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First Lady of the Turf

Date: 03/30/2002

Today Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother died peacefully in her sleep at age 101. She had been in ill health for some time with her last public appearance six weeks ago at her daughter Princess Margaret's funeral. She will be interred next to her husband, King George VI, with her daughter's ashes enclosed with her.

She first became involved in racing in 1949 when Peter Cazalet persuaded her to buy a steeplechaser and have him train it. She was soon hooked on the sport and remained passionate about racing although her racing stable had been scaled back as she got older. She was actively involved with her breeding operation and her racing manager once said: "She's breeding to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in nine years' time, and I never get the feeling that she's thinking: 'I won't be there to see that'."

When she turned 100 in August of 2000, she still had 10 horses in training plus 6 broodmares and 15 young horses who were as yet unraced. None of her horses were ever sold after they could no longer race, but were given on permanent loan to good homes. Not only did she watch out for her horses' well-being but she was also a patron of the Injured Jockeys' Fund.

She had 449 wins as an owner, mostly in steeplechase and National Hunt races, the last being First Love at Sandown on March 8, 2002. One of her most infamous horses was steeplechaser Devon Loch. Ridden by Champion Jockey Dick Francis (now a famous mystery writer) the unlucky duo were only 40 yards from the winning post in the 1956 Grand National when Devon Loch slipped and collapsed flat on his stomach! She never held a grudge over the incident exclaiming, "Ah well, that's racing." Francis remained friends with her and always sent her an autographed copy of all his books.

She still made about 10 trips to the races annually when her health allowed, including Royal Ascot where a horse-drawn carriage would drive her up the length of the homestretch in before the races. In 2000, she won a large bet for a lucky race fan when she presented the trophy for the Whitbread Gold Cup. In 1992 he had wagered she would still be presenting the Cup at age 100 at odds of 250-1. Her devotion to the sport was rewarded in 1980 when the two-mile National Hunt Champion Chase during the Cheltenham Festival, one of the most popular races in England, was renamed The Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Farewell to a grand lady who will be missed by many for more than just being royalty.

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