The Queen & The Gold Cup

When you’re told that you are losing a long-held job, as I was late in 2019 after just short of thirty years working for the BBC, there are clearly many things about which to worry.

But while I just about managed to ‘get my ahead round’ no longer holding the genuinely dream position of BBC Racing Correspondent another task has turned out to be every bit as much of a head-scratcher.

Before you go, they said, talk us through your favourite memories since the start, which had come a few days before the Paul Cole-trained Snurge won the 1990 St Leger at Doncaster – and shall we say ten of them? And they need to be BBC commentary races.

Suddenly I felt the same mix of panic and excitement that no doubt grips the more music-fixated of Desert Island Discs guests when they get the big call-up from Radio 4.

Many warm recollections surround Desert Orchid, Danoli, Istabraq, Kauto Star, Denman and Sprinter Sacre – but that’s six horses already, and we haven’t even got onto the flat.

On the flat, without hesitating, all kinds of great moments with at their centre horses like Grand Lodge, Celtic Swing, Montjeu, Yeats, Sea The Stars, Frankel, Black Caviar and Enable came flooding back. That was eight more.

However, when thinking about it, there was perhaps no greater day than the Thursday of Royal Ascot in 2013, June 20.

Ladies Day turned out to be exactly that when the Queen became the first reigning monarch to win the historic Gold Cup, first staged in 1807, with her filly Estimate – her predecessors William IV and Edward VII had been successful before ascending the throne.

And it wasn’t just about the estimable winner and her pulsating neck-defeat of Simenon, but about the sheer delight of the horse’s owner, portrayed in pictures and words that were transmitted around the globe.

Estimate was technically bred by the Aga Khan as her mother, the John Oxx-trained Ebaziya, was owned and raced by him, but it can fairly be said to have been a joint-effort with the Queen and her racing and breeding adviser John Warren.

As an 80th birthday present, His Highness gave Her Majesty access to a number of his mares on which to use her own stallion nominations, and Warren arranged a mating between Ebaziya – whose son Enzeli, also trained for the Aga by John Oxx, won the 1999 Gold Cup – with the German stallion Monsun, a brilliant influence for class, stamina and grit.

The product, Estimate, was considered too weak to do much as a two-year-old – she raced only once when down the field in a maiden fillies’ race at Leicester in September – but, characteristically, Sir Michael Stoute, her trainer, was in no hurry.

And the following year she blossomed, hosing up at Salisbury before taking the two-mile Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot in terrific style – the images from that day of a chuckling Duke of Edinburgh presenting the trophy to his joyous wife will live long in the memory.

Despite two subsequent defeats in races staged over shorter distances, hopes grew that 2013 could be Estimate’s year especially when, back to two miles and still only competing for the sixth time, she powered to victory in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in May.

Six weeks later, the first couple of days of Royal Ascot 2013 were marked by a series of high-octane finishes, notably when the 2000 Guineas winner Dawn Approach just won the St James’s Palace Stakes and when Al Kazeem – again narrowly – became the first part of a hatrick which was to signal jockey James Doyle’s upward trajectory towards the high ranks.

On that Thursday, emotions were already running high when Ryan Moore was given the leg-up on the Royal runner as Jane Cecil, widow of master-trainer Sir Henry who’d died the previous week, had just saddled Riposte for success in the Ribblesdale Stakes.

Further high drama was to follow as Estimate was expertly delivered into the lead with a furlong of the two and a half miles left and they saw off all challengers.

A stewards’ inquiry into argy-bargy late on followed before confirmation came of what was the Queen’s 22ndRoyal Ascot success – she’s had one since when, Dartmouth won the 2016 Hardwicke Stakes – and Moore received a two-day ban for his mount causing interference to Simenon and third-placed Top Trip.

The Queen was due to have presented the trophy, the historic centrepiece of the week whose dates are said to supersede all others in her diary, but Prince Andrew had to be wheeled in to do the honours.

After plenty of hype it seemed to be precisely what the 70,000-plus in the crowd wanted, and the cheers grew louder in response to spectacular, heart-warming TV pictures of the Monarch and Warren cheering the horse home – at one point a football-style hug seemed close.

Warren spoke afterwards of “a truly magical moment” and that he couldn’t “remember seeing the Queen so happy and excited”, while Stoute rated it “as high as anything I’ve done”.

It was a significant moment for Royal Ascot and for racing as a whole, as they were propelled forward from the proverbial ‘back pages’, and, of course, for the owner and her racing involvement.

Estimate was only the fourth filly to beat the colts in the Gold Cup and for the sport’s longest standing patron it was a return to the big league – a first success at the sport’s Group or Grade One level since Unknown Quantity travelled to Chicago to win the Arlington Handicap, then a top level race, in 1989.

The crowds loved it, racing loved it; she loved it – and that’s not just an estimate.

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