The Grand National - A Royal Affair

Royalty at the Grand National

The royal family has played a huge role in owning, training and riding horses at the Grand National. Between the two greatest royal owners, Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother, they have a total of above one thousand victories in horse racing. Royal involvement in horse racing goes back to 1864 when Prince Wales at the time became a member of the Jockey Club and Queen Victoria re-established the Royal Stud at Hampton Court. King George V later encouraged the current Queen Elizabeth's interest in horses by taking the young princess to see the stallions.

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Queen Mother

The Queen Mother, known as the 'First Lady of the Turf', has been seen as the patron saint of National Hunt racing for almost fifty years. Her involvement in jump racing gave the sport a new status. Her love of the sport dates back to the Royal Ascot in 1949 when Lord Mildmay of Flete, a leading rider of the day, Devon Lock at the Grand National 1956 was staying at Windsor Castle. Lord Mildmay talked the Queen Mother into buying a jumping horse and to use his trainer friend, Major Peter Cazalet, to train the horse.

The Grand National 1950 was the first time the Queen Mother attended the event. Her horse Monaveen finished fifth in the horserace. Then, in 1956, her horse Devon Loch caused a big stir when he was set to win the race but unfortunately collapsed less than fifty yards from the finish line. His back legs had stiffened as the Devon Loch's jockey Dick Francis tried to move him again, but his rival E.S.B. galloped past to the finish line. The Queen Mother was so embarrassed by the incident that, when Central Television in 1987 was doing a documentary on her involvement with racing, she put in the condition that the 1956 Grand National incident never be mentioned!

Bad Luck

The Queen Mother never came so close to winning again and the gelding's inexplicable collapse is still a mystery. From 1956 onwards, she seemed to be plagued by ill-luck at the races including Grand National, but she did reach a pinnacle in the years 1964 to 1965 when her horses won a total of twenty-seven races. At that point, she was the third most successful owner of the season. Then, in May 1994, she reached an amazing point in her racing career when her horse Nearco Bay became her 400th winner in horseracing. The horse went on to land the Neville Lumb Silver Jubillee Handicap Chase at Uttoxeter. Critics thought that the horse might go on to win the Grand National eventually, but this prize unfortunately has always been out of the Queen Mother's reach.

Patron Saint of the Grand National

The Queen Mother was definitely a favourite in British horseracing. Her trainer Nicky Henderson said, after her death, that she was like their 'patron saint' and it was an honour to know the Lady. The news of her death devastated the community, as people had the impression that she would live on through the history of horseracing. The Queen Mother's last success was with First Love, trained by Nicky Henderson, at Sandown Park on 8 March.