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.

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