Britain’s bookmakers were left reeling on Thursday after Estimate became the first royal winner of the Ascot Gold Cup, giving The Queen her first Group 1 victory in Europe since Dunfermline captured the 1977 St Leger.
The four-year-old was the subject of a colossal gamble and had been freely available at 7/1 on the morning of the race but a swell of public support throughout the day forced her odds down to 7/2 by the time the field prepared to tackle the gruelling two-and-a-half mile trip.
The Queen had enjoyed 21 other Royal Ascot swinners in a period covering 60 years, but the Gold Cup is a unique race, one whose standing belies its prize money – swap the cash for a plate of local sausages and you would still attract the best stayers. And it clearly meant a huge amount to the head of state, for while decorum invariably limits Her Majesty to little more than a half smile, Estimate’s success saw her break into beaming happiness, giving media snappers a gold mine of photographic opportunities that are lapped up by newspaper editors.
‘One’ is a theme among headline writers reflecting the momentous triumph, witness ‘One’s won! The Queen makes Ascot history’, which was the Daily Mail’s front-page take, while in similar vein the Daily Express lauded ‘One’s won! Queen’s historic Ascot victory’. The Guardian offered ‘One’s won – Queen triumphs at Ascot’ and the Daily Mirror kept it snappy with ‘One’s won!’, while The Daily Telegraph and The Times played down the headlines and allow photos of the laughing Queen to tell its own story.
‘We’re all smiles’ is the Racing Post’s view under a sub-head that states ‘A golden moment in racing history’. The same paper’s spread on pages two and three exclaims ‘Send her victorious’ above a photograph of The Queen stroking her filly’s head.
Throw in the fact that it was ladies’ day and newspapers were always likely to give plenty of coverage to scenes from around the racecourse. The Queen’s triumph has probably upped the ante. The Daily Mirror devoted a colourful spread on pages two and three depicting numerous racegoers alongside a shot of the monarch. Its headline, ‘Purple reign’ reflects Her Majesty’s choice of dress.
The Independent stood alone in shunning the story in its news pages, but led its racing coverage with the headline ‘Glory for Queen – and King of Ascot’. The ‘King’ refers to the late Sir Henry Cecil, whose absence – or maybe it was presence – was felt when Riposte won the Ribblesdale Stakes for his widow, Lady Jane.
Many writers ponder Her Majesty’s role in and importance to racing, although the Racing Post’s Alastair Down quantifies it by saying, ‘I would hesitate to suggest she confers respectability on the game – some of us are beyond even her help on that front.’
John Warren, The Queen’s racing and bloodstock advisor, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme following the win.
He said: “It was tremendous, absolutely wonderful.
“To win a Gold Cup was marvellous – the excitement was for all to see. It was a tremendous moment, particularly at the end of two and a half miles.
“The anticipation was built up due to the fact that a journalist discovered that no reigning monarch had won the Gold Cup. That rather built the tension up.
“It put excitement into the build-up. Although Estimate started favourite, we didn’t really think she could beat the colts yesterday. So it was a tremendous performance by her to do so.
“It (racing and breeding) has been her life-long passion. It is such a long journey involved – going through all the hoops from deciding the mating to a live foal being born and to having the horse trained so beautifully. Then there are the ground conditions, judging the distance (to race over) and many other aspects.
“When it ends up with a result like this, it is effectively the end of an amazing journey. It could not be understated the depth of knowledge that The Queen has and interest. Thankfully, it is a wonderful release for her to be able to have an alternative thing to think about. It is her tremendous passion. It is wonderful for British racing that The Queen embraces it wholeheartedly.
“So it was a wonderful day for British racing. We do have the best stallions in the world and the best racing in the world. Owners from all over the world come and participate which we are all so grateful for.”
Ladbrokes reported that they were happy to celebrate the success despite being ‘hammered for a fortune’ by the victory of the Queen’s horse in the feature race of Ladies’ Day.
The firm’s David Williams reckons that Estimate’s victory cost the bookmaking industry millions but hopes it will trigger a wave of racing goodwill that will help pay for the losses.
“Racing has a priceless ability to throw up some dream results and we’re happy to join in the celebrations,” said Williams.
“Sure, we lost a packet on the race but the day will go down in history and more than pay for itself in upbeat coverage over the days, weeks and months to come.
“Sometimes we need to look beyond the balance sheet and think about the marketing potential. Estimate’s win could be the best news for racing – and betting – in a very long time.”
Betfred spokesman Andrew Griffiths echoed these sentiments: “A victory for Her Majesty in the Gold Cup is the result we were dreading. Estimate has taken us to the cleaners but you won’t hear us moaning about one of the most popular winners in the history of Royal Ascot.”
William Hill’s Kate Miller opined: ”This was a true patriotic punt on the Queen’s runner Estimate and her victory has handed us a stinging £1.5million payout. Her Majesty is flying the flag for British bettors today!”