Horse Racing

The Queen's own sport

Epsom Downs, June 4, 2011; the setting for a moment of pure sporting drama, lasting barely two and a half minutes, that unified millions of eyes around the world. The focal point of the attention was a young horse, barely three years old, who carried the burden of nearly sixty years of quest, a fact not lost on the millions of adoring well-wishers.

Moments later and the air of expectation, reserved only for a short-priced favourite, owned by a much-loved monarch, had evaporated into a sense of anti-climax, as Carlton House finished an honourable third, unable to break one of horse racing's longest hoodoos.

Victory in the Epsom Derby would have finally added the one missing success for the Queen, one of the sport's staunchest and longest-serving allies.

Her Majesty has already endured one near miss in the ultimate Classic, back in 1953, when a chestnut colt called Aureole lined up for the Derby in Coronation week, at the not unfancied odds of 9-1.

The Queen and Queen Mother

However, in front of a massive crowd, the famous royal colours of purple, with gold braids, red sleeves, a back cap and a gold tassel, had to give second best to Pinza, ridden by the popular Sir Gordon Richards, who was winning the race for the first time at his 28th attempt and had been made a Knight of the Realm earlier that week.

Aureole would go on to prove himself one of the Queen's finest racehorses and the following year won the Coronation Cup, Hardwicke Stakes and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, stamping himself the best older horse in Europe in the process. He also proved a successful stallion, becoming champion sire in the United Kingdom in 1960 and 1961.

It was a promising start for the new monarch who had inherited her father's racing and breeding operation on his death in 1952, with horses mainly trained by the outstanding Cecil Boyd-Rochford and Noel Murless.

On her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947, the then Princess Elizabeth had been given, as a wedding gift, a filly foal by the Aga Khan, whom she name Astrakhan. Two years later, the Princess had registered her own colours (which were replaced when she became Queen) and the filly would provide her with the first of a long succession of winners.

The Queen Mother and Devon Loch
The Queen Mother and Devon Loch

Aureole's successes as a four-year-old helped to make the Queen champion owner in 1954 and three years later she would repeat the feat largely through the exploits of her three year old filly Carozza, who won the Oaks at Epsom, under Lester Piggott.

The Derby however has continued to elude Her Majesty and the last reigning monarch to win the Derby was King Edward VII, owner of Minoru, victorious in 1909. Since Aureole's fine effort the Queen has seen eight runners: Landau who finished eighth in 1954, Atlas who was fifth in 1956, Doutelle who finished 10th the following year, Miner's Lamp who was sixth in 1958, Above Suspicion, fifth a year later, English Harbour who was 18th in 1978, Milford who came 10th in the 200th Derby in 1979 and Church Parade, also fifth at a respectable distance behind Shergar in 1981.

The 1950s proved a golden era for the young Queen, who enjoyed the first of 11 Royal Ascot winners during the decade, when Choir Boy landed the 1953 Royal Hunt Cup. A two-year-old colt called Pall Mall won the 1957 New Stakes at the Royal Meeting before taking the Two Thousand Guineas in 1958, a second English Classic for Her Majesty.

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