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The Queen Mother followed racing for over 50 years
She had over 400 winners
For half a century, the Queen Mother was the first lady of National Hunt racing. She held a passion for the sport. Her patronage won her a place forever in the hearts of enthusiasts of the winter game.
Her involvement in the sport began in June 1949 when racing enthusiast Lord Mildmay of Flete, the leading amateur rider of the day, was invited to stay at Windsor Castle during racing at Royal Ascot. With him was his friend Major Peter Cazalet who trained horses with great success at Fairlawne, a grand country house near Sevenoaks.
Lord Mildmay persuaded the then Queen to buy a steeple-chaser and to have Cazalet train it. Within a year the Queen Mother, in her own words, was "completely hooked".
Peter Cazalet secured 250 winners for Her Majesty from 1949 until his death in 1973. Between the wars, steeple-chasing was the poor relation of flat-racing. But the Queen Mother's interest helped to transform its status. She gained immediate success with her first horse Monaveen in the first running of the Queen Elizabeth Chase.
Then, in 1950, Monicou won her the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park. There were disappointments too. The Queen Mother never won a Grand National, though she came agonisingly close.
In 1956, with jockey Dick Francis in the saddle, her horse Devon Loch suddenly collapsed while in a clear lead with a mere 100 metres to go.
It was one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the sport. The Queen Mother's reaction was philosophical. "Ah well, that's racing," she said. Many theories abound as to why Devon Loch fell but the mystery will never be solved.
The seasons that followed were relatively quiet ones, although her horse Double Star who never once fell in 50 races, won 17 times for her.
But in the 1960s Fairlawne and its royal patron lived through a golden era, reaching a high-point in the 1964-65 season when her 27 victories made her the third most successful owner of the year.
In 1973 Peter Cazalet died of cancer, a week after watching Inch Arron win the Topham Trophy at Aintree for Her Majesty. Fulke Walwyn was to take over and among the horses he inherited was Game Spirit who finished his career as the Queen Motherís most successful horse with 21 wins to his name.
The highlight of the Queen Motherís racing career came in 1984 when Special Cargo won the Whitbread Gold Cup, coming from a seemingly impossible position at the last to snatch victory in a three-way photo-finish. She found herself receiving the trophy she had agreed to present.
Then there was Nearco Bay who clocked up her milestone 400th winner at Uttoxeter in May 1994.
Patron of jockeys' charity
The Queen Mother cared greatly for her horses but also the jockeys who rode them. In the mid-1960s she delighted the profession by agreeing to become patron of the fledgling Injured Jockeys Fund. She would take an active interest in individual cases and would often visit those who had been injured.
She formed lasting relationships with many of her jockeys. Dick Francis, who became a best-selling author following his retirement from racing, always sent the Queen Mother a first edition of his books. David Mould was her most successful jockey, riding 106 winners for her.
He became a frequent visitor to the Queen Mother's home at Clarence House. "I never went to London without going in, and if she was there we'd sit down and have a chat. It was always open house there," he recalls. Come rain or shine, the Queen Mother's interest in the horses she called "her boys" never waned. The sport of kings will miss its Queen deeply.
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