begum, who was ailing with an undiagnosed illness, had a presentiment. Aly had
scarcely settled into the routine of his studies at his tutor's home outside
Cambridge when his mother's health declined rapidly. Doctors were mystified at
the cause of her illness, but it was thought a diseased appendix might be
responsible. She was admitted to the American Hospital in Paris and an
operation was performed, but her appendix proved to be healthy. She was
apparently making a good recovery when, suddenly, she died at the age of
It was a terrible
blow for young Aly. "I have never seen a lad suffer so," said a
servant. A hall porter at the Ritz Hotel in London also recalls Aly's
unconcealed fury two years later when he was told the Aga had remarried.
It may have been
a coincidence, but it is about this time that the hitherto diffident,
well-mannered and handsome little prince began to attract attention with the
way he burned up the downs as a rider with the Southdown Hunt in Sussex.
discussing his early years Aly remarked with a smile, "I guess you could
say I was educated in the stables." It was more than a wisecrack. For it
was in his teens that Aly discovered the magical world of horses and racing.
And it was an exciting time to make the discovery, because his father, who had
started in 1921 with an initial outlay of $110,000, was just beginning to
emerge as one of the leading race horse owners in England and France. Aly made
his first real friends among his father's stable employees and racing
associates. It was the first time he had met people who were not paid to
instruct him or wait on him. It gave him his first taste of give-and-take
comradeship, which he had missed by not going to school. Better still, he found
he had a way with horses. He had his ballerina mother's trim, well-knit and
well-coordinated body and he rode beautifully from the time he first climbed
aboard a horse.
He acquired a
hunter and started riding regularly with the Southdown Hunt in Sussex. He had
discovered something at which he excelled and, from all accounts, he made the
most of it. The quiet and shy little boy became—in the words of someone who
knew him then—"absolutely fearless, bright and gay and filled with
After making a
reputation with the Southdown Hunt, Aly switched to the Warwickshire Hunt,
which was one of the best in England, on the invitation of Michael Beary, one
of his father's jockeys, who always hunted in the winter. Beary bought Aly a
horse called Clansman, and Aly not only always rode at the top of the hunt, but
he is remembered as giving some of the best parties Warwickshire ever had.
Aly took his
entrance examination for Cambridge and was preparing to go there when his
father changed his mind and decided that Aly should study law instead. At the
time the Aga was busy at the disarmament conference in Geneva and his excuse
was that he needed Aly to deputize for him on trips to his Ismaili followers in
India and Africa. The excuse may have been valid, because Aly did make several
trips to the East for his father, but it is also a fact that the Aga always
showed a peculiar reluctance to allow Aly to attend school. He also took a dim
view of Aly's hunting and steeplechasing and ordered Aly to give it up, though
he finally agreed Aly could ride in flat races if he wished.
Aly was set to
studying law in Lincoln's Inn under Charles Romer, a famous chancery lawyer,
and given an allowance of $3,000 a year. His father also paid for a house Aly
took and furnished in the West End of London. Aly was never called to the bar.
He explains that the many trips he made for his father interfered with his
legal studies. There seem to have been other distractions as well. One was an
extremely busy and lively social life. "Aly was an ardent theatergoer,"
said a friend. "He went often, both to the plays—and the stage doors."
There was nothing frivolous about the interest he took in his father's stables.
He loved horses and he loved racing and he seldom missed a meeting.
father's jockey and old hunt companion, Michael Beary, was schooling him in
race riding. Years later Beary told one of Aly's biographers: "When Prince
Aly started to ride he adopted the right style and balance and rode gallops
from the start. Not only did he have great courage and confidence, he was a
good race-reader and could pick out jockeys who rode well. He watched them
riding races and learned what he saw."
Aly rode as a
gentleman jockey for the first time in 1930, a memorable year all around
because one of the Aga's horses named Blenheim won the English Derby at 18 to
1. Aly was less successful. He rode a horse named Cyclone in the
mile-and-a-half Southdown Welter Plate and finished far back in the rear. He
rode a whole succession of losers that year and was just about to give up as an
amateur jockey when he received encouragement from an unexpected source. Edgar
Wallace, who was a noted racing writer long before he became famous as a writer
of thrillers, approached Aly one day and said, "If you were not the son of
a powerful owner you would be getting all the rides." He gave Aly rides on
his own horses, and they became fast friends. Said Aly: "He encouraged me
no end. I consider he really gave me my start in race riding. I used to visit
him in his big old house in the country—he always had several books going at
the same time—and we would sit and talk about horses for hours. I considered
him a very good friend."