclosure, this is cheapest and simplest of the ticketing options. Cheap doesn’t necessarily mean you are missing out though, with general admission tickets affording entry to the track and access to the public area bars, food facilities, betting ring, and often the parade ring – enabling racegoers to get a close-up look at the horses in the flesh. Often the largest of the enclosures, general admission areas invariably provide a vibrant, bustling atmosphere.
Commonly referred to as the Premier Enclosure, the Club Enclosure usually comes next up the pricing ladder, and generally offers a classier race day experience. Often less crowded than the general admission areas, service tends to be quicker – both at the bar and in the betting ring – seated areas are more abundant, and the food and drink options more diverse. For example, there may well be more sit-down restaurants, swanky Champagne lawns and similarly plush facilities. The Club Enclosure also tends to be located in the prime viewing areas of the track, granting the best views of the winning post, parade ring and winning enclosure.
Top of the pricing ladder come the hospitality areas. Hospitality packages represent the most stylish way to experience a race day and will almost always include a sit-down meal, be that in the track’s restaurant or exclusive private box area. A whole host of added perks are regularly thrown into a hospitality package, including Champagne receptions upon arrival, afternoon tea, a tipster for the day and more. For those looking to do Ladies Day in style, it may well be worth investigating the hospitality options available at your chosen track.
Most ladies dress to impress at Ladies Day, with the act of donning an elegant outfit representing an enjoyable part of the race day experience. Of course, Britain being Britain, the type of glamour you select will very much depend upon the time of year and the weather forecast.
During the warmer months, many ladies opt for a light summer frock or flowy elegant dress in pastel, white or bright summer colours. Dark colours are, of course, permitted, but bear in mind they do tend to absorb the heat.
Whilst glorious for the summer months, wearing a thin light dress to a winter meeting in the UK may well be asking for trouble. Warmth should be one of your main considerations when selecting an outfit for a winter fixture. Jumpsuits, maxi dresses, and smart dress suits are all worth considering, and in general, most ladies side with thicker materials and long sleeves and add a pair of tights when wearing a dress. A long fashionable coat and stylish gloves can serve the benefit of protecting you from the elements without cramping your style.
Many ladies also opt to supplement their outfits with a hat or fascinator, with the addition of a headpiece often immediately making an outfit feel more dressy. This is optional at the vast majority of tracks, but compulsory at other meetings, such as Royal Ascot – again, we would recommend consulting the website of the particular track in advance to check what is required.
At more country-esq races, such as the Cheltenham Festival, fedora hats are common, as are tweed caps for men. You can even buy them, and all other sorts of tweed, at the racecourse shops if you’ve forgotten yours at home.
Having picked out your fanciest dress or favourite outfit, one of the most important decisions you will need to make is your choice of footwear. All tracks will involve at least some degree of walking, whether it be to/fro the carpark or walking across the racecourse to your enclosure, so you are going to need something stylish, but comfortable.
This may not be so much of an issue should you plan to be based in the hospitality areas of the stands all day, but most enclosures are likely to require you to safely negotiate grassed areas. As such, a wedge or broader heel may be a better option than those six-inch stilettos, particularly during the autumn and winter months when there is likely to be at least a little give underfoot.
At the York summer festival, one of the shops at the racecourse had the bright idea of selling flip flops given the amount of women who choose to wear high heels and inevitably ruined them walking on the grass during and after a massive downpour. By the end of the day, the shop had completely sold out of flip flops, leaving many women walking out of the racecourse totally barefoot after they had inevitably abandoned their stilettos.
Chelsea boots and fashion boots are the order of the day at some festivals, such as the Cheltenham Festival, where tweed and fedoras largely take over this classy country affair. Boots can easily be paired with the right style of dresses with a pair of tights and a tweed jacket, which will not only look fashionable but will be a good sensible option for a cooler day where you are largely standing on your feet and navigating grassy terrain.
Depending upon what you plan to take to the races with you, the addition of a small handbag or clutch is a good idea, rather than anything too massive that you’ll have to lug around all day. Handy for storing all the essential bits and pieces and your race card, a bag may also come in handy for stashing all that cash should your luck be in!
A bag is also a good way to make a statement so if you opt for a more plain coloured dress, then why not go loud and proud with your handbag? Or, if you’ve got a flowery or patterned dress, perhaps consider a nice plain clutch with a bright pop of colour to compliment your outfit.
Last but not least, jewellery is the crown of the Ladies Day outfit to give it that extra bit of pizzazz and perhaps give you some bonus points if you are entering any Ladies Day fashion contests. Depending on your outfit, you may want a chunky necklace to round out more of a plain dress, or perhaps a simple but classy string of pearls to go with your tweed Chelters ensemble. The options here are endless, so get creative!
A quick run through the list of British racetracks shows that each and every course lays on at least one Ladies Day or Ladies Evening over the course of the season – with many tracks offering two, three, or even more such events. Considering there are 59 tracks located on the British mainland, racegoers hoping to slip into their finest outfit and join in the fun certainly aren’t short of options.
Whichever Ladies Day you choose to attend, you are sure to have a good time, but there are those events on the calendar which stand out from the crowd. Ladies Days which year after year never fails to sell out, and have become renowned for the outstanding atmosphere and the race day experience on offer. If you are to attend just one Ladies Day, you won’t go too far wrong in making it one of the following.
Even non-racegoers will likely have heard of the Cheltenham Festival. The highlight of the jumps racing year, this four-day extravaganza takes place each year in early to mid-March and attracts the attention of the sporting world.
Kicking off on a Tuesday and running through to the Friday, the first and final day of the meeting are named in honour of the racing events, whilst St Patricks Thursday is dedicated to all things Irish. Wednesday, however, belongs to the Ladies, at what is one of the biggest, best and most spectacular Ladies Days around.
In addition to the quality racing action – headlined by the Queen Mother Champion Chase – racegoers can enjoy live music at the track, a shopping village containing over 70 stands, and a vast array of food and drink facilities. All that, and we still haven’t mentioned the “Best Dressed Lady” competition, which in the past has awarded prizes, such as a £3,800 piece of jewellery, luxury overnight stays, beauty and style experiences, and a brand new Mini ONE car.
The number one recommendation regarding your choice of attire here is to select the correct footwear. Cheltenham is a vast site, and you will need to do a bit of walking to take it all in. Other than that, expect a mix of pretty dresses and more traditional racing wear, including tweed jackets, smart trousers, and jumpers. Hats and fascinators are not compulsory, but the vast majority of ladies do opt to enhance their outfits with an attractive piece of headwear.
Cheltenham may boast the biggest jumps meeting, but it is the Merseyside venue of Aintree that lays claim to what may be the world’s most famous race – the Grand National. The big race itself takes place on a Saturday in early to mid-April each year on the third and final day of the Grand National Festival. Big as that race is, it is the Friday of this meeting which is the first date pencilled into the diaries of many a racing fan, as the track plays host to its signature Ladies Day.
Labelled “an institution”, the “Festival Fun Day”, and even earning its own hashtag of #FabulousFriday, this fixture is famed for its party atmosphere. If you lay on a party, the scousers will come, and they certainly don’t let the side down here at a meeting that regularly sees up to 50,000 enthusiastic racegoers thronging the stands.
A beacon for local celebrities, this is an excellent meeting to spot a famous face in the crowd which, in combination with the spectacular outfits and antics of the locals, makes this one of the most photographed sporting events of the year. Add in a wide range of food and drink options, quality racing, and a best-dressed competition awarding cars, holidays, and cash prizes, and you have a day that is not to be missed.
Much like the Ladies Day at Cheltenham, there is no “official” dress code in place at Aintree, but if you show up in anything other than your most dazzling dress or smartest outfit, you will likely be in a minority of one.
It was a Thursday meeting at Ascot back in 1823 when the phrase Ladies Day was first touted and, 200 years on, the Berkshire venue stays true to its roots. Taking place on the Thursday of the five-day Royal Ascot meeting in June, this is undoubtedly the most stylish Ladies Day of the entire season, with even the racing TV coverage paying as much attention to the fashion on show as the racing itself – which as it happens is amongst the best of the entire flat racing season.
Class and elegance are the names of the day at this fixture, which is not too surprising considering a Royal Procession on the track precedes the action on each of the five days. That theme carries over into the dress code, which is amongst the strictest in the land. Those attending all areas of the track, including the village enclosure (the track’s equivalent of a general admission area) must wear a hat or fascinator, whilst strapless and sheer tops are forbidden. In all other enclosures, smart formal dresses are the order of the day – think more wedding or family celebration, as opposed to a night on the town.
A truly unique experience on the British calendar, those making the trip to Ascot will be rewarded with the very best facilities that British Racing has to offer, including the truly spectacular grandstand, the Balmoral Restaurant, the Lawn Club and more. Stick around after racing to take in the traditional singalong by the bandstand at a meeting which is quite unlike any other, and all the better for it.
Ascot is recognised by many as the finest track that the UK has to offer, but not too far behind it – and even ahead of it in the eyes of some – is the beautiful course at York. Located on the Knavesmire, just outside one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK, York racecourse plays host to many fantastic fixtures throughout the year, including a cracking Ladies Day in August.
Taking place on day two of the historic four-day Ebor Festival, this Thursday afternoon meeting is regularly one of the most well-attended fixtures in the whole of northern racing. In addition to an excellent day’s racing – headlined by the Yorkshire Oaks – the track lays on a whole host of extra entertainment in the stands, including the Ebor Fashion Lawn, live Jazz throughout the day, and a further 90 minutes of live music following the conclusion of the racing. The Punters Panel meanwhile allows you to pick up a few racing tips for the day, which hopefully may help fund your food and fizz consumption – both of which are to be found in plentiful supply.
Whilst the only dress code in place at York states that gentleman must wear a jacket, shirt and tie in the County Stand, the overwhelming majority of racegoers do opt to get dressed up for the day. With prizes on offer for the best-dressed lady, gentleman, child, couple, and even the best hat, it is no surprise that this meeting throws up a display of fabulous fashions. The prizes are also pretty spectacular, with recent winners being handed a short break to Dubai – including a trip to the opulent Meydan Racecourse.
The summer months are awash with multi-day racing festivals; one of the most famous of which comes at the Sussex track of Goodwood. Taking place over five days in late July each year, the hugely popular Glorious Goodwood meeting regularly lives up to its title when it comes to the weather – a fact which certainly doesn’t hurt the attendance figures.
If summertime drinks with great company and entertainment sound like your idea of fun, then you may wish to pencil the Thursday of this meeting into the diary. Described as the place where racing and fashion collide, Glorious Goodwood is perhaps best thought of as a slightly more relaxed version of Royal Ascot. Whilst Ascot basks in the sophisticated pomp and pageantry, Glorious Goodwood is more akin to a large-scale, ever so slightly posh garden party.
Facilities at the track include the swish Earls Lawn in the Gordon Enclosure, complete with live music, champagne, and a seafood bar – a hugely popular location for groups of female racegoers. The female theme also extends onto the track, with The Magnolia Cup race restricted to female amateur riders – Irish model, Vogue Williams, being amongst a host of celebrities to have taken part in recent years.
The recommended dress code in all enclosures is “stylish with a relaxed feel”, although this isn’t enforced in the family-friendly Lennox Enclosure where racegoers are largely free to dress as they please. Given the often-balmy weather, many ladies opt for a floaty summer dress or light dress suit. And, if you really want to follow the Goodwood theme, why not enhance your outfit with the track’s iconic Panama hat?
Back to Yorkshire for the next entry on the list, and the Town Moor venue of Doncaster. In racing circles, this South Yorkshire track is renowned as the home of the St Leger Stakes – one of the oldest and most important races of the British season. A race so prestigious deserves a festival, and the St Leger duly gets one, with the four-day St. Leger Festival taking place in September each year.
The big race itself takes place on the closing Saturday of the meeting, but right up there with it in the popularity stakes is Thursday’s Ladies Day. Yorkshire’s fair maidens can be counted upon to come out in force for this one, and never fail to add a dose of class, elegance, and fun to proceedings.
Entry packages range from the relaxed family enclosure, all the way up to the top-end Premier Enclosure, with facilities including, the large food and drink exhibition hall of the main grandstand, and the more opulent Champagne Lawn of the County enclosure. Or for those who prefer to remain indoors, Premier Enclosure entry provides the option to take in the action from the comfort of the tracks glass-fronted restaurant.
Smart and stylish is the way to go in terms of your choice of attire, with hats and fascinators often seen in abundance. Whatever you choose to wear, remember to have your photo taken at the track’s flower wall to be in with a shot of winning the £1,000 Best Dressed Lady prize. Don’t forget to head to the champagne lawn for the 60-minute live music concert following the conclusion of the racing action.
Another highlight of the late spring/early summer social scene comes at the Berkshire track of Newbury. There aren’t too many British courses where the major racing event of the season takes place on the same day as Ladies Day, but Newbury defies that norm with the spectacular Lockinge-Ladies Day, which is held at the picturesque racecourse each year in May.
With the sun often beaming down on the track, many ladies take the opportunity to give an early outing to their finest summer dresses, leading to a real kaleidoscope of colour in the stands. Rather than the traditional “Best Dressed” competition, Newbury employs a team to take in the fashion on show and award a number of on-the-spot prizes, including bottles of bubbly, tickets to future race days and more.
Those arriving early are granted the chance to take in a talk from a panel of female racing pioneers, helping to set the mood for a day, which also includes a female riders-only charity race.
Once the action kicks off, live acoustic music provides a relaxing backdrop to the racing, food, and drink, both of which are found in abundance. Catering options include a selection of traditional bars, bespoke cocktails, fast food, and more cultured fare courtesy of the track’s very own Taste Newbury food brand. Whether you base yourself in the relaxed surroundings of the Grandstand Enclosure, or the more upmarket Premier Enclosure you are sure to be taken in by the charm of this beautiful track. And, for those wishing to stick around a little longer, the course lays on a post-racing party complete with live music.
Recognised by many as the home of horse racing, Newmarket is not to be left out when it comes to the staging of a fabulous Ladies Day. The big occasion at the Suffolk venue comes in July, as the track’s most fashionable fixture kicks off the hugely popular three-day July Festival.
Boasting some of the most modern facilities in British racing, in addition to stunning countryside views, Newmarket in summer is the ideal stage for a celebration of racing, fashion, food and drink. The track doesn’t let racegoers down on any of those fronts.
A quality card of action keeps the racing aficionados happy, whilst over £5,500 worth of prizes in the Style Awards – available to both ladies and gents – amply reward those who pull out all the stops in the style stakes. The track is also overflowing with food and drink facilities, with over 25 bars, cafés, fast food outlets and restaurants spread throughout the impressive site. Highlights include the bustling Champions Lawn, stylish Stravinskys Wine Bar, tranquil Summer House Restaurant, and secluded Mozarts Bistro.
Racegoers in all enclosures tend to get into the spirit of Ladies Day by opting to arrive in an array of dazzling dresses or summery trouser suits, often complete with a hat or fascinator. Whilst this dress code is not strictly enforced in the Grandstand and Paddock Enclosure, if you are wishing to attend the Premier Enclosure or Hospitality Areas, smart attire is a must. Exactly what “smart attire” entails will of course vary from individual to individual, but the track recommends opting for the type of outfit you might wear for a wedding.
At the majority of racecourses, one Ladies Day per season seems to suffice. Not so at Chester, with the Cheshire venue seeming to have been well and truly bitten by the Ladies Day bug. And when you do a Ladies Day as well as the track known as the Roodee, it does seem a shame to restrict yourself to just the one per season.
The highest profile of the female-centric race days comes on the Thursday of the track’s signature meeting in May, but more follow in June and August, in addition to a Ladies and Gents evening in July. With the track staging a total of 15 fixtures per season, close to a third of the meetings are Ladies Days. No matter which of the fixtures you choose to attend, you can expect a bumper 20,000 crowd, boosted by a healthy percentage of Liverpool lasses, who never fail to make the short trek to Chester.
Visitors to Chester can expect an attractive mix of the old and the new. First opening for business back in 1539, Chester is in fact the oldest racecourse still in operation anywhere in the world. But fear not, the facilities are well up to modern standards, courtesy of regular investment by the track owners over the years.
With no fewer than seven enclosures from which to select, ranging from the bustling Open Course area to the swanky adults-only Champagne Lawn, this picturesque track on the banks of the River Dee offers something to suit all tastes and invariably spices up the action with live music entertainment, best-dressed competitions, and more.
There is no official dress code in place in either the Open Course or Dee stand, but in all other areas of the track, ladies are required to wear a smart dress, skirt, or trouser suit. Rules aside, expect to see racegoers taking the opportunity to turn up the style volume in all enclosures. The spectacle of a thronging crowd in all their summer finery is a sight to behold, at a meeting which is regularly bathed in sunshine. All told, this is an experience well worth sampling for yourself should you get the chance.
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