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Platinum Jubilee: How the Queen's love of horses sparked a deep connection to Newmarket



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The Queen is undoubtedly the world’s most famous race goer and, throughout her 70-year reign, her undoubted passion for horse racing, and thoroughbred breeding, has led to a long and happy relationship with Newmarket.

Her association with Headquarters began decades ago as a royal princess and her first visit was documented in 1944 when, with her sister Princess Margaret, and their father, King George VI, they came to see the royal horses in training.

The following year, able to go racing for the first time, she accompanied her parents to watch northern champion, Dante, win the Derby run at Newmarket because of the war.

The Queen visits the opening of the National Stud at Exning near Newmarket in April 1967
The Queen visits the opening of the National Stud at Exning near Newmarket in April 1967

Her interest in racing continued to grow and at the Freemason Lodge, yard of the King’s trainer, Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, she reportedly took a particular interest in her father’s filly, Hypericum, who she had first got to know as a foal at the Royal stud which was then at Hampton Court.

In 1946 Princess Elizabeth was at Newmarket’s Rowley Mile to see the Royal filly win the 1,000 Guineas, the first classic winner to have been bred at the Royal Stud since 1928.

The princess was in the unsaddling enclosure to welcome Hypericum and her jockey Doug Smith, and author Bill Curling recalled: “Just a few days out of her teens, the princess must have felt, for the first time, that special thrill of success in a famous race.”

The Queen's statue in Newmarket near the entrance to the Rowley Mile
The Queen's statue in Newmarket near the entrance to the Rowley Mile

And when she became Queen, it was at Headquarters she had her first winner as monarch when Choirboy, trained by Boyd-Rochfort, and ridden by Harry Carr, obliged on May 13, 1952.

At that time it was also announced the Queen would maintain the Royal studs and she inherited nearly 20 mares, including Angelola whose first foal was a flashy and highly-strung chestnut colt called Aureole of which Boyd-Rochfort had high hopes.

In 1953, Coronation year, the Queen was at Newmarket to see the colt, bred by her father, finish fifth in the 2000 Guineas. He confirmed his promise by winning the Lingfield Derby Trial and went to Epsom carrying the hopes of the nation that he would give the young Queen a Derby victory.

But Aureole had not read the script and, after getting very worked up in the preliminaries, he could only finish second, beaten four lengths by another Newmarket-trained colt, Pinza, ridden by 50-year-old Gordon Richards who, it had already been announced, was to be knighted in the Coronation honours.

The Queen with Carrozza
The Queen with Carrozza

The following season Aureole won four races including the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, named after the Queen’s parents, and his victories contributed to her becoming leading owner.

By 1957 the Queen had nearly 30 horses in training and two fillies in particular stood out. At Freemason Lodge was Almeria, looked after by Valerie Frost, whose race wins included the Yorkshire Oaks, the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot and the Park Hill Stakes.

Across town, at Warren Place with Noel Murless, was the enigmatic Carrozza, who was to carve out her own little piece of royal racing history in June when, brilliantly coaxed by Lester Piggott, she prevailed by inches to win the Oaks. It was the first royal victory in the Epsom fillies’ classic since the race was founded and the first in a classic at the Surrey course since the Queen’s great grandfather, Edward VII, had won the Derby in 1909.

The Queen visits Newmarket Racecourse
The Queen visits Newmarket Racecourse

By the end of the year the two fillies were rated the best in the country.

The following year, there was more Royal classic success, when Pall Mall, led up by Alf Fuzzy, won the 2000 Guineas. She would have to wait 16 years for another Classic winner at Headquarters.

In 1967 the Queen opened Newmarket’s National Stud but the following year Boyd-Rochfort retired, and her horses were moved from Newmarket to trainer Ian Balding, at Kingsclere, and to Dick Hern at West Ilsley, who in 1974 trained Highclere to win the 1,000 Guineas and give her devoted owner her last Classic winner to date at the Rowley Mile.

The Queen visits Newmarket
The Queen visits Newmarket

Royal patronage, however, was to return to Newmarket with the Queen sending horses to Michael Bell, John Gosden, William Haggas and Sir Michael Stoute who, in 2011 came the closest to giving her her first win in the Derby.

Carlton House trained, like Aureole all those years ago, at Freemason Lodge, finished third, beaten just three quarters of a length and a head.

It was a disappointment but Stoute, and jockey Ryan Moore, were to provide the Queen with arguably her most joyous racing memory to date when Estimate won a thrilling race for the Ascot Gold Cup in 2013, the first time in the race’s 207-year history it had been won by a reigning monarch.

Over recent decades Newmarket has had more than its fair share of Royal visits.

The Queen is greeted by children from St Louis Primary School during her 2011 visit to Newmarket Day Centre
The Queen is greeted by children from St Louis Primary School during her 2011 visit to Newmarket Day Centre

In 1983 residents turned out in force to welcome the Queen as she arrived to open the National Horseracing Museum, then in the town’s High Street. She remained patron of the museum and returned for a second opening ceremony in November 2016 when it moved to to its current base at Palace House. On the same day she also unveiled a specially commissioned bronze statue, of her with a mare and foal, in Birdcage Walk.

It was the Queen’s great grandfather, who as Prince of Wales had opened the Astley Institute for stable men in Newmarket’s Vicarage Road back in 1893. It was eventually demolished and replaced by the New Astley Club, now the Racing Centre, in Fred Archer Way, which opened in 1975.

Her Majesty The Queen visits The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art in Newmarket, with Peter Jensen Chair of Home of Horseracing Trust and Maggie Paul in 2016. Picture: Mark Westley
Her Majesty The Queen visits The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art in Newmarket, with Peter Jensen Chair of Home of Horseracing Trust and Maggie Paul in 2016. Picture: Mark Westley

In 1993 the Queen marked her appreciation for stable staff and those concerned with their welfare by visiting the club as it marked its centenary.

In 2000, seven 2000 Guineas- winning jockeys – Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery, Greville Starkey, Jimmy Lindley, Joe Mercer and Michael Roberts – met the Queen when she arrived at the Rowley Mile to officially open the Millennium Grandstand.

The Queen inspects her statue in Newmarket. Picture: John Hosking
The Queen inspects her statue in Newmarket. Picture: John Hosking

Away from public’s gaze the Queen has on many occasions been the guest of the Jockey Club, and in 2015 she unveiled a specially commissioned portrait of herself with her Gold Cup winner Estimate, which now hangs in the Rooms as part of the Jockey Club’s extensive art collection.

And for all those happy to rise early and go out on to Newmarket Heath to watch tomorrow’s winners being put through their paces on the centuries old turf, there is always a chance that, through the early morning mist, they might spot a lady in a headscarf doing just that while chatting with her trainers, perhaps not realising they were in the presence of Royalty.