It was Winston Churchill who once said, "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." Perhaps it is that medicinal value and his love of horses that kept Great Britain's legendary statesman going for so long. He died in 1965 at the age of 90.
That famous quotation came to mind the last weekend of March with the passing of one of the Western world's most beloved figures, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, the 101-year-old matriarch of England's royal family and the woman known to many as the First Lady of the Turf.
It may be presumptuous to say it was the horses that kept her so young at heart for so many years, or perhaps it was her longtime desire to win the Grand National Steeplechase. She acquired her first horse in 1949 and attended her first Grand National at Aintree the following year. In 1956, Dick Francis wore her blue and buff colors aboard Devon Loch and looked a certain winner with less than 100 yards to go. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the horse fell, leaving the Queen Mother to say, simply, "That's racing, I suppose."
Devon Loch's shocking collapse was a mystery that not even her rider, who would go on to a celebrated career as a novelist, could solve.
The loss didn't soften the Queen Mother's enthusiasm. Throughout the 1960s and '70s her jump stable ranked among the leading owners in races and money won. In 1984, she celebrated her biggest triumph when Special Cargo won the Whitbread Gold Cup. In 1994, she reached her 400th career winner. The Queen Mother's final victory came with First Love on March 8 at Sandown Park.
While she was royalty and thus added significantly to racing's reputation as the "Sport of Kings," the Queen Mother enjoyed the people just as much as the horses. Francis became a close acquaintance, as did jockey David Mould, who rode 106 winners for her. She helped establish the Injured Jockeys Fund nearly 40 years ago and would often pay visits to riders who had been hurt in a fall.
Mick Fitzgerald, who rode First Love for trainer Nicky Henderson, was quoted in the British press as saying this about the Queen Mother: "She always said to you 'come back safe'--that sums up Her Majesty. Her number one priority was that the horse and jockey both returned safe and sound, winning was a bonus.'' Senior Moments
While many look back on the long and eventful life of England's Queen Mother, two other "senior" horse lovers continue to add chapters to their stories.
On March 30, 90-year-old owner, breeder, and trainer Harold Rose watched as his 5-year-old namesake, Hal's Hope, went wire to wire to capture the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. I). Hal's Hope won over the same track where he notched his only previous grade I win, in the 2000 Florida Derby. His Gulfstream Park Handicap victory put him over $1 million in earnings.
Rose was a mere 88 when he sent Hal's Hope postward in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). The son of Jolie's Halo, making his fifth start of the year, stopped suddenly after leading for the first three-quarters of a mile. He didn't win the rest of the year either, and Rose now admits he over-raced Hal's Hope as a 3-year-old.
Apparently, you can never be too old to learn.
Another nonagenarian, 92-year-old James Eckrosh, saddled a stakes winner on March 30 when Magic Doe tow-roped a field of Illinois-breds in the Chicagoland Handicap at Sportsman's Park. The win was the 16th in 61 career starts for the 7-year-old gelding by Fast Gold.
"I keep him happy," Eckrosh said after the race. "As long as he stays happy, he's showing no signs of slowing down."
It appears the same can be said of his trainer.