When Estimate jockey Ryan Moore knifed in between two horses and rallied late to defeat Simenon in the 2013 Ascot Gold Cup, Queen Elizabeth II made a bit of history.
Perched high above the track in an owner’s box, the Queen exhibited a palpable sense of joy as Moore pulled off the thrilling victory by a neck. The moment was not lost on a packed crowd, as an Ascot track announcer exclaimed, “A Royal win in the Gold Cup!”
Estimate’s victory in the Gold Cup marked the first time a reigning monarch captured the prestigious Grade I race.
Queen Elizabeth was scheduled to present the trophy to the winning owner, but the honors instead went to one of her sons. Clad in a purple dress in a nod to the racing colors used by her father King George VI, the Queen accepted the winning trophy from Andrew, the Duke of York.
Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away last week at the age of 96, maintained a lifelong fascination with the sport of horse racing. Queen Elizabeth, then Princess Elizabeth II, received her first horse riding lesson at age 3, a year before she was given a Shetland pony named Peggy as a gift from her parents. The Queen continued riding into the final year of her life, against the orders of her doctors.
“She is a marvelous rider. She has a marvelous way with horses,” King Charles III, then Prince Charles, said on a BBC documentary years ago.
Queen Elizabeth developed an interest in breeding from King George VI, then inherited his stable of horses when he passed away in 1952. She was also an ardent supporter of equestrian racing, and her granddaughter, Zara Phillips (now Tindall), won a silver medal at the 2012 London Summer Olympics as a member of Great Britain’s team eventing squad.
The Queen’s trip to the Kentucky Derby
Queen Elizabeth II made a handful of trips to Kentucky during her reign, most notably in 2007 during a state visit with former U.S. President George W. Bush. The official part of the trip was paused for one day to allow the Queen to attend the 133rd Kentucky Derby, won by Street Sense in a sweeping late-running trip.
Street Sense jockey Calvin Borel, who earned the nickname “Borail” for his proclivity for brushing against the paint on rail trips, had the privilege of meeting the Queen as a guest of the president. Borel recalled being overcome by nerves heading into the event until Bush jokingly asked where he stole his tuxedo from.
“I found it on the side of the road,” Borel retorted.
Ahead of her visit to Churchill Downs, the track reportedly convened 42 meetings over a seven-month period to prepare for the occasion. The meetings ran the gamut in terms of subject matter, from the security detail on hand to the sandwiches prepared for the Queen. Ultimately, she decided on small cucumber sandwiches and tea presented to her in the fourth-floor stakes room.
When the Queen entered the horse Landau in the 1954 Washington D.C. International at Maryland‘s Laurel Park, it represented the first time in British history that the silks of the Royal Family raced on a track outside the British Isles. Queen Elizabeth later rode horses with former U.S. President Ronald Reagan during a U.S. state visit at Windsor Castle in 1982.
A year earlier, a 17-year-old boy fired six shots at Queen Elizabeth II from close range as she rode in a parade during the 1981 Trooping The Colour ceremony, six weeks before the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. Police later determined that all six shots were blanks. Still, the Queen received praise for her dexterity and composure in controlling her mount.
Keeneland pays tribute to QEII
Two years later, Keeneland Race Course inaugurated the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes to commemorate her first visit to the Bluegrass State. The Grade I, which is a top prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, will take on added importance this fall, said Keeneland CEO Shannon Arvin.
“Keeneland joins the world in mourning the loss today of Queen Elizabeth II, a beloved leader with exceptional integrity and an unmatched horsewoman,” Arvin said in a statement last week. “Queen Elizabeth’s lifelong love for horses and her passion for racing left an indelible legacy on the sport around the world and at Keeneland.”
Queen Elizabeth reportedly won about $9 million in prize money through her horse racing interests over the last seven decades. Upon her passing, Queen Elizabeth II owned approximately 100 horses, according to various media reports. The horses will likely stay within the Royal Family, with Tindall and Princess Anne of Edinburgh expected to play a role in the ownership, according to royal biographer Claudia Joseph.
“From her earliest days, her majesty understood and adored the horse,” NBC Sports racing analyst Nick Luck said in a tribute to the Queen last Saturday. “It was the thoroughbred that fired her intrigue. Racing and breeding wasn’t simply a hobby, it was a quest.
“To breed champions tests the mind, the resolve, and the patience – and there was no fallibility on those fronts. If this game is in the blood, it coursed through the Queen’s veins.”
Photo: Jasper Colt/USA TODAY