The Queen at 95: gold seal on passion of a lifetime at Royal Ascot
Alastair Down on a win for Estimate met with heartfelt joy and affection
As the Queen turns 95 on Wednesday, we recall a momentous day for Her Majesty and racing at Royal Ascot. This article was first published in the Racing Post on June 21, 2013
Afternoons such as this are minted in limited editions of one and yesterday, a mere 60 years on from her first Royal Ascot winner, the Queen won the race that stands at this meeting's beating heart when Estimate battled her way past the ecstatic stands to land a momentous and imperishable Gold Cup.
Across virtually every front page this happy morn will be pictures of Her Majesty living every stride of the final two furlongs as Estimate gave everything on behalf of someone who has never given less than her all to this country since her coronation six decades of service ago.
The Queen knows this game backwards and it has long been her passion. In a life which affords scant escape from endless duty, racing has always provided that vital quiet eddy and backwater where she can find some relaxation as horsewoman, breeder and serious judge of the thoroughbred.
Nobody in Britain has been sending mares to stallions longer than she has and it is God-given days of triumph such as this which pay for all those occasions when horses, being horses, don't quite do as you either wanted, hoped or expected.
Her love for the game – it's nothing less – plays a tricky-to-quantify but very telling role on behalf of all of us who think racing and racehorses are special things with the power to enrich the spirit.
Why? Because out there in the wide world, the chattering classes, many a preening intellectual and all sorts of so-called opinion-formers in their ivory towers look down from their self-important heights on racing with a degree of scorn, dismissing our world as superficial and the milieu of chancers and ne'er-do-wells.
Stuff and nonsense, and the case for racing's defence is very much led by the Queen's unswerving patronage. At the age of 87 she has seen all the world's waxing and waning powers come and go and every fad and fashion be here one minute and gone the next. As sovereign she has never flagged or shirked even a fraction of her responsibilities. Yet running as a thread through her entire life has been the sport of horseracing as something to be valued, celebrated and nurtured as important.
I would hesitate to suggest she confers respectability on the game – some of us are beyond even her help on that front – but never underestimate what she has done for us or indeed the connection it helps her make with everyone in the country who is a racing fan on whatever level. If the Queen loves racing then the sport can't be quite as bad or peripheral as some allegedly clever people think it is. By God, she is good for us.
And what happened as she came down to greet Estimate yesterday was a simple outpouring of affection, marbled through with the feeling that she deserved this day. The Royal Ascot winner's enclosure plays host to many a dodgepot fuelled by dubious money who hasn't got a clue in the world what the moment means or how much work has gone in to getting their horse to this rarefied height.
But not an iota of the hour was lost on Her Majesty who, unlike the majority on course, would know how to muck Estimate out of a morning.
Estimate came about as a result of the Aga Khan making a number of mares available to Her Majesty as an 80th birthday present with the resulting fillies to race in the royal colours. The Queen, her racing manager John Warren and the Aga's team planned the matings and seven years on racing history has been made.
Warren, who just about managed not to go into orbit when sitting alongside Her Majesty during the climactic final furlongs, admitted afterwards that "nobody sits down trying to breed a Gold Cup winner" but he sounded perfectly happy with the resultant miscalculation!
Long seasoned in dealing with the inevitable disappointments of racing, Her Majesty therefore does not place any extra pressure on her team by having overly optimistic expectations and word has it she was worried about whether Estimate was up to beating the Gold Cup colts. Oh ye of little faith, ma'am!
Warren has been an inspired choice as the Queen's racing manager and was still on cloud 99 late in the afternoon. He, of course, is allowed to get carried away, while Her Majesty has to observe a degree of decorum, but if you thought Warren felt free to describe the winning owner as "such a happy lady" then you would get no argument from me. And there can not have been a soul on course here who was anything other than genuinely delighted for her.
But it is right and proper to move from a happy lady to a notably brave one in Lady Cecil, who was nothing less than marvellous after the nigh-impossibly emotional victory of Riposte in the Ribblesdale. Jane Cecil, moved by both the moment and the reception accorded to Riposte on her return, rightly said the applause and cheers were for her husband Henry.
But whereas most human beings in the immediate aftermath of what she has been through would have dissolved into small bits with nobody thinking any the less of her, she dealt with television, radio and the assembled press with a cracked voice but a hugely admirable degree of poise.
Sir Henry Cecil would have been very proud of Riposte, but even prouder of his wife.
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