Seventy Glorious Years: Part III


The Queen will be at Epsom on Derby day as part of a long weekend of Jubilee celebrations in Britain |

In the concluding part of the series reflecting on the Queen's long attachment to thoroughbred racing and breeding, John Berry considers the prospect of a royal Derby runner in the year of the Platinum Jubilee

The most significant addition to the royal roster of trainers came in the autumn of 1966, when some of that year's yearlings were sent to the West Ilsley stable of Major Dick Hern. This was the start of a wonderful partnership, which in time saw Hern become as synonymous with the royal string as formerly Captain (later Sir) Cecil Boyd-Rochford had been. The Queen's numbers of horses in training began to drop after the decision in 1964 that the National Stud would cease to breed horses and instead become primarily a base for stallions, which meant that the source of leased horses dried up.  From a royal string of just over 30 in the mid 1960s, she had only 20 horses in training a decade later. However, Major Hern had a wonderful knack of unearthing and developing high-class horses.

Ian Balding, too, proved to be an excellent trainer for Her Majesty. Among the first good horses whom he trained for her was the Charlottesville horse Magna Carta, a son of Almeria. Magna Carta enjoyed a tremendous campaign as a 4-year-old in 1970, highlighted by his wins in the Ascot S. (thus completing a race-to-race double for Balding and his jockey Geoff Lewis, initiated by Mill Reef's victory in the Coventry S.) and the Doncaster Cup. Tragically, Magna Carta, who appealed as an obvious Gold Cup candidate, died early the next year after an accident in his stable. The Queen still had a runner in that Gold Cup, but its extreme distance proved too far for the Dick Hern-trained Charlton, another son of Charlottesville, who went into the race in good form after a win in the Henry VII S. at Sandown. In Magna Carta's absence, Example, a grand-daughter of Doutelle, became the star of the royal horses at Kingsclere in 1971, winning the Park Hill S. at Doncaster followed by a pair of big races in France, the Prix de Royallieu at Longchamp and (the following year) the Prix Jean de Chaudenay at Saint-Cloud.

The brightest star whom Hern trained for Her Majesty at West Ilsley was the aptly-named Highclere, a daughter of the Highclere Stud-based Queen's Hussar whose exploits lit up the spring and summer of 1974. Throughout the decades, the family descending from Feola, a daughter of the influential stallion Friar Marcus who had been bred at Sandringham by King George V, proved to be worth its weight in gold as it was developed under the guidance of Captain Charles Moore, as good a servant and friend to the Royal Studs as there ever could be. Feola was a high-class filly who became an outstanding broodmare, with many of her descendants playing starring roles for firstly King George VI and subsequently Queen Elizabeth II. Feola was 19 when the Queen inherited the Royal Studs in 1952 and already boasted an outstanding record as a broodmare, most notably as the dam of King George VI's 1946 1,000 Guineas heroine Hypericum. Highclere was a grand-daughter (via Highlight) of Hypericum, and she emulated her grandmother by taking the 1,000 Guineas in 1974. An even greater triumph followed six weeks later when she completed a Classic double by taking the Prix de Diane at Chantilly. The following month she finished second to Dahlia in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Diamond S. at Ascot.

Highclere was not the only top-class 3-year-old filly raced by the Queen in 1974. Ian Balding had care of Escorial, a daughter of Royal Palace whose grand-dam Spanish Court was a half-sister to Almeria. Ridden by Piggott, Escorial won the G3 Musidora S. at the York May Meeting with her head in her chest, but sadly was unable to reproduce the excellence of that effort in the Oaks, for which she started second favourite.

Highclere herself subsequently extended further the family's influence, breeding the high-class Bustino filly Height Of Fashion, successful in the Princess Of Wales's S. at Newmarket in 1982, when she broke the track record.  Unfortunately, she and her Busted half-sister Burghclere were subsequently sold to finance the Queen's purchase of West Ilsley from Sir Michael Sobell. Bought by Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum, Height Of Fashion became a mainstay of the Shadwell broodmare band, launching a stream of Group 1 winners starting with the 1989 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner Nashwan and most recently including the 2021 G1 Queen Elizabeth II S. hero Baaeed (GB).  As the grand-dam of Deep Impact (Jpn), Burghclere has turned out to have had at least as great an influence of the breed.

Three years after Highclere's splendid 3-year-old season, Major Hern prepared another dual Classic-winning filly for Her Majesty. Dunfermline (GB) (Royal Palace {GB}) provided a wonderful occasion when her triumph in the Oaks in 1977 coincided with the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations. An even classier performance followed in the St. Leger when she outstayed the favourite Alleged, form which was endorsed when the runner-up won the next two runnings of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Two years later the Queen looked to have a live chance in the Derby. The beautifully-bred and well-named Milford (Highclere's first foal, by Mill Reef, named after the house at Highclere in which Lord and Lady Porchester lived) was an easy winner of the Lingfield Derby Trial and went to Epsom as one of two contenders from West Ilsley, both at single-figure odds. Stable jockey Willie Carson, though, opted for the other (leaving Milford for Lester Piggott) and he was proved correct, winning by seven lengths on Sir Michael Sobell's Troy, with Milford unplaced.  Milford, incidentally, was one of two high-class 3-year-old stayers owned by the Queen in West Ilsley that year, along with Queen's Vase hero Buttress (GB) (Busted {GB}).

All good things have to come to an end, and after a hunting accident which left him in a wheelchair, Dick Hern finally had to leave West Ilsley after his Derby-winning season of 1989. Lord Huntingdon moved from Newmarket to fill the void, and while there he extended his great record at Royal Ascot, at which meeting he had first scored when Greenland Park (Ire) had won the Queen Mary S. in 1978 under the Australian jockey Harry White. Lord Huntingdon's greatest achievement was to train the winner of the Gold Cup three years running (1991 to '93). The Queen did not own the two horses involved (Indian Queen and Drum Taps) but he did prepare both Colour Sergeant (Royal Hunt Cup, 1992) and Phantom Gold (Ribblesdale S., 1995) to win at the meeting for her. Phantom Gold subsequently landed the G3 St. Simon S. and the G2 Geoffrey Freer S., both at Newbury. He also secured a notable royal victory in the USA when sending Unknown Quantity (a son of the Hyperion-line stallion Young Generation, from Example's good daughter Pas De Deux, by Nijinsky) from Newmarket to Arlington Park to win the Arlington H. in 1989. After Lord Huntingdon's retirement from the training ranks at the end of 1998, the Queen sold the property at West Ilsley to its current resident, Mick Channon.

The Queen's final Royal Ascot winner of the 20th century came from a trainer new to the royal fold, when Sir Michael Stoute sent out Blueprint (GB) to win the Duke Of Edinburgh H. Blueprint (a son of Generous from Highbrow, by Shirley Heights out of Highclere) subsequently graduated to black-type glory by taking the Fred Archer S. on Newmarket's July Course the following month and then the G2 Jockey Club S. on the Rowley Mile the next spring. His Royal Ascot triumph was particularly well timed as only that year the former Bessborough H. had been re-named in honour of the Queen's husband.  Furthermore, Stoute's presence on the royal roster is very appropriate as he is the current incumbent of Freemason Lodge, whence Sir Cecil Boyd-Rochford previously sent out so many royal winners over the decades.

As the changing face of racehorse ownership came to mean that those not racing vast strings find it hard to come up with high-class horses with any regularity, the Queen had to endure a few barren years at the start of the current century at her favourite meeting, Royal Ascot, notwithstanding that Sir Michael Stoute sent out Flight Of Fancy (GB), a daughter of Sadler's Wells from Phantom Gold, to finish second in the Oaks at Epsom in 2001. Happily, the short Ascot drought changed in thrilling style in 2008 when Free Agent (GB) (Dr Fong) won the Chesham S., much to the delight not only of his owner/breeder and her team, but also of the entire racing public. He was trained by Richard Hannon Snr, who had been added to the royal roster after gaining some great victories with fillies owned by the Earl of Carnarvon.

In recent years, the royal string has benefitted from the generosity of two of the world's most powerful owner/breeders, Sheikh Mohammed and the Aga Khan. The most notable gift from Sheikh Mohammed to the Queen was a son of Street Cry (Ire) from the 1993 Sun Chariot S. winner Talented (GB) (Bustino {GB}).  Bred by Darley and born in 2008, this colt was given the to Queen as a yearling and, curiously, she chose a name for him which she had used previously: Carlton House.

The first Carlton House, a son Pall Mall from Almeria's full-sister Alesia, had been good, winning the Fenwolf S. at Ascot in 1974 when trained by Major Hern; but the second one, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, was even better. In the spring of 2011, he won the G2 Dante S. at York and then, as the nation prepared to celebrate the Queen's 85th birthday, he started favourite for the Derby. Unfortunately, he couldn't quite produce the result for which the nation wished, but he still ran well, finishing third to Pour Moi (Ire), beaten less than a length. He was subsequently transferred to Gai Waterhouse's stable in Australia where he performed well for the Queen in Group 1 races, including finishing third in, appropriately, the G1 Queen Elizabeth S. at Randwick in 2014.

A subsequent gift from Sheikh Mohammed was Dartmouth (Ire), a Darley-bred son of Dubawi. From 2014 to 2017 he proved to be a redoubtable campaigner, winning eight of his 20 races including, in 2016, the G3 John Porter S., the G3 Ormonde S. and the G2 Hardwicke S. at Royal Ascot. He then finished third in the G1 King George VI And Queen Elizabeth S.  The following year he won the G2 Yorkshire Cup.

From the Aga Khan's kindness came even greater glory. The Darshaan mare Ebaziya (Ire) was one of the stars of the stud of HH Aga Khan IV, with several high-class offspring headed by the 1997 Irish Oaks victrix Ebadiyla (Ire) and the 1999 Gold Cup winner Enzeli (Ire). When Ebaziya was aged 20 in 2009, HH Aga Khan IV gave her Monsun filly foal to the Queen, echoing his grandfather's wedding present of Astrakhan to the young princess 62 years previously. This proved to a bountiful gift. The filly, named Estimate (Ire) and trained by Sir Michael Stoute, won twice at Royal Ascot, in 2012 taking the Queen's Vase and the following year emulating her half-brother Enzeli when carrying the royal colours to victory in the meeting's centrepiece, the Gold Cup. Estimate thus became the first Gold Cup winner owned by the Monarch, and the first winner of Ascot's greatest race owned by a member of the Royal Family since her great-grandfather Edward VII had won it (while Prince of Wales) in 1897 with Persimmon. Estimate is now happily ensconced at Sandringham and has bred two winners to date.

Looking back over the past 70 years, royal racing memories come flooding back.  Aureole came so close to a royal Derby victory in Coronation Week, while Dunfermline's Silver Jubilee Oaks triumph was perfectly timed. Looking ahead, we can dream that the Queen's Reach For The Moon (GB), a Sea The Stars (Ire) grandson of Phantom Gold, can win this year's Derby. Trained by John and Thady Gosden, he may well be able to do just that, judged on his win in the G3 Solario S. at Sandown last September. He is currently fourth favourite for the race.

We shall leave the last word on Her Majesty's place in the sport to the Aga Khan III, taken from his forward to Cope's Royal Cavalcade of the Turf: “Racing has been fortunate to have Royal Patronage from the time of the Stuarts down to today, but never has it been so fortunate as at present in having a Monarch who is not only interested in, but has knowledge of racing, horse breeding and the history of the sport and great industry into which it has developed.” Those words were very true when they were written in 1953. They are even more true today.

Click here to read Part I and Part II of this feature.

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