Queen Elizabeth-owned Dartmouth in with a chance at Woodbine's $1 million International
The British Royal family has had a long history of attending races at Woodbine. But never has the 90-year-old monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, ever sent a horse to race at the Toronto track.
That will all change Sunday when the 4-year-old Dartmouth starts from post five in the $1-million Pattison Canadian International Championship Stakes. Owned by the Queen, Dartmouth has won half of his 14 starts, including the G2 Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot earlier this year.
DARTMOUTH wins The Hardwicke Stakes - congratulations to the winning owner, Her Majesty The Queen! #RoyalAscot pic.twitter.com/wUon9EdZWF
— Ascot Racecourse (@Ascot) June 18, 2016
Queen Elizabeth has visited Woodbine four times. The Queen Mother loved Woodbine, having visited it eight times before she died in 2002.
This year’s International has attracted a field of nine, with only one local horse in Danish Dynaformer, trained by British-born racing Hall of Famer Roger Attfield. Back in the days when Attfield rode show-jumpers in England, he met the Queen many times. The last time he met her was in the walking ring at Woodbine in 2010, when the monarch last visited Woodbine to view the Queen’s Plate. Attfield’s entry in that race was a son of a horse that the Queen stood at stud. They talked horses.
Still, Attfield is in this to win. “I wish her all the best,” he said. “But I hope she finishes behind me.” Dartmouth is a 7-to-2 shot to win, third on the board behind favourite Idaho (5-2) and Protectionist (3-1). Danish Dynaformer is listed at 20-1.
When Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, she inherited the very royal racing colours: purple, gold braid, scarlet sleeves, cap with gold fringe. In 64 years, those colours have won 1,600 races. Aside from having a few horses trained in Australia, the Queen hasn’t raced internationally. She has started 10 horses in the Epsom Derby at home.
Her trainer, Sir Michael Stoute (she knighted him, and hired him), won’t be at Woodbine. He’ll be saddling another of the Queen's horses, Midtown, for the Champion Stakes in England. The Queen also sent a second horse to Woodbine, a filly called Diplomat, but she has been withdrawn from Sunday's $500,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes because she showed a high white blood cell count and had a bit of fluid in her lungs.
Kerry Jones, assistant to Stoute, who is with the horse at Woodbine, said she feels no pressure at all working on a horse owned by the Queen. Stoute encourages all of his employees to treat all horses as if they owned them. Sometimes, they check a racing program and discover: “Oh, it’s them who own them, do they?”
Still, she said she is very proud to bring the Queen’s horse to Woodbine. Jones had a lot to do with the Queen’s other star, Estimate, a filly that won the Ascot Gold Cup three years ago. “Even that day, I didn’t feel pressure,” she said. “Everybody there wanted her to win that day.”
That day, the Queen, dressed in purple, of course, from head to toe, was seen to be cheering wildly like any other punter as the horses came down the stretch. The Queen told Jones quite candidly that she couldn’t hear a thing during the stretch run because all of her grandchildren “were screaming.”
Jones says the Queen is a quiet woman, quite tiny and extremely knowledgeable about her horses. She breeds them, and when Estimate had a foal, the Queen showed up at the Royal Stud two weeks later to have a peek. Jones said six months after her young charges, including horses like Dartmouth, were sent for training, the Queen visited again to see the changes in them. She could recognize them all at sight.
“It’s nice to have that conversation with her,” Jones said. “But you forget that you are speaking to the Queen.”