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Book Review

Royal Racing
The Queen and Queen Mother's Sporting Life
by Sean Smith
BBC Worldwide Limited
240 pages hardcover

Thoroughbred horse racing has always been referred to as the Sport of Kings. Royalty has traditionally been involved in the sport as owners and often as trainers and riders. In Royal Racing, BBC author Sean Smith chronicles the involvement in racing of two very popular owners, the reigning Queen Elizabeth II and the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Much more than a history book and not simply a lengthy list of victories (over 1000 in total between them), Smith examines not just the royal family but the many personalities both human and equine that contributed to the overall experience for the royals and race fans alike. The book is full of fascinating stories including Princess Anne actually riding a horse to victory, how a royal horse was doped by a mysterious woman who gained entry into the stables, and strangest of all how the Queen cracked open a creme brulee with her high heeled shoe!

The current royals involvement in the game began some fifty years ago, but Smith goes back further, starting the story in 1864 when the then Prince of Wales was elected to the Jockey Club and Queen Victoria reestablished the Royal Stud at Hampton Court. Later King George V would lay the foundation of the current Queen Elizabeth's involvement in racing, bringing the young princess to the Royal Stud to see the stallions and giving her Shetland ponies as birthday presents.

Most of the royals' horses raced in National Hunt rather than in flat competition, with the tough Grand National at Aintree the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, the 1956 edition of that race was also the ultimate disappointment. The Queen Mother's horse, Devon Loch, had a commanding ten-length lead down the stretch but without explanation, stopped 50 yards short of the wire and fell splay legged. His back legs stiffened as jockey Dick Francis attempted to get him moving again to no avail, and rival E.S.B. drove on past for the win. Smith wrote, "The postmortems began immediately and never stopped for 45 years." Even more incredible was that the horse came out of the race sound and would race for a few more months until retirement. The incident was such an embarrassment that in 1987 when Central Television was making a film of the Queen Mother's racing life, she put in the condition that the race not be mentioned.

Another embarrassing situation was the firing of long time royal trainer Dick Hern in 1988 as he lay in a hospital bed following a heart attack and major surgery. Hern had been champion trainer four times, won 16 classics, and trained greats such as Brigadier Gerard, Nashwan, and Dunfermline, winner of the Silver Jubilee Oaks. The decision to fire him was very unpopular indeed. Smith commented, "Sometimes in racing, horses are treated with more compassion than people."

All of their notable stakes winners are accounted for, and the royals' involvement at Royal Ascot is well documented. Smith's format of a series of short stories rather than a straight-through chronological account add to the reader's enjoyment. The book includes many photographs of the Royal Family and their horses, giving readers a feel for the royal racing environment. This is an excellent work for Royal fans and racing enthusiasts alike, especially those with an interest in the recent history of British racing.

Royal Racing has a list price of $39.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $27.97. If you are in the UK, you can order it from Amazon.co.uk for 14.00. If you are in Canada, you can order it from Amazon.ca for CDN$25.56.

Rating:     4/5

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