6 Jun

Racing & royalty

When the Queen’s diary is drawn up in outline 18 months in advance, the first entries made are always the five days of Royal Ascot and Derby Day at Epsom. SO takes a look at Her Majesty’s history at Surrey’s most famous racecourse

As 2016 marks the Queens 90th year, it was a very special Investec Derby Day at Epsom on 4th June. To honour the occasion, it was the first time in her reign that Her Majesty presented the Derby Trophy, despite having attended nearly every Derby Day since her Coronation.

Over the years Her Majesty has had 10 runners in the Derby, among them a runner-up (Aureole 1953 four days after her Coronation) and Carlton House who finished third in 2011, having started out as a well-fancied favourite, but she has still to taste victory in racing’s premier classic.

Though the Investec Derby continues to elude Her Majesty, she has had a winner at Epsom Downs on Derby Day twice in the 1990s, thanks to Enharmonic (1993) who won the Group Three Diomed Stakes by a head and Arabian Story (1997), who made all for an easy win in the Paknet Rated Stakes. Frankie Dettori was the successful jockey both times, while the horses were saddled by Lord Huntingdon. Her most recent Epsom success came from the Richard Hannon-trained Quick Reaction, who landed a nine-furlong maiden at the April meeting in 2010.

The Queen’s interest in racing began at an early age. On a visit to Fred Darling’s stables in the spring of 1942, the then 16-year-old Princess Elizabeth was introduced to Big Game, the recent winner of the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket for George VI, an occasion she was said to have found awe-inspiring and marked the beginning of her lifelong passion for horseracing.

Astrakhan, given as a wedding present by the Aga Khan, was the first racehorse owned by the Queen. Astrakhan ran second on her debut at Ascot in October 1949 and her horses have competed at the top level ever since. Amongst the horses that she has owned and bred over the years, there have been several outstanding Royal runners.

The Queen’s horses have won five British Classics:
•        Pall Mall won the 2000 Guineas in 1958
•        Highclere won the 1000 Guineas in 1974
•        Carrozza won the Epsom Oaks in 1957
•        Dunfermline won the Epsom Oaks in 1977 and also won the St Leger Stakes that same year.

Over the last 60 years, every jockey of high standing has ridden horses for the Queen. From Sir Gordon Richards in the 1950s to Frankie Dettori today, each of them attests to the special thrill of donning the distinctive Royal silks.

“Wearing the Royal silks and knowing Her Majesty is cheering you on is a pretty incredible feeling. I feel very proud and very honoured to have been able to ride for the Queen for so many years. She knows everything about all her horses.” says Vettori. Dettori has given the Queen’s two wins at Epsom Downs on Derby Day in the 1990s.

Her Majesty on The Balcony at Epsom Downs Racecourse in 2012

Her Majesty on The Balcony at Epsom Downs Racecourse in 2012

The Queen does not retain her own jockey. Her horses are ridden by jockeys affiliated to the stable where her horses are trained. In recent times, some of the world’s most talented jockeys such as Ryan Moore and Richard Hughes have ridden for the Queen, as well as up and coming names such as the 2015 Stobart Champion Apprentice, Tom Marquand. Over jumps, both Sir Anthony McCoy and Richard Johnson have ridden for the Queen. Hayley Turner became the first female jockey to ride a winner for Her Majesty when steering Tactician to success at Newbury in April 2010.

The jockeys riding Her Majesty’s horses can be identified by The Queen’s racing colours: purple body with gold braid, scarlet sleeves, and black velvet cap with gold fringe – the same as those of King Edward VII and George IV as Prince Regent.

The Queen had two principal trainers when she ascended the throne. Horses bred by The Royal Studs were trained by Cecil Boyd-Rochfort (step-father to the late Sir Henry Cecil), while those she leased from The National Stud were entrusted to Noel Murless.

The Queen’s present day flat trainers are Sir Michael Stoute, Richard Hannon Jnr, Michael Bell, Roger Charlton, Andrew Balding and William Haggas, while Nicky Henderson and Charlie Longsdon train the Royal Jumps horses. The Queen is said to be a prolific writer of letters to each of her trainers and traditionally this has been the means by which she notifies them of which young horses they have been allocated to train each year.

Trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey Sir Anthony McCoy

Trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey Sir Anthony McCoy

“Training for Her Majesty is a privilege. Having grown up with my father training horses for The Queen, I understood from an early age what an honour it was, but it was when I took over the licence myself that I realised the knowledge and passion The Queen has for the sport,” says trainer Andrew Balding.

As part of racing’s celebrations of Her Majesty’s birthday a special exhibition will also be touring race courses throughout the summer, charting the Queen’s involvement in racing throughout
her life.

For more information visit: www.epsomdowns.co.uk