The flashing smile and sparkling eyes caught on camera as, from the royal box, she watched her filly Estimate win the 2013 Ascot Gold Cup was evidence, if it was needed, that Her Majesty The Queen was never happier than when on a racecourse watching her horses.
But those who were close to her who work in the sport have long known where the late monarch’s heart truly lay.
Throughout her life, the Queen’s sense of duty never failed. During what must occasionally have been some pretty dreary official engagements, there was never the slightest sign that she wished she could be somewhere else.
The Queen was never happier than on a racecourse watching her horses. Pictured watching her filly Estimate win the 2013 Ascot Gold Cup
Jockey Ryan Moore rides Estimate to victory ahead of Simenon in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot
Andrew the Duke of York presented Queen Elizabeth II with Gold Cup after Estimate’s victory
Members of the Royal family cheer after the Queen’s horse crosses the line in first place
But if she had ever conducted a careers interview, it is virtually unthinkable the advice would not have been the recommendation of a career with an equine theme.
Indeed, John Warren, her racing adviser, once said: ‘If the Queen wasn’t the Queen, she would have made a wonderful trainer. She has such an affinity with her horses and is so perceptive.’
The only days ring-fenced in her diary every year were Derby day and Royal Ascot. The Racing Post, the sport’s dedicated daily newspaper, was regular morning reading.
The Queen loved her horses. She loved seeing them race and loved making breeding plans for her mares at the Royal Studs. There were hand-written letters each autumn to her trainers detailing the yearlings they were being sent.
She also loved the trips in the spring to see them and their trainers as well as the hours just chatting with the people who looked after her horses.
Those people got to see the Queen in a different, more relaxed light. There was no standing on ceremony. The Queen had a wonderful memory for a face but what also surprised many was her remarkable memory for her horses. She could recognise the horses brought up on her Sandringham Stud with ease.
There is a story that one morning while visiting Richard Hannon Snr, who joined her trainer roster in 1998, carefully laid plans to send her string up the gallops in pre-planned order ended in a muddle. The Queen recognised every one.
She had shown back in 1955 that she had a keen eye for her stock when two of her yearlings were inadvertently mixed up while being transferred to the care of Newmarket trainer Sir Cecil Boyd Rochfort. It was an error only spotted by the Queen when she visited the stable even though she had not seen the horses for 18 months.
The fearless Queen gallops on a black horse along the course at Ascot Races back in 1960
The Queen loved her horses. Pictured cantering at Ascot ahead of meeting start in June 1961
Racing on the Flat was the focus of the Queen’s equine operation but her first winner came over jumps in 1949. Monaveen, trained by Peter Cazalet, carried the Queen’s colours when he won at Fontwell but was actually shared with her mother.
Her first Flat winner was Astrakhan, who had been given to her by the Aga Khan in 1947 as a wedding present. Despite troublesome knees, he won at Hurst Park in 1950.
It would turn out to be the only Flat winner to be victorious carrying the Queen’s colours of scarlet, purple hooped sleeves and black cap as in 1952, on the death of her father King George VI, she inherited the colours associated with his runners.
They were almost carried to Derby victory immediately when Aureole, her first runner in the great race, was second to Sir Gordon Richards-ridden Pinza in 1953.
She would never get closer to winning British Flat racing’s most prestigious race, though Sir Michael Stoute-trained Carlton House must have raised royal pulses when, despite an injury-interrupted preparation, some trouble in running and losing a shoe, the Ryan Moore-ridden colt went tantalisingly close when third to Pour Moi in 2011.
While Boyd Rochfort-trained Aureole is probably remembered most for his Derby near-miss, he also was probably the best colt the Queen ever owned, winning the 1954 King George the season when the Queen was champion owner of the year.
Her other good horses included Dunfermline, who won the Oaks and St Leger, ridden by Willie Carson, in 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations.
The Queen, left, Princess Margaret and the Duke of Kent riding at Ascot racecourse in 1968
The Queen smiles and gives her four-year-old colt Aureole a congratulatory pat on the nose after the King George VI and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes
Official duties prevented the Queen attending Epsom for the Oaks and she was unable to make this summer’s Derby meeting which featured a 40-strong guard of honour of her by her past and present jockeys.
They included Carson, who recalled how staff always knew that the Queen was about to make a visit to the stable of Dunfermline’s trainer Dick Hern because he instructed them to clean the interior of his Land Rover.
Recalling his pride in wearing the royal colours, Carson said at the time: ‘When you put the colours on, especially at Epsom, a jockey grows six inches. You’re just that much bigger and more important. The Queen is the most famous woman in the whole world, so you’re privileged. You want to be doing your best for her.
Aureole is probably remembered most for his Derby near-miss when he was beaten by Pinza
‘If you just slip up and say this horse is out of the wrong mare, she will be straight on you. She can go back four or five generations and tells you about them. I can’t remember last week!
‘I wouldn’t call it her life but it’s her passion, her hobby and she really enjoys it. You go to the stud she enjoys touching the foals and stroking them. That is a great moment for her, just enjoying seeing the future in her horses.’
Another of her jockeys, John Reid, also told a story how the Queen had asked for composer Andrew Lloyd Webber to get in contact after he had played her a CD of his daughter Jessica, who had ambitions to get into the entertainment business, singing.
Most memorably, the Dick Hern-trained Dunfermline (above) won the Oaks and St Leger
Reid said: ‘She was staying at Highclere and having dinner and Andrew Lloyd Webber was invited. I didn’t know all this until afterwards but the next morning she got up and she said, “Oh, I forgot to give Lloyd Webber the CD of John’s daughter. We’ll drive down there and drop it off”.
‘There was a major panic at the house and she turned up and gave him the CD. Shortly after that, I had a phone call from (royal racing manager) John Warren saying, “Lloyd Webber would like to meet Jessica and interview her because the Queen says she’s very good”.’
One of the Queen’s other significant horses was Highclere the 1974 1,000 Guineas and French Oaks winner.
After being retired to stud, Highclere’s foals included the Height of Fashion, whose was associated with two of the Queen’s most difficult racing episodes.
The Queen’s first Classic was won by Pall Mall (L) and Carrozza (R) won the 1957 Oaks
The filly’s sale to Sheik Hamdan Al Maktoum in 1982 for £1.5million looked good financial sense at the time, especially when she failed to deliver on her early racing promise.
But at stud for the Sheik, she proved a revelation with foals including 1989 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner Nashwan plus his hugely successful brother Nayef.
There were no horses of the quality of Nashwan in the royal colours in subsequent years.
The massive Arab investment in the sport priced the Queen and many other traditional owners and breeders out of the market.
The sensitive political situation also for many years precluded the Queen using the best and dominant stallions based in the Irish Republic.
Carlton House must have raised royal pulses when third to Pour Moi in the 2011 Epsom Derby
But in recent times, with a little help from her racing friends, the Queen had raced more competitive horses.
Carlton House, a gift from Sheik Mohammed, and Estimate, an 80th birthday present from the Aga Khan, led the way. Going into 2019, her string included offspring of leading sires Dubawi, Frankel and Galileo.
Her best horse of recent seasons was Dartmouth, whose eight wins included the 2016 Hardwicke Stakes, one of the Queen’s 24 Royal Ascot winners. The most recent was Tactical, winner of the 2020 Windsor Castle Stakes.
Her roster of trainers is led by Newmarket-based Sir Michael Stoute, William Haggas, Michael Bell, and John and Thady Gosden, and also includes Andrew Balding, Roger Charlton, Richard Hughes and Richard Hannon Jnr.
The Queen also maintained the link to the jumps, previously championed by her mother, by having a handful of jumpers with Nicky Henderson and Charlie Longsdon.
Her horse of recent years was Dartmouth, whose eight wins included 2016 Hardwicke Stakes
If there was a winner from the Queen’s passion for racing, it was the sport itself. It was not possible to have a better ambassador.
The royal patronage helped elevate the status of horseracing in Britain, which has not enjoyed the financial advantages of some overseas jurisdictions.
This is illustrated by the heightened worldwide status held by Royal Ascot, which now regularly attracts runners from America, Australia and the Far East keen to experience a unique British event with the Queen at its heart.
Royal winners were invariably roared home — especially at Ascot, her racecourse!
Racegoers seemed to appreciate that a woman who had devoted her life to duty serving her country was able to enjoy a moment of her personal, private passion.
The Queen at Royal Ascot in 2019 – she had to miss the meeting for the first time in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic
But Tactical, trained by Andrew Balding, gave her her 24th Royal Ascot success in 2020
That was what racing appeared to be. A brief break from the strict timetable of official duties. A chance to relax and laugh as she did on another occasion when hosted by Hannon Snr.
That morning an Indian-born rider, who had arrived late to work, got mixed up with the Queen’s horses which had been brought together for her inspection.
All attempts to get the Indian rider to leave with his horse floundered on his lack of English. Every Hannon instruction was greeted with a ‘Yes, boss’ but no action.
Exasperated Hannon, turned to the Queen and said: ‘Ma’am, do you speak Indian?’
‘No, I am afraid I don’t,’ came the reply to which Hannon retorted: ‘Well, you ought to Ma’am. You ruled the place for long enough.’
There was no royal scowl, just a beaming monarch and laughter in the trainer’s jeep.
The Queen was in her element.
On Thursday night, some of those great names in the sport paid tribute. Frankie Dettori said: ‘I’m shocked for everyone. She was a truly incredible lady and such a dedicated Queen to the country.
Frankie Dettori (right) was among those in sport to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II
‘I met her so many times and she was such a kind and knowledgeable lady who had such a passion for racing. It was an emotional feeling when you rode for her and it gave you an incredible sense of pride when you rode a winner in her colours.
‘I had winners for her at Royal Ascot and over 50 for her in all.’
Another of the greats, Carson, added: ‘I wasn’t actually watching the television but I saw the flag at half-mast above Buckingham Palace and it hit me very hard.
‘We’ve lost an unbelievable patron who will never be replaced. It’s a sad, sad day. She was 96, but we didn’t want her to go. She was great for the country and she dedicated her life to service.’
Royal trainer Gosden remembered a ‘truly remarkable and extraordinary monarch whose love of her people defined her life.
‘Her passion and profound knowledge of horses was unequalled and her advice was always acutely insightful.’
And the British Horseracing Authority, who have suspended racing today, added in a statement: ‘All of British Racing is in mourning today following the passing of Her Majesty The Queen. Her passion for racing and the racehorse shone brightly throughout her life.’