By Ed McNamara
For the first time in her 62-year reign, and for the first time in 73 years, Queen Elizabeth II is absent from Royal Ascot. On Wednesday, for the first time in four years, she won a race at the world’s most prestigious meeting.
Forced by COVID-19 protocols to follow it on TV at nearby Windsor Castle, she saw her 2-year-old colt Tactical rally to take the Windsor Castle Stakes by 1¼ lengths. She’s 94, and she bred and owns the winner of a race named for the place where she watched it. Now is that the ultimate unique achievement or what?
It was her 24th Royal Ascot victory but her first in the 5-furlong sprint.
“To ride a winner here for Her Majesty is what dreams are made of,” James Doyle said. “It worked out perfectly. I hope she enjoyed watching it.”
It also pleased bettors who made Tactical the 7-2 favorite in the field of 18. “We were expecting big things from him today,” trainer Andrew Balding said, “and fortunately it came off.”
John Warren, the Queen’s longtime bloodstock adviser, told sportinglife.com: “Everyone involved is absolutely thrilled. The Queen was saying how delighted she is to produce a 2-year-old winner at Royal Ascot.”
American-based trainer Wesley Ward’s runners Sheriff Bianco and Sunshine City finished eighth and ninth, respectively. Ward has been a regular at Royal Ascot since 2009, when he had his first of 10 winners there.
“I’m not there for the first time in 12 years,” he said from Kentucky earlier on the NBCSN telecast. “I love going to Ascot, the most wonderful place in the world, but I’m stuck stateside because of the pandemic. But that’s OK because I’m at Keeneland, my other most favorite place.”
Ward will have four more chances to get an 11th win. On Friday he’ll have Flying Aletha in the Albany Stakes and Golden Pal in the Norfolk. On Saturday, closing day, he will run Campanelle and Royal Approval in the Queen Mary. The four are 2-year-olds, as were all Ward’s Ascot winners.
The Queen, a horse lover since childhood, and Ward have a connection. She admires his horsemanship, and last year she invited him to watch a race with her in the royal box. A few minutes later, in his suite on Ascot’s top floor, Ward told me about their conversation.
“I was surprised to get a message from a higher authority,” Ward said. “I was told the Queen wanted to see me, which is a great honor. She has a good sense of humor and is very knowledgeable about racing.”
Doyle also rode Lord North, the runaway winner of the Group 1, 1¼-mile St. James’s Palace Stakes, part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” series. The 3¼-length victory earned the 4-year-old Irish-bred gelding a spot in the 1½-mile Turf on Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
Japan, the 3-2 favorite trained by Aidan O’Brien, never got involved and finished fourth.
“This horse had to be gelded,” trainer John Gosden said, “because he wasn’t prepared to play ball. He’s the happiest fellow ever now – a great character.”
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.