The Queen may not have a runner in Friday’s Oaks or Saturday’s Derby but her love affair with Epsom — and racing — will be celebrated with the most important race of the Flat season as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
Hopes that there could be a royal runner to finally give the Queen a Derby winner ended when the preparation of Reach For The Moon, trained by John and Thady Gosden, was hampered by injury.
He should still make Royal Ascot but Aureole’s second to Pinza in 1953 — her coronation year — remains the closest the Queen has come to winning the Derby. She has, however, twice won the Oaks, run at Epsom on Friday, with Lester Piggott-ridden Carrozza in 1957 and Dunfermline, who won with Willie Carson in 1977, Silver Jubilee year.
The Queen will still have a runner on Saturday. Just Fine, trained by Sir Michael Stoute and ridden by Ryan Moore, is a leading contender for the Northern Dancer Stakes and, despite reports she may miss Derby Day, officials remain hopeful she will make the traditional home straight drive.
The Jockey Club have arranged for 40 of her past and present jockeys, including Willie Carson, Frankie Dettori, Steve Cauthen and Hayley Turner, to form a guard of honour wearing her colours.
Here they share their special memories of riding for horseracing’s most valued patron with Sportsmail.
The Queen has a long-standing love of the Epsom races ahead of this weekend’s Derby
Her Majesty has frequently been seen attending the famous racecourse over the decades
Winning the Oaks for her in 1977 was fairytale stuff. It was in my first year for trainer Dick Hern.
Dunfermline had won the Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket and then she was trained especially for the Oaks, run on a Saturday back then, and won in Silver Jubilee Week. It was unbelievable.
The race didn’t go quite to plan. I was further back than I wanted but it all worked out. Unfortunately, the Queen was too busy with the Jubilee celebrations and wasn’t here. But there was one person who was here — the Queen Mum!
The Queen actually came to lunch the next day, the Sunday, for our celebration at Dick’s stable in West Ilsley to thank everybody.
She does not have a runner this weekend but jockeys have collated their memories of riding for her ahead of her Platinum Jubilee
That may be the best thing in my riding career. Those things don’t normally happen. I made a lot of bookmakers in Dunfermline skint!
I remember when I got my OBE at Buckingham Palace, the Queen was doing the handing over.
I walked up to her and said, ‘Ma’am, I think I’ll win the Derby for you next year. I’ve found one.’ Unfortunately, he didn’t. He finished fifth in 1981. He was a very good horse called Church Parade but he wasn’t good enough to win the Derby.
She’s very busy but we used to have a breakfast at Major Dick Hern’s in the old days when she came down to look at the horses. Most of the time it was her and the chauffeur. That was it, no security.
Major Hern had a Land Rover that was always covered in mud. He’d say to the lads, ‘I think the Land Rover needs washing — you’d better get it clean and the inside tidied up’.
Willie Carson said it was ‘fairytale stuff’ to guide the Queen’s horse Dunfermline to victory at Epsom back in 1977. Pictured: The Queen Mother
They’d walk away and say, ‘The Queen’s coming tomorrow’. We always knew because the Land Rover got washed.
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 world, so you’re privileged. You want to be doing your best for her.
I know she’s now an old lady but her mind is still very, very sharp and the breeding is right at the forefront of her brain.
If you 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 tell 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 and she enjoys touching the foals and stroking them. That is a great moment for her, just enjoying seeing the future in her horses.
My family aren’t in racing and whenever I’ve met Her Majesty they say, ‘What do you talk about?’ and I’m like, ‘You just talk about the horses’.
She’s easy to talk to because her eyes light up and she’s interested immediately. You’ve got her attention. You don’t have to go on about any politics or whatnot. You just talk about the horses.
I was really lucky on my first two rides for the Queen. I was riding for Michael Bell at Newbury.
I was really nervous, not about the actual race, but about going into the paddock as Her Majesty was there. But when I went out we were chatting about the horse.
She’s not bothered about the form but if you talk to her about the horse’s personality and the challenges you have with it — the good and the bad stuff — she likes that.
Hayley Turner (R) recalls exchanging a joke with the Queen many times on the podium
I won the race, so we got up on the podium and they took a picture with the prize.
A year later, I rode for her at the same meeting and the same thing happened. We were back on the podium and she was stood next to me with the trophy and said, ‘We’ve done this before, haven’t we?’.
I was like, ‘Yes, Ma’am, you should pay me a retainer’! She looked at me and laughed. She cares about what happens to her horses after the racing. It’s not just about the breeding and how well they’ve done.
One morning Her Majesty came to look at the horses at the Bell yard. Afterwards, we all went into the kitchen. My mum had just started rehoming race horses and had made this really tacky laminated copy folder that she’d given me to give to Michael Bell in case he had any retired horses that needed rehoming.
Her Majesty picked it up and I was like, ‘Oh no’. She started flicking through it and was giving no one any of her attention. When she stood up to leave she said, ‘May I take this with me?’. Ever since she has sent my mum two or three horses every year. If they go on to showjumping, dressage or whatever she is keen to know.
The first time I met Her Majesty was on the gallops at Beckhampton when I first started working for trainer Roger Charlton. I remember galloping a horse for her that day and it being an incredible feeling knowing she was there to watch the horse gallop.
When I jumped off I had a chat with Her Majesty. I just remember being completely overwhelmed by it and really taken aback by how much knowledge she showed about the horse.
She knew the family lines incredibly well. She went on to tell me how she first fell in love with racing up on the Downs at Beckhampton, so it was a pretty incredible story really.
James Doyle (R) admits he felt ‘overwhelmed’ when he first rode for the Queen at Sandown
Obviously you always remember your first ride for the Queen. Mine was at Sandown on a horse trained by Hughie Morrison. My mother managed to get a few pictures which I still have at home of me wearing Her Majesty’s silks.
My wins for her include Tactical at Royal Ascot a couple of years ago. Unfortunately she couldn’t be there due to Covid but that was still an incredible day.
I wouldn’t have ridden as many winners for her as other jockeys but I had over 50 rides for her and rode two Group winners and was very proud to do that.
I was lucky enough over the years that I got to know her quite well. She was very kind and generous.
I tell this little story because it shows what a person she is. I was asked to go to Malcolm Bastard’s, the former jockey who breaks horses for her. The Queen had about four or five there at the time and he asked me to come and sit on a couple.
I declined but when he said, ‘The Queen is coming’, I said OK. The following year I did the same.
When I was leaving to go my wife said, ‘Will you take that CD of our daughter singing and give it to the Queen?’. I went, ‘Listen, I’m not getting myself into that sort of pressure. If it happens, it happens’.
John Reid remembers the Queen being ‘very kind and generous’ – and tells a story about how she helped his daughter get an interview with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber
Later on, when I’d ridden the horses, we were talking about them. As she was leaving, I went to the car and said, ‘I’d like to give you a CD’. The Queen said, ‘Who is it?’ and I said, ‘My daughter Jessica’.
She took it and seemingly played it on the way back in the car. That night 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’.
She got the interview and was offered a job. She thought long and hard about it but had set her heart on being behind the camera, not in front of it. We sent the Queen a very nice letter and thanked her very much but said Jessica had decided to be a producer. She works in television. It was a fantastic thing for the Queen to do.
It was intimidating wearing the royal silks until you got to know her. She made things really easy for you.
The more you rode for her the more enjoyable it was and the better it was. She knew her form and could read a race, which made it much easier. If you were unlucky or something happened in a race she could see that.
She spent a lot of time going to the stables, meeting her trainers like Richard Hannon Snr and Sir Michael Stoute, who she had a great rapport with.
She’d come to the yard a couple of times during the summer. It was always a secret — nobody knew but you knew somebody important was coming. It was exciting for all the staff, especially the ones who had been riding her horses.
With Sir Michael, sometimes she’d come the evening before and stay over. He’d take her round and all the horses were turned out immaculately. It was very exciting.
Kieran Fallon says riding for the Royals was ‘intimidating’ but the Queen made things easier
You grow up watching racing and the Queen’s colours are the ones you look out for. To have that special first ride is a real milestone achievement.
It was fantastic putting those silks on and you make sure you get a picture that’s still up on the wall in the house! All you can hope for is that you’ll ride a winner. It took me a few goes but thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long.
It certainly gives you the will to win. It just has that extra special touch in the fact that no matter where it is, she’ll be watching.
It’s an amazing thing that her interest and love for racing is such a driving force for her because she’s still involved in it while having a pretty busy life.
I’ve ridden for her at Royal Ascot when she’s been there and in my earlier days at Richard Hannon’s she would come in and do the yard tour. I was lucky enough to have a cup of tea with her and talk about horses. It’s pretty evident talking to her that it’s you having a lesson about horses and not her.
Riding for Her Majesty gives you the ‘will to win’ in a big race, insists Tom Marquand
I remember Richard Hannon declared me for one of the Queen’s horses. It was an honour, especially as an Irishman.
When I used to ride for Richard there would be a few meetings we would try and target her horses at, like Newbury at Easter time when the Queen used to always come. We’d try to get a two year-old winner there if we could.
She would come to see the horses and it was a good fun morning. It had to be kept pretty quiet and she didn’t want anyone going out of their way. Her Majesty hates the smell of fresh paint so she liked to arrive on a normal day.
One of my fondest memories was in the paddock at York. I had these shiny goggles and Prince Philip asked, ‘Can you see out of those?’
Richard Hannon turned to Her Majesty and Prince Philip and said, ‘You’d better hope so, for your sake!’