Ladies days have long been part of the fabric of British horse racing, regularly acting as major social events on people’s calendars. In many instances, particularly at smaller racecourses, ladies days draw in the biggest crowds of the year due to the heightened level of interest they create. Given how many extra tickets the ‘Ladies Day’ name can sell, it is little wonder so many racecourses now opt to dedicate at least one fixture a year to female attendees.
With plenty of ladies day meetings to choose from, it may well be that you want to see for yourself what all the fuss is about. Such meetings do tend to be a little different from your regular run-of-the-mill fixtures and it is worth knowing about these differences beforehand. For this reason, we will provide you with a complete overview of a typical ladies day event at a British racecourse, while also highlighting the very best ones.
How Many Ladies Day Meetings Are There?
Precise numbers will vary year on year but there is quite a large selection to choose from. Most racecourses feature at least one ladies day on their annual calendar and it is not unheard of for a venue to have two or even three. There is little incentive for racecourses not to host them because they regularly prove to be a hit, attracting many visitors who would otherwise be unlikely to attend a race meeting.
This is not to say, mind you, that every single ladies day is guaranteed to be a success. A course cannot simply slap ‘Ladies Day’ onto any random fixture and expect it to be a glowing success. For them to be a success, racecourses do need to give the meetings the feel of being a special occasion. This means investing time and effort into promoting the event so people are aware of it. A healthy crowd is key for a successful ladies day as this is what gives them their vibrant atmosphere.
Although we will stick with the ‘Ladies Day’ term throughout, on occasion you might also see an apostrophe (i.e. Ladies’ Day), though this is not that common despite arguably being more grammatically sound. Bear in mind that some racecourses will run meetings called ‘Ladies Evening’ or ‘Ladies Night’ too (or instead). These tend to work in exactly the same way as ladies day meetings, only they start later in the day.
How Are Ladies Days Different To Other Race Meetings?
Now it is time to focus on the ways in which a ladies day meeting differs from a regular racecourse meeting. Often it has little to do with the quality of the actual racing taking place. A handful of ladies day meetings feature some big races, usually featuring mares and/or fillies, but typically these days are not defined by having top-drawer racing. Instead, they stand out for the following reasons.
Perhaps the biggest reason why ladies days are so loved is their emphasis on fashion. They actively encourage racegoers to dress up in their most glamorous outfits, often purchased for the very occasion. As well as stunning dresses, fine shoes and glistening accessories, spectacular hats/fascinators are a regular sight at some ladies day meetings too. Such opportunities do not tend to come across too often so naturally, many ladies enjoy making the very most of it.
Not that any incentive is particularly needed but a common sight among ladies days is having prizes for the best-dressed women in attendance. Ladies days regular feature judges who will identify the lady, or ladies, they deem to be donning the most impressive outfit. Prizes are often generous too, at the 2022 Grand National meeting, their top reward included a whopping £5,000 cash prize and a spa break at a luxury hotel, among other things. Now, this is a particularly large meeting but even smaller racecourses have been known to hand out hundreds of pounds to whoever impresses the most.
It is not especially uncommon either for there to be more than just a ‘best dressed’ category. You may find at some ladies days that they reserve some prizes for whoever is wearing the best hat/fascinator. Despite the name, gentlemen can be judged on their attire too with some courses handing out prizes for either the best couple or simply the best-dressed gent. The day might not be primarily about them but gents are still firmly encouraged to dress up smartly for any ladies day meeting.
If you want to be in with a chance of winning any of the ladies day prizes on offer, just be sure to check the rules beforehand. Some courses do not require people to formally enter but there are those in which (free) registration is required for you to be considered. This usually involves going to a designated area of the course within a particular time frame.
As for what is typically worn on ladies day, simply looking at images from previous events can give you a great idea. Bold and bright colours are often selected while some people opt to get a tailored outfit for the special occasion. Dresses should not be too revealing; instead a focus on sophistication, but with headwear, can be more daring and dramatic. A general guide is to think that you are a guest at a fancy wedding. The only possible exception to this is footwear as an increasing number of racegoers are opting for smart flats over the traditional heels. As for the gents, nothing too complicated here, just a good-fitting suit with a tie is the most standard approach.
Now, virtually all race meetings come with some hospitality options but the selection is often much broader for a ladies day meeting. Should you really want to treat yourself, particularly when it comes to food and drink, you should find there are many options available. The high demand for ladies day meetings regularly means many hospitality options get fully booked so we recommend you check out the options well in advance. These options will not come cheap but most deem the fine dining, classy surroundings and glasses (or bottles) of bubbly to be worth the sum.
Following on from this last point. It should be noted that even regular admission tickets almost always cost extra for a ladies day meeting. Now, prices do not go through the roof but where a standard meeting might cost £15, you could expect a ladies day meeting to cost £20 or £25 potentially. If there is a musical performance scheduled for after-racing, from a well-known act, then tickets will likely cost at least double this. You can often bring the cost down by purchasing tickets in advance as many courses offer an early bird discount.
With racecourses wishing to make their ladies day as appealing as possible, many put on extra entertainment, usually in the form of live music. Typically, this will precede the final race and give racegoers the chance to show off their dance moves. This can be often marketed as something of a party and in such instances you should expect to see plenty of drinks flowing. We mentioned before how live music performances after racing can see entry tickets cost £40/£50+ but this is only usually if a big name is in attendance. For lesser-known acts and DJs, you will just pay a more standard ladies day price.
Biggest Ladies Day Meetings
Ladies days typically revolve around the warmer months of the year, largely because cold and wet weather does not bring out the best outfits. As such, even courses that only host racing in the main National Hunt season will typically feature them early or later in the season, rather than in the depths of winter. For the most extravagant and popular ladies day events, take your pick from the options below (or for a full list see this site).
Cheltenham Festival – Day Two (March)
The second day of each Cheltenham Festival is the special day for the ladies although it is not as heavily marketed as many other ladies days. You are far more likely to see day two, Wednesday, referred to as Queen Mother Champion Chase Day, if not simply just ‘day two’. The ladies day element is not stressed as much because ultimately this is a festival where the racing takes priority, what with it being the greatest jump racing meeting around. Nevertheless, you will still see plenty of wonderful outfits on display.
Aintree’s Grand National Festival – Day Two (April)
Even people who are not horse racing fans will have heard of the Grand National, such is its popularity. What fewer people know is that the race itself falls on the final day of a three-day festival at Aintree. The focus is firmly on the main marathon event on the Saturday, but on Friday fashion takes centre stage as this is Aintree’s rather famous ladies day. Admission comes at a fairly steep price but this is without question one of the biggest social occasions each year in racing.
Newbury’s Lockinge Day (May)
Newbury have chosen to put their special ladies event on the day of their most illustrious race, the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes. There would already be plenty of hype for this meeting, purely because of the top-class race but having ladies day only increases the level of interest. What you end up with is a thriving meeting that is absolutely full of patrons enjoying Newbury’s modern, spacious and well-connected facilities.
Royal Ascot – Day Three (June)
When it comes to fashion and style, there is no bigger racing occasion than Royal Ascot. Ladies days do not come any more sophisticated and classy than this, after all, there is normally royalty in attendance. Many believe it is a ladies day experience people should try at least once, such is its prestige. We would agree with them but always check the dress code rules for your enclosure beforehand. As far as rules on attire go, Royal Ascot is as strict as it comes and ladies day, which falls on the Thursday, is certainly no exception.
Newmarket’s July Festival – Day One (July)
Another super addition to the ladies day list. Newmarket puts on a real show for its three-day July Festival which begins with a day for the ladies. Thursday’s opener also features high-quality racing so it is truly a day to savour with plenty to enjoy on and off the course. The Champions Lawn is the place to be for this meeting but tickets typically sell out beforehand, making advanced booking a must. Even with a regular grandstand ticket though racegoers will still get to enjoy the post-racing entertainment Newmarket puts on.
Goodwood Festival – Day Three (Late July/Early August)
Much like with Royal Ascot, ladies day at Goodwood Festival falls on the third day (Thursday). It is the most glamorous day of the entire meeting, perfect for socialising and showing off your finest attire. Naturally, this high-class meeting also features some wonderful food and drink options for guests to enjoy. Ladies day also coincides with the £600,000 Nassau Stakes, fittingly a race reserved for fillies and mares.
York’s Ebor Festival – Day Two (August)
York is one of the country’s most loved racecourses and their biggest event of the year is the Ebor Festival. Starting on Wednesday, the following day is the Yorkshire Oaks/Ladies Day. Attendances for this day can approach 30,000 so an electric atmosphere on the Knavesmire is virtually a guarantee. As well as the racing, you will want to keep your eye on the Ebor Fashion Lawn as this is where all the very best outfits will appear.
Doncaster’s St Leger Festival – Day Two (September)
Just before the weather takes a noticeable turn for the worse, Doncaster Racecourse serves up one more popular ladies day. Taking place towards the end of the flat season, their ladies day fixture forms the middle part of their three-day St Leger Festival. As far as prizes go, Doncaster does not serve up the biggest (with £500 on offer for the best outfit) but this is an extremely well-attended race day nonetheless.
Is Dressing Up Compulsory?
Although style and fashion is very much emphasised for ladies day meetings, there is usually no requirement to put on anything overly snazzy. If you simply want to pick something smart casual so you are more comfortable, this is perfectly acceptable in most instances. Just ensure that what you wear meets the dress code criteria of the stand/enclosure you are in. As for wearing a hat, this is optional too in almost all instances but there are a couple of exceptions like some enclosures at Royal Ascot.
Is Ladies Day A Controversial Name?
Ladies days have become such a major part of British racing despite it not being something you would find across any other sport. They regularly prove to be successes but there some people who view such branding as being a little outdated. Their issue is that having this binary ladies/gentlemen divide reinforces traditional gender identities, thus not making it overly inclusive. That said, racecourses have faced virtually no pressure to drop or rename their ladies day events. It is not something that has attracted any sort of major controversy or media attention so we do not expect the ‘Ladies Day’ title to disappear anytime soon.