In Full Gallop: The Royals and Racing


    If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she’s not interested” was Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh’s famously funny quip about his daughter, Princess Anne’s keen pursuit of horses. However, the love affair with horses doesn’t just stop with the Princess Royal; many a member of London’s most famous family dynasty are owners of a number of majestic and meticulously cared for thoroughbreds. 

    The family are, as a whole, also very fond of horse racing, evidence of which can be traced by centuries. 

    The Origins of Royal Racing to Modern Day

    Horse racing has been an integral part of British culture since the 12th century, but it wasn’t until the reign of Queen Anne in the early 18th century that the Royal Family became so closely associated with the sport. Queen Anne, known to be a very passionate horse enthusiast, helped to transform Newmarket into the horseracing capital of England. Her passion laid the foundation for a royal tradition that has continued to the modern day.

    Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was a huge horse racing enthusiast. She is considered the first lady of National Hunt racing, a form of horse racing that includes jumping obstacles.

    The Queen Mother’s love of horses began in 1949 when she was a regular guest at Windsor Castle during Royal Ascot, one of the most prestigious horse racing events in the world. There, she developed a close friendship with Major Peter Cazalet, a successful racehorse trainer. This friendship sparked her interest in the sport, and she soon became an owner of racehorses herself.

    The Queen Mother owned over 500 horses throughout her lifetime and is estimated to have had quite a few winners in that time, too. Her horses competed in both flat racing and National Hunt racing, but she had a particular fondness for chasers, horses that compete in jump racing.

    One of her most famous horses was Devon Loch. In 1956, Devon Loch was leading the Grand National, one of the most challenging horse races in the world, by a significant margin when he inexplicably belly-flopped before the finish line, throwing the jockey off and handing victory to another horse. This dramatic event is still considered one of the most shocking moments in Grand National history. 

    Queen Elizabeth II was also particularly passionate about horse racing. She owned thoroughbred racehorses for over 60 years and bred many successful horses. Her horses won over 1,800 races, including several major victories at Royal Ascot and Epsom. The Queen was also a regular attendee at racing events, and her presence was seen as a mark of prestige for the sport. It was also suggested by one former butler that Her Majesty would make small wagers from time to time; however, this has not been confirmed. 

    If true, she wouldn’t be the only one: UK horse racing betting is worth some £3 billion, with bookmakers seeing a massive surge during the week of the Great National in particular. However, with new horse racing betting sites being introduced every week, attention has increasingly turned towards using online bookies to wager on the biggest and best horse races, instead of traditional betting shops. This is because online betting shops often have free bets for newcomers and the best, most up-to-date odds can be found by comparing sites, iGaming Analyst Peter Addison says. One does have to wonder how the late Queen would have reacted to the digital age of horse racing betting. 

    King Charles III is also known to be a horse racing enthusiast. He has owned and bred racehorses for many years, and he is a patron of several racing organisations. However, whether or not he will attend races as his late mother did remains to be seen.

    The Royal Enclosure and Ascot

    No exploration of the Royal Family’s involvement in horse racing is complete without mentioning Ascot Racecourse, just a stone’s throw from London. The iconic Royal Ascot event, attended annually by members of the Royal Family, is a true British spectacle that showcases both high fashion and top-class racing. The Royal Enclosure, known to be a very distinguished area within the course, exudes exclusivity, hosting royalty, celebrities, and other high-profile guests. This particular week has evolved into the most esteemed race meeting in Britain, attracting approximately 300,000 attendees over a span of five days. Participants don their finest attire and hats for the occasion. 

    The commencement of each day during this week is marked by the Royal Procession, featuring The King, The Queen, and accompanying members of the Royal Family arriving on horse-drawn landaus along the track. Subsequently, they spend the day observing the races from the exclusive vantage point of the Royal Enclosure.

    Newmarket, The Royal Racing Capital

    Situated just a stone’s throw away from London, Newmarket has become synonymous with the royal love for horse racing. The historic town boasts two of the most prestigious racecourses in the country – Newmarket Rowley Mile and Newmarket July Course. Both venues have witnessed the thrilling victories and heartbreaks of generations of racehorses closely linked to the Royal Family.

    It was King Charles II who was hailed as the pioneer of Newmarket racing. He not only constructed a palace in the town during the 17th century, he announced it as a royal resort. However, he also faced parliamentary reprimand for prioritizing horse racing over his royal duties!

    Many of Queen Elizabeth II’s racehorses were trained in Newmarket, and her distinctive racing silks are showcased here at the National Horseracing Museum. In 2023, Queen Camilla commemorated the 40th anniversary of the British Racing School in Newmarket, laying bare the Royals’ steadfast commitment to the sport of horse racing. the ongoing commitment of the royal family to nurture the sport by supporting the training of future racing professionals.

    Traditions and Ceremonies

    The Royal Family’s presence at horse racing events is not just about competition; it is deeply steeped in tradition and pageantry and that pomp and ceremony that us Brits have come to love and expect. In fact, the Royal Family’s presence at horse racing events perhaps becomes a microcosm of British culture – tradition, passion, social gatherings, and a hint of philanthropy – all woven together to create some truly cherished spectacles.