Irish Horse Racing connections with the English Royal Family span five centuries. The Queen traces her lineage back to the Scottish Queen, Margaret Tudor, whose brother King Henry VIII brought about the first known contest between English and Irish running horses. That challenge was appropriately taken up by Gerald Fitzgerald, the 9th Earl of Kildare.
While the States Papers are silent as to what transpired we can get a clue from a subsequent payment in the summer of 1532 “of forty shillings to a servant of my Lord of Kildare for presenting a couple of hobys to the King at Greenwich”.
Three decades later and it was the turn of Sir Barnaby Fitzpatrick, Baron of Upper Ossory, to repeat the exercise. This came about because he had become a life long friend having been fostered with Henry’s only son Edward VI.
The Tudor Dynasty was succeeded by the Stuarts and without exception they all built upon the foundations of the original royal stud and stable. Indeed the brothers Charles II and James II had substantive sporting associations with Ireland. After the restoration Charles had decided on the building of a new royal palace at Newmarket and for this purpose acquired land from William O’Brien, Earl of Thomond, whose love of Newmarket reflected itself in the County Clare town to which he gave the name Newmarket-on-Fergus.
As for James II, his reign may have been short-lived but he did manage to find time to confer a Royal Charter on the Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders – the original manuscript still survives – and that was something that the English Jockey Club would not receive for another three centuries.
Likewise something of enduring consequence would emerge from the commissioning by Lord Deputy the Earl of Essex requiring an investigation by Sir William Temple in 1673 into the condition of the Irish economy. He took racing and breeding as part of his brief for “An essay upon the advancement of trade in Ireland” and from this stemmed the first of the Royal Plates in which the King would provide 100 guineas in prize money with the intention of upgrading the quality of the Irish horse.
These were the equivalent of Group One Pattern races before any one had dreamt up that concept and Royal sponsorship continues to this day. An actual Queen’s Plate is still staged in the autumn at Down Royal Racecourse in Co Down. The 2010 running went to Fictional Account and Sir William Temple who had made much play of the democratic nature of racing would have delighted at a small stable syndicate seeing off runners trained by John Oxx, Jim Bolger and Kevin Prendergast.
In the year following the accession of the Queen, the various Curragh Royal Plates were subsumed into the prize fund for the Royal Whip. This perpetual trophy had been presented to the Turf Club by William IV and in mid-summer has witnessed some great Irish horses in action including Alleged who won it in the same two seasons that he twice took the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe while the most recent renewal went to the 2009 Irish Derby winner Fame and Glory.
Some of the best known 19th century Irish sporting prints relate to the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Punchestown in 1868 but it will come as a surprise to many that, his mother Queen Victoria, through the medium of Voluptary in 1884 secured the distinction of being the first woman breeder to produce a winner of the Aintree Grand National.
This was a race to provide success and disaster in equal measure for other members of the Royal Family and in both cases there was an Irish-bred chaser at the centre of the action and the heart of the story
Coming up to 1900 the Grand Nationals were dominated by the mighty County Meath bred Manifesto and the Prince of Wales having already won the Derby with Persimmon was keen to find a horse to take him on at Aintree.
Acting on his behalf Mr Graham Wildman Lushington or Tommie as he was more familiarly known, who was managing the stables at Eyrefield Lodge, sourced Ambush II and bought him from his County Kildare breeder Willie Ashe of Narraghmore. In 1900 the job was completed when after a rousing battle from the last fence Ambush II mastered Manifesto who was eased down when beaten to finish 3rd. Although twelve years of age Manifesto was then far from a back number and at the age of fifteen he secured his sixth, first four finishes in the Grand National carrying 12 stone 3lbs.
It was not only a Grand National winner that the Prince, who succeeded to the Throne as Edward VII, would find in Kildare. There being a shortage of yearling colts at the royal stud in 1907 he leased a small group from Colonel Hall-Walker. These included Minoru whose name had associations with the Japanese Gardens at the National Stud, Tully and two years later in a driving finish at Epsom he got up the inside of Louviers to win the Derby by a short-head.
In between the two wars Danny Morgan the County Waterford born National Hunt Jockey achieved a unique distinction by riding royal winners for three Monarchs, George V, Edward VIII, and George VI. None of them, however, would match the success or the enthusiasm for the sport of Elizabeth the Queen Mother who fell in love with steeplechasing, a love affair that lasted for more than sixty years. Like many of those that contributed to her lifelong total of 449 winners, her first was an Irish-bred Monaveen who ensured that she became the first reigning queen to have a winner since the time of Queen Anne.
Her sportsmanship was put to the ultimate test in the 1956 Grand National when Devon Loch having jumped all thirty obstacles began to draw clear of ESB on the run in. With the race seemingly in safe keeping and only a measured fifty five yards short of the winning post the roar of the crowd reached a crescendo and in a never fully solved mystery Devon Loch slipped down to the ground forelegs splayed presenting the race to ESB. After that the only “National” that ever came The Queen Mother’s way was the Ulster Harp National at Downpatrick Racecourse in Co Down. In 1962 Peter Cazalet who trained at Fairlawne in Kent sent over Laffy and in the hands of the distinguished Irish rider Willie Robinson notched up a five length win.