On the morning of Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 coronation, one of her ladies-in-waiting, with the imminent ceremony in mind, inquired if all was well with Her Majesty. The latter replied yes, trainer Cecil Boyd-Rochford had just rung to report that her colt Aureole had gone well in his last gallop before the Derby.
This gem illustrating the late Queen’s obsession with horse racing and breeding is in a deluge of stories about her in the UK’s top racing paper Racing Post.
Writer John Randall reports that Aureole came second in the Derby in that auspicious year, beaten four lengths by a champion in Pinza.
Aureole was also second to Pinza in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes – named after HM’s parents – then third in the St Leger.
As a four-year-old, Aureole made up for the near-misses of the previous season, winning the Coronation Cup, the Hardwicke and the King George to be crowned champion horse of Europe – and cement his place as probably the best racehorse the Queen ever owned, before becoming one of her finest stallions at stud.
Browsing the 28 stories about Elizabeth’s singular racing life currently on Racing Post’s website, one learns that her greatest racecourse moment came nearly 60 years later, in 2013. That was when jockey Ryan Moore carried her famous purple, red and gold brocade silks to victory aboard Estimate in the Gold Cup at the Royal Ascot meeting.
Peter Thomas describes the scene wonderfully: “In a public existence characterised by restraint and decorum, here was Elizabeth II in her element, enjoying her favourite recreation and her favourite animals, forgetting for a fleeting instant the demands of public service and giving vent to her sporting instincts. Her smile was a marvel to behold, its significance recognisable at once to every owner, every racegoer and every punter in the land. This was the face of victory, the embodiment of that winning feeling, and the country loved it.
“As Estimate nosed to the front a furlong from home, it was as if every living room in the watching world was attempting the unlikely feat of screaming the filly home while simultaneously holding its breath.”
Thomas’s prose is so purple, let’s indulge more: “Commentator Simon Holt remained just the right side of spontaneous combustion, but he might have been forgiven had he disappeared in flames, because this was a rare moment of racing history, a sweet, organic fruiting of the process that had seen Her Majesty become the turf’s greatest and most tangible asset through decades of defending its place in the national consciousness.
“In the royal box, where she had suffered defeat far, far more often than she had savoured victory, the Queen leaned forward keenly, clasped her hands in uncertainty, applauded with vigour as the win offered itself up, then sat back, more than a little relieved…”
Elizabeth got hooked on racing and horses very young after hearing her grandfather, King George V, tell how his filly Scuttle had won the 1928 1,000 Guineas. A bit later, her father was 1942’s champion owner and she visited Fred Darling’s stables at 16 to see star performers Big Game and Sun Chariot.
“My father took me down to Beckhampton to see them working, which I’d never seen before, and I was able to pat them in the stable afterwards. I had never felt the satiny softness of a thoroughbred before. It’s a wonderful feeling,” she recalled.
“Satiny softness” inspired an obsession that led to a rare knowledge of the thoroughbred.
Breeders, trainers and jockeys line up to testify to her deep understanding of the game. One of her scores of trainers over the years, John Gosden, said: “Her passion and profound knowledge of horses was unequalled and her advice was always acutely insightful.”
Once, on a visit to Ian Balding’s yard, her husband the Duke ventured that the horses looked too thin. She retorted: “If you did but know it, that is how a fit racehorse should look!”
And she loved visiting stables. At Richard Hannon’s place one day she commented: “It’s one of the few places I go that doesn’t smell of fresh paint.”
QEII’s racing stats (from Racing Post):
First winner Monaveen, over fences at Fontwell, October 10, 1949 (owned jointly with her mother)
Last winner Love Affairs, Goodwood, September 6, 2022
Classic winners Carrozza (1957 Oaks), Pall Mall (1958 2,000 Guineas), Highclere (1974 1,000 Guineas, Prix de Diane), Dunfermline (1977 Oaks, St Leger)
Gold Cup winner Estimate (2013)
Placed horses in Derby Aureole (2nd in 1953), Carlton House (3rd in 2011)
Top-rated horses (Timeform) Dunfermline (133), Aureole (132), Pall Mall (132), Landau (129), Highclere (129), Doutelle (128), Above Suspicion (127), High Veldt (126), Atlas (126), Almeria (126)
Royal Ascot wins 24
Group/Grade 1 wins as owner 14
Most wins in a calendar year as owner 39 in 2021 (36 Flat, 3 jumps)
Total wins as owner 1,121 (GB Flat 1,022, GB jumps 71, abroad 28)