As with anything, it is hard to quantify loss until it is experienced.
For racing’s tightknit bubble, the death of the Queen represents a colossal loss. Others have obviously exerted a greater influence within the sport but then quite often, she was the person who drew these people in, the high spenders who were keen to participate in the sport of Kings and Queens.
For here was someone who revelled in the sport itself, and for the love of the horse. It is said that as a young child she accompanied her grandfather, King George V, as he walked the Royal Studs at Sandringham. The King had taken great pride in the triumph of his Captain Cuttle filly Scuttle in the 1928 1,000 Guineas and indeed it is most likely that the future Queen inherited her lifelong passion for horses and racing from her grandfather, who had also given her a first pony, a Shetland called Peggy, for her fourth birthday.
The sport owes a great debt of gratitude for the fact that horse racing was her hobby, likely a release from the challenges of day-to-day life. First and foremost, she was a highly accomplished horsewoman, yet also very knowledgable when it came to pedigrees. There were the occasional public flashes of knowledge, the depth of which would have put some seasoned racing observers in the shade. Her recollection of her father’s 1946 1,000 Guineas winner Hypericurm, for example, revealed an important understanding of the filly’s bloodlines. “Hypericum was a typical daughter of Hyperion, some of whose fillies were absolute devils,” she was quoted as saying. “Hypericum charged the tapes before the 1,000 Guineas and disappeared into the car park. I was there as a very young girl and it was a source of terrible excitement. She was caught and brought back, and of course, the extraordinary thing was, she then won.”
The Queen’s original advisor, Captain Charles Moore, had been a proponent of inbreeding and it is interesting to note that her 1957 Yorkshire Oaks and Ribblesdale Stakes winner Almeria was closely inbred to Hyperion in what was an early – and successful – example of a curiosity to experiment with bloodlines.
Hypericum was a daughter of Feola, a 3,000gns yearling acquisition in 1934 by Brigadier-General ‘Mouse’ Tomkinson. Over time, that line would become a bedrock family of the Royal Studs, leading to the likes of 1974 1,000 Guineas and Prix de Diane heroine Highclere and her Group-winning daughter Height Of Fashion, subsequently an outstanding broodmare for Sheikh Hamdan.
However, the Queen also recognised the need to invigorate the stud with new bloodlines. Some additions were naturally more successful than others but of those that survive today, Contralto, who was bought to inject some speed into the stud during the late 1970’s, remains relevant via the line responsible for classy sprinter King’s Lynn while the private purchase of the high-class two-year-old Memory in late 2011 provided the Queen with the unbeaten Group-winning juvenile Recorder, now at stud in France, alongside the smart stayer Call To Mind.
The tale of her visit to Doncaster sales in 1956 also bears recognition, given that the filly by Luminary that she picked out and subsequently bought for 1,150gns was Stroma, the dam of her 1965 Eclipse Stakes winner Canisbay (another horse who was quite closely inbred, in his case to Prince Chevalier) and granddam of her 1977 Oaks and St Leger heroine Dunfermilne, whose Classic sweep arrived in the monarch’s Silver Jubilee year.
It can’t have helped that for many years, the Queen was restricted in her use of Irish stallions. Instead, however, she embraced what America had to offer, initially sending one mare, the Nearco mare Near Miss, to Native Dancer in 1963. Travelling stock across the Atlantic was nowhere near as straightforward then as it is today, and by that token, there was seemingly a determination to use Native Dancer, subsequently a breed-shaping stallion, at his Maryland home. By the 1980’s, the group of Kentucky-based Royal mares were sizeable enough to be split between Mill Ridge and Lane’s End Farms. Ultimately, such use of Kentucky stallions probably didn’t enhance the broodmare band as much as anticipated but recent decades have represented something of a revival under the eye of manager John Warren, with the use of Irish stallions and the opportunity to tap into various bloodlines provided by Sheikh Mohammed and the Aga Khan key in a number of recent successes. Indeed, King Charles III has inherited quite the broodmare band, one that includes Memory, Ascot Gold Cup heroine Estimate, top Australian sprinter Sweet Idea and Portfolio, a stakes-performing daughter of Deep Impact.
With the death of the Queen, racing and breeding has arguably lost its most important champion. For the vast majority of us, there has not been life without her. Her constant presence, whether it be the annual certainty of a Royal Ascot or Derby appearance or the evident delight taken from the every-day winner, has been a driving force in helping racing retain a high level relevance to the outside world for so long. Yet there have been times when that has most likely been taken for-granted. She has been a remarkable figurehead for our sport and one that will never be replaced.