Robin Oakley

All the Queen’s horses

Royal trainer Richard Hannon, we learn from an intriguing new volume about the Queen’s lifetime love affair with horse-racing, is essentially a stockman. He recognises horses by their shape and mannerisms rather than by what their owners choose to call them. So the chestnut colt with three white socks is, in Hannon-speak, ‘the Galileo colt’.

I know one other racing figure who does the same. One afternoon at Newbury Mrs Oakley and I were surprisingly and suddenly invited to take tea in the Royal Box and I was intrigued to find throughout a fascinating afternoon that Her Majesty never referred to the horses’ names in the racecard. For her, too, it was ‘the Sadler’s Wells colt’ or ‘the Storm Cat filly’ because, perhaps appropriately, it is playing chess with nature that is her primary racing focus. Author Julian Muscat calls her involvement with the turf  ‘not so much a favoured pastime as a full-bodied embrace’. As he says, ‘Though she enjoys hearing tales of derring-do from jockeys whose skills she can relate to, she is most engaged when discussing bloodlines and breeding theories with others of like mind.’

Royal Ascot and Epsom Derby Day are ring-fenced in the Queen’s calendar. She adores seeing her home-breds grow up at every stage, often visiting them camera in hand like a proud parent on sports day. During Ascot weeks in younger days, she would be out riding in the morning with the foreign entrants as they exercised on the course. She is careful not to wear perfume that might excite the colts when she visits racing stables.

The first moment she fell in love with racing was when her father took her during the second world war to see Sun Chariot and Big Game, his two wartime substitute Classics winners.

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