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Exploring Her Majesty The Queen's long association with 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.

And as the curtain is set to rise on a new season at Headquarters she, like any other owner breeder, will be looking forward to seeing her horses run and hoping this year will bring the Classic success they all dream of.

The Queen’s long association with Headquarters began decades ago as a royal princess.

Her Majesty The Queen visit to The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art in Newmarket. Picture: Mark Westley
Her Majesty The Queen visit to The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art in Newmarket. Picture: Mark Westley

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.

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.

Queen at the races
Queen at the races

Ridden out regularly by Roy Burrows, Hypericum won the 1945 running of Dewhurst beating, among others, Airborne, who would go on to spring a 50-1 shock in the following year’s Derby.

In 1946 the Royal filly returned to the Rowley Mile where Princess Elizabeth was there to see her 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.”

And when she became Queen, on the death of her father in 1952, it was at Headquarters where she had her first winner as monarch when Choirboy, trained by Boyd-Rochfort, and ridden by Harry Carr, obliged on May 13, 1952. However because the court was in mourning for her father, the colt did not carry the Royal colours but those of the Duke of Norfolk.

HM The Queen visits Newmarket Racecourse.
HM The Queen visits Newmarket Racecourse.

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 whom 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 following season Aureole won four races including the King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, named after the Queen’s parents, and his victories contributed to her become leading owner.

The Queen on Newmarket Heath with Sir Michael Stoute, racing manager John Warren and the late Coral-Pritchard-Gordon
The Queen on Newmarket Heath with Sir Michael Stoute, racing manager John Warren and the late Coral-Pritchard-Gordon

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, who 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 Carozza 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 V11, had won the Derby in 1909. 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, lead up by Alf Fuzzy, won the 2000 Guineas. Laid low at Windsor with a heavy cold the Queen was not able to greet her winner at the Rowley Mile and 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 top date at the Rowley Mile.

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 landing a Royal victory in the Derby a race that had continued to elude the Queen her through seven decades on the throne.

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.

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.

Accompanied by her then racing adviser, Lord Porchester, she took huge interest in many of the exhibits including the stuffed head of Persimmon, the Derby and St Leger winner owner by her great grandfather. 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.

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.

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.