Monday, June 20, 2011

All The Queen’s Horses


All The Queen’s Horses

By Stephen Dwyer

The Queen puts careful thought into the naming of her racehorses. As one would expect, almost all of them are highly personalised. “My Kingdom Of Fife”, “Earl Marshal” and of course Carlton House have raced in the renowned royal colours. Those silks, royal purple with scarlet sleeves and a black velvet cap were the inherited colours of King George IV and King Edward VII. Gold trim and braid is interwoven throughout, sovereignty at its finest.

This week, amidst the regality of Ascot, the monosyllabic name of a chestnut filly by Galileo typifies best the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and her horses. The filly, a recent 290,000 Guineas acquisition from the family of Soldier Of Fortune (who won an Irish Derby and The Coronation Cup) is simply and befittingly called “Fascination”; more about her later.

The Queen is renowned for being an advocate of the countryside and a matriarch of animals. Admittedly, the fascination with the thoroughbred is not a novel one for a monarch; we are dealing with the “sport of kings” after all. Nonetheless, Queen Elizabeth II is a champion of the sport and one of its greatest ever ambassadors.

The Queen’s interest in horse racing stems from an early age. No doubt it was both fuelled and encouraged by The Queen Mother who was a keen supporter of National Hunt racing. So much so that in 1980, on the occasion of her 80th birthday, The Queen Mother was honoured with the christening of a Championship race at Cheltenham as recognition of her contributions to the sport.

Indeed The Queen Mother had a very successful fifty-year career as an owner with over 400 winners. Today, bronze busts entrusted to her memory adorn Sandown and Prestbury Park. To many, especially those directly affected, she will forever be remembered as a patron of the injured jockeys’ fund.

Up until the time of her death in 2002 at the age of 101, The Queen covered her mother’s racing expenses. It was a stately gesture, one which William Shawcross, official biographer of the late Queen Mother was meant “to enable her to continue the style of life to which she was both accustomed and suited”.

The Queen is one of the most noted owners and breeders of racing thoroughbreds in Great Britain. In 2010 she enjoyed success with ten racecourse wins. Despite keeping a small number of horses in training (running 20-30 each year) she frequently attends equestrian events and is a regular at Cheltenham and Ascot where her hat colour is the topic of much discussion. It is also rumoured that she reads the Racing Papers over breakfast.

Royal Ascot of course is a highpoint in her racing calendar. Over the course of five days, celebrating this year’s Ascot Tercentenary celebrations is an honour that The Queen will hold dear.

She may be considered somewhat of a Royal Ascot specialist. In 1957 she enjoyed success with four winners during Ascot week. To date she has had over 20 winners at the venue. It is said that the monarch knows the track innately. Travelling by carriage along the main straight, she has a very good idea of what the going is like according to the noise that the wheels on the carriage make and also the sounds of the carriage horses as they pull the royal party, according to her Racing Manager Highclere Stud-based John Warren.

Apart from Royal Ascot, The Queen has visited many training and breeding operations while attending State visits worldwide. In 1984, 1986 and 1991 visits were made to see stallion stations and stud farms in Kentucky.

Only last month, during a very successful State visit to Ireland, the first in 100 years, The Queen visited The National Stud in Kildare as well as attending a private viewing of Sea The Stars at the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud.

In particular The National Stud and the Royal Family have been intertwined throughout the years. Horses raised at the stud have won all five classics, including Sun Chariot who won the Oaks for the Queen’s father. George VI. Even now, General Synod, one of The Queen’s strongest runners this season is by the National Stud’s premier stallion, Invincible Spirit. He stands for a fee of €60,000.

Despite the close affiliation with Ireland, it may strike you as unusual that The Queen has only ran two of her horses there since 1996. Barber’s Shop was pulled up in last year’s Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown while Four Winds finished runner up in the listed Vincent O’ Brien Stakes in Killarney back in 2009. In keeping with the Céad Mile Fáilte, royal runners are welcome anytime.

Happily, success has not evaded the Queen throughout her racing career. Wins of note include her coronation year of 1953 when Aureole was second in the Derby. Since then, she has won all five Classics with the exception of the Derby. Perhaps most famously, she won the Oaks in 1977, her Silver Jubilee year, with Dunfermline.

The quest continues.

To date by the way, the earlier-mentioned filly, Fascination has raced nine times, never winning. Never mind, she is still as loved as the rest of Her Majesty’s stable.

She is and always will be, one of The Queen’s horses.

Je ne sais quoi


Je ne sais quoi

By Stephen Dwyer

The 2011 Epsom Derby will live long in the memory for two reasons. Undoubtedly, the sight of nineteen year old jockey Mickael Barzalona standing mightily on Pour Moi yards before he crossed the line in front raised many seasoned eyebrows.

Celebrating victory in the Derby before you finish it is one thing. Celebrating it early by flapping your whip, saluting the crowd and pulling sharply on your mounts reins is another matter entirely. Barzalona’s premature flourish is unlikely to prove as popular as Frankie Dettori’s flying dismount in years to come.

Despite his bold celebration, Mickael Barzalona steered Pour Moi, a son of Montjeu, to a first Derby win for the French in thirty years. This could be the start of a meteoritic rise for the Lyon-born Frenchman who became the youngest rider to win the Derby since Walter Swinburn aboard the mighty Shergar. The only jockey to have ridden a Derby winner at a younger age was an eighteen-year old Lester Piggot.

Apart from Barzalonas exuberant display of Gallic Flair, the scene of The Queen’s Carlton House finishing a fast third was also memorable, albeit for the wrong reasons. For Michael Stoute, jockey Ryan Moore and of course The Queen it was a huge disappointment. For the bookmakers, it was a welcome spectacle. Reports that £20 million would have been lost by the layers had Carlton House managed to win, but it was not to be. For Her Majesty The Queen, the Derby drought continues.

No ruling Monarch has won a Derby since 1909. The last time The Queen ran a horse in the Derby, Prince William had not even been born. The last royal runner in the race, Church Parade, was a remote fifth to Shergar in the 1981 renewal. It was a remote mainly because Shergar had won by ten lengths.

Queen’s Highland Glen with a view to racing him in Dubai and made a big offer.
The Queen had no desire to sell the Sheikh the talented, but unreliable, customer who she feared might let him down like he had let her down on two occasions by playing up at the start and being withdrawn.

Through her racing adviser, John Warren, she refused the offer, but instead suggested she give the horse to Sheikh Mohammed

Carlton House was gift from the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum. This is a gratifying tale of reaping what you sow. Apparently the Queen had a horse that was far from compliant, but considered suitable to racing on the artificial surface in Dubai if it could be ‘straightened out.’ But rather than trying to flog ‘sands to the Arabs,’ the Queen made a gift of the horse to Sheikh Mohammed.

Carlton House and three other yearlings were the Sheikh’s reciprocal gesture.
There is an Chinese proverb, A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses.

And then, just like Cinderella, Carlton House lost a shoe. Just after the Derby, a course steward collected a stricken front horseshoe which had separated from Carlton House a mere 200 yards from the finish. It was a crucial time in the race for such and

There is the enticing prospect that day could see the Queen getting her own back on French soil should Carlton House reoppose Pour Moi in Europe's final big championship race of the season, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October.

Any maybe then the Queen will experience a delight that the French call “Je ne sais quoi.”