One of the Queen’s favourite leisure activities is horse racing. Ever since she was a child, Elizabeth II has had a passion for horses and 80 years on that passion is still as strong. Her Majesty takes a particular interest in the breeding of thoroughbreds for horse racing and in her time has owned countless racehorses under the guidance of Henry Herbert, 7th Earl of Carnarvon and John Warren, the Queen’s racing managers.
Princess Elizabeth was given her first horse at the age of 4; a Shetland pony called Peggy. The pony was bought as a present for Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, by their grandfather, King George V. It was here that Her Majesty’s lifelong love for horses began. Even though she didn’t get her first horse until the age of 4, her first riding lesson took place in
January 1930 when she was just 3 years old.
When Elizabeth became monarch in 1952, she inherited the royal colours: purple, gold braid, scarlet sleeves, black velvet cap with gold fringe. These colours have gone on to see great success in the last 60 years whilst she has owned them. Her first winner came just months after she inherited the colours when Choir Boy passed the winning post to claim the Wilburton Handicap at Newmarket in May 1952. The Queen currently has won over 1,600 races making her one of the most successful racehorse owners in history. She has also won every one of the five British Classic Races, many multiple times, except the Epsom Derby, a race that the Queen has yet to grasp finishing agonizingly close in the year of her coronation, 1953, where Aureole finished second to Pinza. In 1954 and 1957, she was named British flat racing Champion Owner, the first reigning monarch ever to do so twice. She also recently won the Racehorse Owners Association Owner of the Year award in 2013 after her magnificent win with Estimate in the Ascot Gold Cup. There are three races named in honour of the Queen, those being the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes, the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Royal Ascot is said to be the first event that the Queen puts down on her calendar every year. The five day event begins each day with the Royal Procession – the arrival of The Queen and the Royal party in horse-drawn landaus, which parade along the track in front of the crowd. The Royal Procession dates back to the 1820s and the reign of King George IV. The Queen takes a close personal interest in the running of Ascot and is kept informed of the order of running and the development of the racing programme at the Royal Meeting. As of yet, Her Majesty has had 22 winners at Ascot, most recently Estimate. Ascot has had royal connections for many hundreds of years when the course was founded by Queen Anne in 1711.
The Queen takes a particular interest in the breeding of her horses. Her horses are foaled at the Royal Stud in Sandringham before being trained at Hampshire and then passed on to Her Majesty’s trainers for racing. After the horse’s racing career is over, they are put into retirement in her care. Today, The Queen has about twenty-five horses in training each season. The enthusiasm and interest of The Queen for racing and breeding has meant that she has had great success in the last fifty-one years. Her horses have won almost every major race in Britain; the two noticeable absences from her trophy cabinet are the Epsom Derby and the Grand National. She is patron of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association
Dunfermline was a racehorse owned and bred by the Queen who won three races in her ten race career. She is regarded as one of the best horses that Her Majesty has raced as she won two of the five British Classic Races in 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year. Dunfermline beat the Epsom Oaks against other fillies in June and later in September, added St. Leger Stakes – beating the double Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged. Later that year Dunfermline was rated the three-year-old filly in Europe. She was one of the most prestigious and memorable success.
Estimate is a five year old horse who in recent times has provided lots of racing glory for Her Majesty, most memorably the 2013 Ascot Gold Cup. The Sir Michael Stout trained filly beat the other horses in an extremely close finish making the Queen the first reigning monarch to ever win the race in its 207 year history. As Estimate crossed the finishing line, the camera moved to the royal box to see the Queen in a moment of ecstatic joy as she claimed another victory. Estimate ended a dark spell, for the Queen, since her last domestic group 1 win in 1977, which was the previously mentioned Dunfermline.
It is clear to see that the Queen has had a life that has fully embraced horses and with over 1600 winners, she has no plans to stop yet. In the future, the Queen will keep on racing and attending Royal Ascot and who knows, she may even win the Epsom Derby or Grand National before her reign comes to an end.