SI Vault
Andre Laguerre
October 18, 1954
Elizabeth II, a racing fan from childhood on, will be the first ruler to race the royal colors outside Britain when her horse Landau comes here next month
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October 18, 1954

The Queen Who Loves The Sport Of Kings

Elizabeth II, a racing fan from childhood on, will be the first ruler to race the royal colors outside Britain when her horse Landau comes here next month

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Elizabeth takes the management of her racing very seriously. "She is most knowledgeable and is not an owner anyone can take liberties with," claims her manager, Captain Charles Moore, and her veteran trainer, Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, says, "There is very little I can tell her that she does not know already." Even allowing for a natural element of flattery in these remarks, it is certain that the sovereign is much more of an expert on breeding and form than nine racegoers out of 10.

Her ambition is to be the most successful owner in Europe. Her greatest rival outside Britain is the French textile millionaire, Marcel Boussac. But Boussac's luck has wilted in the last two or three years, and experts say that excessive inbreeding has thinned his stable's blood strain.

At home the biggest disappointment Elizabeth could have in 1954 would have nothing to do with affairs of state but would be inflicted by a 78-year-old New York financier, Robert Sterling Clark, whose brilliant Nasrullah colt, Never Say Die, this year won the Derby and the St. Leger, the two biggest classics of the flat-racing season. Clark and the Queen are only a few hundred dollars apart in the race for the title of leading money winner of the year, an unofficial honor furiously coveted by British owners.

Like almost all racing people, the Queen is superstitious. Until the latter part of this year, she was convinced her presence on the track jinxed her champion colt, Aureole, whom she watched finish second in the 1953 Derby. In June this year she was glad to make another appointment on the day Aureole won the important Coronation Cup. But a few weeks later she could not miss the Hardwicke Stakes of the royal Ascot, where Aureole ran against an excellent Boussac horse, Janitor. The two colts drew clear in the stretch and rocketed past the post in the same stride. There was acute anxiety written all over the Queen's face as she stood in the unsaddling enclosure waiting for the result of the photofinish. When Aureole was announced the winner, she jumped with glee and smiled brilliantly.

Between races she mingles quite unself-consciously with the crowds in the paddock or the clubhouse enclosure, and is not expected to notice all the men who raise their hats as she walks by. She looks the horses over carefully before the race, and discusses them animatedly with her manager or trainer. During the race, in moments of tension, she clenches her fist and gently punches herself in the stomach.

When Aureole won the $78,000 King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in July?beating another French invader?Elizabeth, in the words of one of her party, "was quite beside herself." For several seconds after the race she could only repeat, "Wasn't it wonderful? Wasn't it a wonderful performance? It was the most tremendously exciting thing I ever saw."

The nonconformist conscience is still strong in Britain, and there is not universal approval of the Queen's fondness for the track. There was criticism when she knighted Gordon Richards, the champion jockey who is now a trainer. Recently the Rev. Dr. Donald Soper, president of the Methodist Conference, said that "as a Methodist and as a Christian I could have wished the Queen did not give gambling her patronage on the race track." Generally, though, Britons have no wish to deprive the Queen of a pleasure which millions of her subjects also enjoy. Horse racing, the sport of kings, has so much venerable tradition wedded to it that in the ultimate it is respectable.


The popular suspicion is that the Queen plays the horses, but the truth is that she does not bet. She does, as they say in England, have her card marked by a professional, which means that she buys a dope sheet, but only as an indication of which horses she should watch. The ownership and management of several dozen horses, which can bring annually a profit or loss of tens of thousands of dollars, is quite exciting enough to make most people willing to dispense with the additional thrill of betting.

How seriously the Queen takes her horse racing is indicated by a story that last year made headlines all over the world?and not just in the sporting pages. Landau developed a kink in his temperament: when under driving pressure, he tended to throw his head up and quit. Elizabeth chose to have the horse treated in a thoroughly unconventional manner?she called in the distinguished London neurologist, Charles Brook, to see if Landau would respond to psychiatric care.

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