There is a story that once as a child Queen Elizabeth II was asked what she would most like to become. Promptly she answered: "A horse." The tale may be apocryphal, but there is no doubt that love of the thoroughbred has always been with her.
The Queen today is not only a passionately interested horsewoman but also the industrious and ambitious owner of a considerable racing stable. Next month Americans will get a chance to look one of her horses over when Elizabeth's black three-year-old, Landau, runs in the Washington International at Laurel Race Course on Nov. 3. This will be the first time in British history that the colors of the sovereign will be raced outside the British Isles.
Landau is one of the latest of a succession of horses the Queen has owned since she was a small child. Her first mount, a Shetland pony, was given to her by her grandfather, George V, when she was four.
By the time she was five, the London Evening Standard wrote that Elizabeth was already "an accomplished and keen little horsewoman," and in that same year her grandfather christened a three-year-old filly "Lilibet." Another time, when she was 12, Captain Moore, her father's trainer, took her with the King on a tour of inspection of the royal stud at Sandringham. When showing one of the mares, Bread Card, Moore's memory temporarily deserted him. "I can't remember her pedigree offhand, sir," he confessed apologetically. "I know it!" piped Lilibet's shrill, treble voice in the background. "She is by the Derby winner, Manna, out of Book Debt by Buchan." And she was quite right, too.
When Elizabeth was 16 her father's Big Game was favored to win the Derby. Elizabeth and Margaret listened to the race on the radio, and Big Game failed. "Isn't that a shame," bemoaned the 11-year-old Margaret. But her sister corrected her primly:
"No, it's just horse racing."
In 1948 Elizabeth got her first race horse—the filly Astrakhan, a wedding present from the Aga Khan—and the next year the Princess registered her colors. Under steeplechase rules, she also registered a partnership with her mother, and each owned a half share in the Irish jumper, Monaveen.
One afternoon in April, 1950 Elizabeth was watching Philip play polo in Malta when she got a telegram telling her of her first win under flat-racing rules—Astrakhan had taken the Merry Maidens Stakes at Hurst Park. Elizabeth "smiled very happily," according to bystanders. In December she got another and sadder cable in Malta: Monaveen had broken a leg and had been shot. The Queen has never owned a jumper since.
Racing is the Queen's great pastime. She is devoted to the sport and the traditions which govern it in Britain. It is her single interest outside her family and duties, and she approaches it as she does everything else—studiously, persistently and ardently.
A SERIOUS MANAGER
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.
NO BETS, BUT A DOPE SHEET
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.
Brook heeded not the laughter of the ignoramuses who dubbed him a hypnotist or a psychiatric horse doctor. He explained his technique was "one that substitutes, for existing impulses in the nervous system, impulses that dictate the conduct or condition desired. It is a nonphysical treatment of the nervous system."
More specifically, Brook's treatment involved spending some time in Landau's box, with one hand on the horse's withers and another on his girth muscle. This had a soporific effect on the animal. He used to drop off to sleep with his head on the doctor's shoulder. An even more tangible sequel was that Landau won three of his next four races and thus qualified for the invitation to race at Laurel on Nov. 3.
It now looks as if the good doctor may have to be called in once more before Landau is flown to the U.S. On September 28, this son of British Derby winner Dante and Sun Chariot was given a final trial race before the Laurel event. Landau was only one of four entries in the one-mile Old Rowley Stakes, and on that chilly afternoon 8,000 fans were huddled in and around the drab stands on Newmarket Heath when the small field cantered to the post.
AN EARLY FAVORITE, A DISMAL LAST
Landau, the favorite at 8 to 15, broke fast as is his wont. Two furlongs from home, he looked good. Jockey Willie Snaith's royal silks in gold, scarlet and purple loomed prominently, and loyal subjects were ready to sweep off their hats for the traditional ceremonious cheer which greets every royal winner.
Abruptly, as Snaith began to drive, Landau's head lifted. Within the next few strides, the royal debacle was sadly evident. Marshal Ney, a 17-to-1 long shot ridden by the French-Australian ace, Rae Johnstone, was an easy winner. Trailing by 10 lengths, Landau finished a dismal last.
Captain Moore, a weatherbeaten Irishman from Tipperary, strode glumly from the paddock to send a wire to the Queen, then still vacationing at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. He told reporters, "We must think again about sending Landau to Laurel. But I can say no more. The decision is Her Majesty's."
Next morning the racing correspondent of the Daily Mirror, Britain's leading tabloid, was given the honors of his paper's front page on which to write: "I saw this sorry fiasco, and the impression I formed was that Landau is not fit to represent the Queen in a great international event.
"A performance like yesterday's could do nothing but harm to the prestige of British bloodstock."
The Mirror's ink was hardly dry when Elizabeth announced her decision: Landau would run at Laurel as planned. It was a decision quite typical of two of her characteristics, love of a good horse race and plain stubbornness. With it goes not exactly a "sporting" spirit, but the philosophy which every racing fan has to develop if he is going to stick with the game for long. She very much wants to beat out Mr. Clark for the leading money-winner title in Britain this year. She very much wants Landau to win at Laurel. If she gets neither wish, chances are her reaction will be the same as that which she communicated to her kid sister 12 years ago: "It's just horse racing."