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Queen Elizabeth II 1952-2022: How racing became Her Majesty’s active passion

Racing was uniquely honoured by The Queen during her 70-year reign. 

Her Majesty took a passive part in many other sports, presenting prizes at Wimbledon or the FA Cup final, meeting the teams playing in the Lord’s Test or opening the Commonwealth Games and London Olympics.

But racing was always an active passion. That much can be seen in newsreel footage of the 1953 Derby, just days after the Coronation, as the excitement of her own horse Aureole’s tilt at the Epsom Classic is there for everyone to see.

There was no royal victory that day, as her colt went down narrowly to Pinza, who gave the newly-knighted Sir Gordon Richards an elusive triumph in the big race at the 28th attempt.

But the Queen’s distinctive purple and red colours were carried to numerous successes after that, for a lady who has been very much a ‘hands on’ owner, heavily involved in the breeding and training of her bloodstock.

She followed in the long tradition of royal involvement in the sport dating back to King Charles II, who practically launched Newmarket as a training centre, and Queen Anne, who founded Ascot racecourse.

Her father George VI was very successful on the Flat, winning the fillies’ triple crown with Sun Chariot in 1942, and his daughter’s love of the sport was a tremendous boost to racing.

Even before her reign started, Meyrick Good of The Sporting Life wrote in 1948: “It is a matter of the greatest satisfaction to every racegoer in the land that the Heiress Presumptive to the Throne, HRH Princess Elizabeth, is an ardent devotee of the turf”.

Her first winner came in partnership with the Queen Mother when Monaveen won over jumps at Fontwell in 1949, but it was on the Flat that she made her mark.

The Queen was crowned champion owner in 1954, when Cecil Boyd-Rochfort’s Aureole lifted the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes and also returned to Epsom to take the Coronation Cup.

Her Majesty regained the title in 1957, after Carozza – the lesser-fancied of her two runners from the Noel Murless stable – gave her a first Classic success.

Her three-year-old had looked sure to be caught inside the final furlong by Silken Glider, but an inspired ride by Lester Piggott saw the royal filly hold on by the narrowest of margins, to massive cheers from the crowd when the result was announced.

The Queen’s fortunes suffered a slight dip after Pall Mall landed the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1958, with Canisby in the Eclipse and Aiming High in the Coronation Stakes among her few big-race winners in the 1960s.

But a purple patch was just around the corner. In 1974 there was another narrow Classic success as Highclere, ridden by Joe Mercer for Dick Hern, just held off Polygamy by a short-head in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket before following up in the French Oaks at Chantilly.

The Silver Jubilee year of 1977 proved an annus mirabilis thanks to Dunfermline.

First, the filly overcame trouble in running to collect the Oaks at Epsom under Willie Carson. Then she inflicted the first defeat on dual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged in winning the St Leger at Doncaster.

The period since then saw plenty of success, particularly at Royal Ascot where Blueprint, Dartmouth, Colour Sergeant, Phantom Gold and, most famously, the brilliant filly Estimate all struck gold.

The latter will be an enduring memory of the great meeting for anyone lucky enough to be there or watching on television, with the delight on Her Majesty’s face a joy to behold after wins in the Queen’s Vase and the Gold Cup – with Estimate being the first horse to land the big race in the colours of a reigning monarch.

But the Derby always eluded her, with Milford beaten into 10th place behind stable companion Troy in 1979 and Carlton House finishing third to Pour Moi in 2011 as the 5-2 favourite.

Hopes of a third Oaks triumph for The Queen had been high when Height Of Fashion was champion two-year-old filly in 1981, but the decision was made to bypass Epsom as connections felt she would not handle the course’s undulations as she was a long-striding filly.

Her next race was the Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket, which she won before being sold to Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum for a reported £1.5m.

The proceeds were invested in the royal string, but Height Of Fashion proved one of the best broodmares of the century and produced numerous good horses – including Nashwan, who took both the 2000 Guineas and the Derby in 1989.

Boyd-Rochfort and Murless were succeeded by Roger Charlton, Richard Hannon, Michael Bell and Sir Michael Stoute as royal trainers, with all enjoying success.

Stoute never gets too excited and neither does jockey Ryan Moore, but the exploits of Dartmouth and Estimate at Royal Ascot clearly meant as much to them as their owner, whose sheer love and devotion to the sport helped keep racing in the sporting limelight for so long.

Keith Hamer selects five of the best horses to have run in the colours of the Queen:

AUREOLE

Almost gave Her Majesty a fairytale victory in the Derby in Coronation year of 1953 when he was second to Pinza. Trained by Captain Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, he was also fifth in the 2000 Guineas and third in the St Leger. He went on to be the best older horse in Europe in 1954 with victories in the Coronation Cup, Hardwicke Stakes and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

PALL MALL

Also trained by Boyd-Rochfort, he took the 1958 2000 Guineas to be the first Classic winner bred by Her Majesty. He justified the decision to keep him in training as a four-year-old by enhancing his reputation with victory in the Lockinge Stakes.

HIGHCLERE

Trainer Dick Hern got her ready to win the 1000 Guineas on her seasonal debut in heart-stopping fashion by a short head from Polygamy, who went on to lift the Oaks. Highclere bypassed Epsom for the French Oaks (Prix de Diane) and is the only horse to win both races. She was also second to Dahlia in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

DUNFERMLINE

This filly made the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year of 1977 extra special with victory in not one Classic, but two. She won the Oaks despite suffering interference in running and then went on to Doncaster for the St Leger where she inflicted the only defeat on Alleged. She was also a creditable fourth behind that horse in the Arc.

ESTIMATE

Estimate gave the Queen her greatest Royal Ascot moment when fending off the late charge of Simenon to lift the 2013 Gold Cup, with the two-and-a-half-mile contest very much the jewel in the crown at the Berkshire track. Estimate had won the Queen’s Vase the previous year but she could not defend her title in 2014, finishing second but eventually being disqualified for a failed drugs test.



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