What Elizabeth could have said about Queen’s Plate
Although Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip did not make it to Saturday’s L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, the race was on her husband’s mind, David Mollett reveals
The scene is mid-November 2017. It is the day of the 70th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. They are having a celebratory dinner at Buckingham Palace.
We put a tape recorder under the table.
The Queen: "So, Philip, what a milestone. To think it was as long ago as 1947 that we walked down the aisle. But, as usual, I suppose you’ve forgotten to get me a present."
Prince Philip: "That’s where you’re wrong, my dear. Not only have I remembered, but it is to do with your favourite pastime, horse racing."
The Queen: "Well, you’ve never really cared for racing — you feel it’s your duty to go to Ascot but I’ve never seen you place a bet, so I’m intrigued."
Prince Philip: "I got chatting to our racing manager John Warren and asked him if he had any ideas of a gift for you. He said: ‘Yes, you could go to SA for arguably their most prestigious race — the Queen’s Plate.’ It was first run in 1860 during Queen Vic’s reign and, after all, we are great-great-grandchildren of hers. I thought we could sail there on Queen Mary2. Romantic, don’t you think?"
The Queen: "Back to Africa — what memories. Remember we were together in Kenya in 1947 and then, five years later, I was in the same country when news came through that my father had died. I remember tossing and turning that night, wondering if I was up to the task of being queen."
Prince Philip: "You’ve answered that question all right — you have been a wonderful queen and loved by so many around the world."
The Queen: "It’s not like we have ignored SA — we were there to meet Nelson Mandela, a cheeky chappie who always called me ‘Elizabeth’.
"I remember that you very much enjoyed your trip to a Boer War battlefield."
Prince Philip: "Yes, our trips to SA have been memorable, but this time I want you to relax and enjoy your racing, which I know you love so much."
The Queen: "So, what exactly has John told you about the Queen’s Plate? The name suggests royalty was involved."
Prince Philip: "Yes, so this is the 157th running and — according to John — they’ve tried to model the two-day meeting pretty much on Goodwood in July and the word is they’ve succeeded. You know Goodwood probably runs second to Ascot when it comes to being fashionably dressed. They have a strict dress code — you’re expected to dress in blue and white. Not a problem, my dear, you can pull out that blue hat you wore on the second day of Ascot."
The Queen: "Really, Philip, what a suggestion. I’m sure the fashion writers in SA would spot it if I wore an old hat. I will, of course, get a new one."
Prince Philip: "John says this racing festival has become an important date on their racing calendar due to the efforts of Johann and Gaynor Rupert. They’re a famous family with a rich tradition, so much so that they’re treated like royalty by their countrymen."
The Queen: "Just ensure that all I have to do is present the trophy. What a pity ‘Porchie’ [the 7th Earl of Carnarvon and the queen’s former racing manager] isn’t still with us. He’d know the ropes for our trip."
Prince Philip: "Don’t get me started on Porchie. You know it makes my blood boil. The newspapers here even said you had an affair with him. I know it’s not true — if it had been I’d have sent you to the Tower myself. But I do remember you being upset when he died in 2001 — on the same day as the Twin Towers fell in New York. A double tragedy on one day."
The Queen: "Porchie did his absolute best for us from the outset — I won’t have a word said against him. So you say we can sail to SA on Queen Mary 2 — I thought it was now a luxury liner with hundreds of American and Japanese tourists."
Prince Philip: "That’s right, it is. But I’ve used my connections and apparently there’s a private suite on the top deck — only the captain and some of the crew will know we’re on board."
The Queen: "Tell me more about the race itself.
"It is due to be run at Kenilworth, I know that’s their No1 course in Cape Town."
Prince Philip: "Well, John tells me it’s named the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate. It’s a Group One race. Even I know that’s for the very best horses. One of your trainers, Yorkshireman William Haggas, has strong ties with SA — if there weren’t such strict quarantine rules, you could tell him to fly out one of your horses."
The Queen: "What a preposterous idea — most of my horses are Group Three horses, not Group One. But I like a small wager, so have they got a paper like our Racing Post?"
Prince Philip: "They have a first-class racing publication: the Sporting Post."
The Queen: "Well, Philip, you have amazed me on this special date. The Queen’s Plate here we come — another chapter in our visits to Africa."