Jockey Club scraps dress codes to make racing more 'accessible and inclusive'

Packed stands at Aintree, the Racecourse of the Year
Racegoers will be free to wear what they want in all enclosures at tracks, including Cheltenham, Aintree, Newmarket, Epsom and SandownCredit: Edward Whitaker

The Jockey Club on Thursday announced its decision to scrap formal dress codes at its 15 racecourses with immediate effect following feedback from racegoers.

The move means racegoers will be free to wear what they want, barring certain exceptions, in all enclosures at tracks including Cheltenham, Aintree, Newmarket, Epsom and Sandown.

ITV Racing presenter Oli Bell hailed the decision and described it as a "huge step forward for racing", while Ascot said there were no plans to adjust its formal dress code for its royal meeting.

The Jockey Club is encouraging racegoers to "dress as you feel most comfortable and confident", with the only exceptions to the new policy being offensive fancy dress or clothing of any kind and replica sports shirts, while morning dress or formal daywear will continue to be required in the Queen Elizabeth II Stand at Epsom on Derby day.

Its chief executive Nevin Truesdale said: "Horseracing has always been a sport enjoyed by people from all different backgrounds and it's really important to us to be accessible and inclusive. We hope that by no longer placing an expectation upon people of what they should and shouldn't wear, we can help highlight that racing really is for everyone.

"While the Jockey Club has a rich heritage and history it is also a forward-thinking organisation which places a great emphasis on diversity and inclusion and always seeks to reflect modern trends.

"Of course, that doesn't mean we are discouraging people from dressing up for a day at the races if they want to. This is about giving people a choice and the opportunity to come racing dressed however they feel most comfortable and confident, while also bearing in mind the challenges regularly presented by the British weather."

Two racegoers were initially refused entry to Sandown's most expensive enclosure on bet365 Gold Cup day in April
Two racegoers were initially refused entry to Sandown's most expensive enclosure on bet365 Gold Cup day in AprilCredit: Edward Whitaker

The debate over dress codes on British racecourses resurfaced last year when two racegoers were initially refused entry to Sandown's most expensive enclosure on bet365 Gold Cup day in April because they were wearing trainers.

Significant social media criticism greeted the news, with accusations such policies were elitist and outdated – and also not in line with other countries.

The Jockey Club, which owns Sandown, subsequently said it intended to review its dress code arrangement and it has made the change having gained feedback from racegoers.

And Bell, who has long been an advocate of removing dress codes, has welcomed the move.

"It's a huge step forward in allowing people to experience the thrill of racing," said Bell. "When we're fighting for attention and airtime, I think having a barrier to entry in whatever capacity is not conducive to the messaging that we're open and welcome to all. By removing the dress code, it now aligns with the message we want to create that the sport is inclusive.

"The other thing that's important is this should stop people from feeling restricted in terms of getting close to the star horses and jockeys at the best British meetings. These experiences help give people the bug and if we want to spread the word about how great a sport we are, we need everyone to experience the brilliance of racing.

"When I was in America and Australia, the raceday experience was a lot more informal, albeit lots of people still dress up," added Bell. "At the Breeders' Cup, everyone was milling around together and it was a really warm and welcoming experience. I'm glad we're more aligned with that attitude than what might be seen as a more Dickensian approach."

'Royal Ascot is a unique event'

Dress codes will remain "an important part" of Royal Ascot, the independent course said on Thursday while reiterating its rules were limited outside the showpiece meeting.

A statement from Ascot read: "Royal Ascot is a unique event where the dress code forms an important part of the experience. There are dress codes, and associated style guides, for the Royal Enclosure, Queen Anne Enclosure and Village Enclosure and dressing up for the royal meeting is a fundamental and much-loved part of attending for many. There is no dress code for the Windsor Enclosure, although customers are invited to dress smartly and many choose to do so.

"Outside Royal Ascot, no dress code applies for the vast majority of visitors. There is no compulsory dress code at all in the jumps season and in the Flat season, smart dress is only required in the King Edward VII Enclosure and for hospitality guests.

"We do find, however, that most people attending enjoy dressing up at Ascot throughout the year and this is encouraged within our style advice outside the royal meeting."

Arena Racing Company said on Thursday it did not enforce a formal dress code for the majority of meetings at its 16 racecourses.

A spokesman for Arc said: "We are always keen to make sure that customers are comfortable and do not enforce formal dress codes at the vast majority of our fixtures.

"Many customers enjoy dressing for the occasion in hospitality areas and at some premium fixtures, at which we do offer some guidance, which is regularly reviewed."

Jockey Club announcement brings courses in line with international norms

The Jockey Club's decision on Thursday to relax rules on dress codes marks a significant departure from a tradition which singled British racing out on the international stage.

Derby day and Royal Ascot will maintain dress codes but remain among the only major global meetings to require specific attire for entry.

There are no dress requirements in place for any of Ireland's 26 racecourses but smart-casual attire is often recommended. For the most prestigious meetings, particularly summer Flat meetings, acegoers are still likely to put on more formal wear but the HRI stresses the priority is comfort for all racegoers. Flat shoes and weather-appropriate clothing are always encouraged. 

In a similar approach to Ireland, France places no restrictions on what racegoers can wear at meetings. This even applies to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, one of the biggest fixtures in the European racing calendar. While June's Prix de Diane day is also a popular occasion for more formal wear, there is no barrier to entry for those in casual dress.

The Breeders' Cup meeting last year followed a similar pattern and allowed racegoers to dress for comfort at Keeneland, but encouraged people to dress up for the occasion. The only exception was for members of Keeneland Clubhouse or the Thoroughbred Club, where formal wear was expected and no denim or trainers were allowed.

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Andrew DietzReporter
Published on 2 February 2023Last updated 19:40, 2 February 2023