It was a classic and comforting sight on the British sporting calendar, Queen Elizabeth II smiling and waving from inside a horse-drawn carriage leading other members of the royal family in a procession along the racetrack at Royal Ascot.
The monarch would then spend the day watching the races from the Royal Enclosure, cheering on her horses — win or lose.
And she won plenty.
Horse racing was the big sporting fascination of the queen, who died on Thursday at the age of 96. She first rode a horse at the age of 3 — and was immediately besotted with them — and would inherit the breeding and racing stock of her father, King George VI, when she acceded to the throne in 1952.
She became one of the biggest faces of British and global horse racing — and had a special connection to Canada with the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. It is the longest continuously run stakes race in North America.
Woodbine put out a statement on Thursday mourning her loss.
“On behalf of Woodbine Entertainment, our Board of Directors, our horse racing community, and horse racing fans across our country, I send our deepest condolences to the Royal Family, the Monarchy of Canada, and fans and supporters across the world on the passing of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II,” said Jim Lawson, CEO, Woodbine Entertainment.
“For the past 163 years, Canada’s largest and most historic horse race, The Queen’s Plate, has represented the best in horse racing. It is one of Canada’s most exclusive and beloved annual sporting events that is proudly steeped in royal tradition and grandeur.”
The queen last attended the Queen’s Plate in 2010.
The queen was also present at some of the most famous occasions in British sporting history.
She handed the Jules Rimet Trophy to England captain Bobby Moore when the national soccer team won the men’s World Cup by beating West Germany at Wembley Stadium in 1966.
She was in the Royal Box on Centre Court at Wimbledon when British player Virginia Wade won the women’s singles title in 1977, the championship’s centenary year.
And, more recently, she had a cameo in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, filming a comedy sketch with James Bond actor Daniel Craig where the queen — well, a stunt double, anyway — jumped out of a helicopter and parachuted into the Olympic Stadium. She allowed Danny Boyle, who directed the ceremony, and his crew access to her quarters at Buckingham Palace for a one-day shoot a few months earlier.
Horse racing was her big love, though, and she was often seen visiting The Royal Stud at her estate at Sandringham, patting her horses tenderly.
“My philosophy about racing is simple,” she said in a BBC documentary, The Queen’s Racehorses: A Personal View. “I enjoy breeding a horse that is faster than other people’s.
“And to me, that is a gamble from a long way back. I enjoy going racing but I suppose, basically, I love horses, and the thoroughbred epitomizes a really good horse to me.”
The queen had approaching 2,000 winners as a racehorse owner, with her jockeys always wearing purple, gold and scarlet — the colours of the storied royal racing silks also used by father and great grandfather, King Edward VII.
Her first winner was a horse called Monaveen, at Fontwell in 1949, and she went on to win all of the so-called “classics” in British horse racing except for The Derby, another event she attended for most of her life.
One of the queen’s most famous wins came at Royal Ascot in 2013 when Estimate became the first horse owned by a reigning monarch to win the prestigious Gold Cup. It was her first win in an elite race since 1989 and she was seen clapping enthusiastically as jockey Ryan Moore powered through to finish first by a neck in front of 61,000 racegoers.
Michael Stoute, who trained the queen’s horses, said winning races gave her a “special thrill.”
“She really loves this game,” he said after Estimate’s victory, “and it’s a great recreation for her.”
She was the champion owner in British flat racing on two occasions, in 1954 and ’57.
The queen even attended America’s greatest horse race, the Kentucky Derby, in 2007 while visiting the heart of U.S. racing in Kentucky bluegrass country.
Following the announcement of the queen’s death, the British Horseracing Authority said racing in Britain for the rest of Thursday and Friday would be suspended “as we begin to grieve Her Majesty’s passing and remember her extraordinary life and contribution to our sport and our nation.”
— with files from Sportsnet