Memory lane: The day I met the Queen at Epsom Racecourse

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came during the 1998 Epsom Derby



Reuters photo used for illustrative purpose
Reuters photo used for illustrative purpose

By Leslie Wilson Jr

Published: Fri 9 Sep 2022, 7:11 PM

Last updated: Fri 9 Sep 2022, 11:30 PM

Some things in life happen so fast that it’s hard to put them into context.

This was very much the case on one eventful Saturday back in 1998.

I was in England to attend the 210th running of the Epsom Derby, one of the world’s most prestigious horse races, just like I had in previous years.

However, nothing could have prepared me for what would transpire on this occasion.

Among the 15 top-class colts who lined up to contest the race, which was run over a gruelling and challenging 2,400-metre course, were five contenders with Dubai connections.

Photo: Epsom Downs Racecourse/Facebook
Photo: Epsom Downs Racecourse/Facebook

Godolphin’s exciting filly, Cape Verdi started as the favourite, having earlier convincingly won the 1,000 Guineas. Her main danger was expected to come from a pair of Irish-trained colts, Second Empire and King of Kings.

However, as the race would play out it was while High-Rise, who despite being the only unbeaten horse in the field, was only given an outsider's chance to win at long odds of 20/1.

Then came the first surprise of the evening. French ace Olivier Peslier delivered High-Rise with a bold run to upstage a classy field and give his breeder-owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum a memorable victory.

Cape Verdi's stable companion, City Honours, finished runner-up.

According to an age-old Derby tradition the winning connections are invited by the Queen to her private Royal Box where she congratulates them for their success in winning Britain’s most famous race.

So there we were in the pulsating winner’s enclosure at Epsom celebrating the epic victory when a royal representative approached Sheikh Obaid to inform him that the Queen would like to meet him at her suite. And before we knew it, the whole entourage, including myself, were bundled into the elevator to be led to the Royal Box high up in the historic Epsom Racecourse.

Seeing the Queen in person took my breath away as I'm sure it did for all of Sheikh Obaid’s friends. Then one by one we went forward to be greeted most graciously by the Queen herself.

I’ll never forget when it was my turn to walk up to the woman, who is an icon of British history, and ever gently shook her outstretched gloved hand, having tenderly performed the traditional courtesy on one bended knee.

I am truly saddened by her passing. She was an inspiring presence at future race meetings that I attended at Epsom and Royal Ascot but I am glad that she is now at peace.

She will be missed but will live on in the wonderful legacy that she has left behind.

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