Her Majesty’s Pleasure: How Horseracing Enthrals the Queen

The only days ring-fenced in the Queen’s diary each year are the five days of Royal Ascot and Derby day at Epsom.

Her perennial presence at these fixtures is an expression of her passion for horseracing, yet she derives equal joy from mingling with thoroughbreds and the myriad characters associated with them. This aspect of her involvement has been less well documented.

It is therefore appropriate that the Queen’s lifelong calling is celebrated in tandem with 60 years of her reign. Published on 4th May to coincide with the Diamond Jubilee Pageant at Windsor, Her Majesty’s Pleasure: How Horseracing Enthrals the Queen is a vivid account of her extraordinary racing life.

This beautifully illustrated book depicts Her Majesty in her element. In company with all the Queen’s men, Julian Muscat delves behind the scenes to bring this portrait to life. He observes how racing for The Queen is “not so much a favoured pastime as a full-blooded embrace”. A compelling account is punctuated throughout by countless anecdotes from those in her orbit.

We chronicle the Queen’s every step, from her childhood fascination with horseracing to her connoisseur’s appreciation of bloodlines. It is an intriguing journey, much of it interlinked with the fortunes of the sport’s household names. Lester Piggott and Willie Carson have ridden royal Classic winners trained by Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, Noel Murless and Dick Hern.

The book features insightful contributions from racing luminaries such as Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Richard Hannon and Clare Balding in addition to the Queen’s advisors past and present, Sir Michael Oswald and John Warren. It also explores racing’s proudly loyalist streak through the eyes of Peter Williams, a stable lad who looked after the Queen’s racehorses at Ian Balding’s stables for 30 years. What emerges from their collective account is a monarch in thrall to the sport, yet one vividly described by Sir Peter O’Sullevan as “a very human being” – witty, intelligent, compassionate, and above all, instantly accepting of some uncompromising fortune.

Genuinely at ease in the company of racing folk, The Queen enjoys nothing more than ‘talking horses’ as trainers and jockeys do on a daily basis. From Aureole via Highclere to Free Agent, her best-known horses play an integral part in the story. We also take a detailed look at her ‘particular hope’ of winning the Derby, and how close she came to realising it with Carlton House in 2011.

Moreover, we become privy to the extraordinary depth of her knowledge and her appetite for minute detail. She recognises all her horses on the gallops, occasionally having to put her trainers right. In one instance she recognises an exercise rider she hasn’t seen for 25 years. Her eye, it seems, is all-embracing.

Her Majesty’s Pleasure relieves The Queen from the shackles of official duty to cast her in a rare light. In this respect horseracing is in a privileged position. It has been afforded a unique insight into The Queen at her leisure.

Her Majesty’s Pleasure: How Horseracing Enthrals the Queen is published on 4h May by Racing Post Books, priced £20, available from www.racingpost.com/shop and other good booksellers. The Diamond Jubilee Pageant runs from 10th–13th May at Windsor www.diamond-jubilee-pageant.com.

The book will also feature prominently within an exhibition on The Queen’s racing life that will travel around Britain’s racecourses throughout May, details of which will be released shortly.

Julian Muscat turned to journalism in 1987 after working on stud farms for seven years. He wrote for The Times for 17 years, mostly on racing, and now contributes to a host of publications, predominant among them Racing Post.  

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