Kentucky Derby vs. Royal Ascot: Contrasting the Prestige and Traditions of Two Iconic Events

Kentucky Derby vs Royal Ascot. Images of horses racing

Americans have Derby Day, while the British counterpart is the Royal Ascot. The Royal Ascot is similar to the Kentucky Derby but spans over a week and includes the presence of different members of the royal family, elegant carriages, and, of course, extravagant hats. – no insight into mint juleps as of yet.

Each race is separated by over 4000 miles, but the prestige and traditions are uncanny, and as two of the most prolific horse events worldwide, comparisons are often made. 

Kentucky Derby vs Royal Ascot. Images of horses racing

Kentucky Derby: Did you know

Dating back to 1875, the Kentucky Derby is the longest-running sports event in the United States. Despite only lasting two minutes, this event has a rich history and many traditions. Taking place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, the Kentucky Derby is a prestigious Grade I stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbred horses. Spanning a distance of 1.25 miles, this race marks the first time these horses tackle such a challenging course. 

Beyond being a thrilling race, the Kentucky Derby is also a social gathering that has remained uninterrupted throughout the years. It has persevered through notable moments in history, including The Great Depression and both World Wars. The Kentucky Derby Museum, located on the grounds of Churchill Downs, serves as a testament to the event’s history. Visitors can explore the museum, delve into informative exhibits, enjoy refreshments at the Bourbon Bar, and shop for memorabilia. 


The traditions surrounding the derby extend beyond simply spectating. To fully immerse in the celebration of southern culture, attendees sip on mint juleps (a refreshing concoction of bourbon, sugar, and mint leaves served over crushed ice) while donning statement hats or headpieces. 

Interestingly, the Kentucky Derby drew inspiration from a horse race held outside the United States. In 1872, Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of American explorer William Clark, journeyed across Europe. During his visit to the Epsom Derby in England, Clark found the inspiration to bring a similar horse racing event to the States. With the support of his family, Clark rallied local racing enthusiasts to form the Louisville Jockey Club and establish the inaugural Kentucky Derby.

In 2024, the widely recognised horse race will mark its 150th anniversary. A significant milestone is that the prestigious trophy departed from Kentucky for the first time as it embarked on a special tour in the United Kingdom. The tour commenced with the Derby at Epsom Downs, where its inspiration grew., and continued with a stop at Royal Ascot, the UK race that bears striking similarities.  

Both the UK and US horse racing industries boast a huge betting presence. With the Derby’s Kentucky Betting promo codes and Ascot’s long-standing promotion of national sportsbooks, you can guarantee 9 out of 10 punters will have at least one thing in common on race – they’ll be placing wagers on their favourite runners.  

Between the fancy dress, horse betting, and the Derby’s link to UK horse racing culture, it’s easy to see why the Kentucky Derby and Royal Ascot are regularly compared. 


Royal Ascot: A Monarch difference 

While the prestige and similarities of Derby Day and Ascot are endless, they aren’t exactly the same. 

The Royal Ascot is a prestigious horse race held annually at Ascot Racecourse in the United Kingdom. It spans five days and is a highly anticipated event in the horse racing world, occurring every June. The racecourse itself was established in 1711 by Queen Anne, and since 1911, the royal family has been regular attendees of the event, which is famously referred to as the Royal Ascot. Interestingly, the first day of the Royal Ascot also coincides with the commencement of Royal Week, further adding to the significance of this occasion. 

Similar to the Kentucky Derby, the Royal Ascot enforces strict dress code regulations for its annual participants. For instance, it is customary for men to don top hats and coattails when attending. Likewise, women at the Royal Ascot often don hats that can rival the stylish headwear worn by fashion-conscious Americans on Derby Day in May. However, it is worth noting that the British attendees’ headpieces at the Royal Ascot are generally smaller than the accessories seen on Derby Day.


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