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A Royal Parade

Not many people can claim to have ridden one of the Queen’s horses into the Winners Enclosure at Kelso. I can…

Bred by Her Majesty the Queen with a view to winning the Derby, Special Agent grew far too tall to become an early maturing Classic winner. Instead he enjoyed a career over jumps with Nicky Henderson. If you examine the horse’s form, you won’t actually find my name among those listed as having partnered him in a race, nor will you be able to trace his race record at Kelso – but why ruin a good story by introducing the facts. 

Tuesday witnessed the final leg of Rhona Elliot’s four-day charity walk between Musselburgh Racecourse and Kelso, raising funds for the MS Society, Injured Jockeys Fund and Riding for the Disabled. It was billed as a sponsored walk, but there were quite a few horses too, not to mention wheelchairs and even the odd pony and trap. A very odd pony and trap actually – as it was being driven by a man dressed as a crow who was giving out bottles of gin, but that’s another story.

In the way of all good fundraising events, the parting of individuals from their cash was cleverly disguised as a joyous and uplifting experience – in this case a two-hour ride through the rolling hills of the Scottish Borders.

The only horse that I keep at home at the moment is pink, fluffy and makes a neighing noise when you press a button in its neck. But while Star-Lilly may have proved a hit with some of the younger participants in the charity walk, she clearly wasn’t going to carry me over many hills. Thanks, then, to James and Carolyn Innes (Snippet to her friends) who now look after Special Agent and brought him along for me to ride.

The Queen likes to ensure that all her horses are found suitable homes after their racing careers have concluded, homes where they will find new purpose, be loved and cared for. Special Agent, who won races at Worcester and Ascot, has been schooled over cross-country obstacles and is clearly well suited to the hunting field where his good manners will be as highly valued as his enormous stride. What else would you expect from a horse of such distinguished breeding?

I didn’t actually get to jump anything on Special Agent, let alone compete in any races, but it was a fantastic privilege to ride him into the Winners Enclosure. In telling people that I’ve ridden one of the Queen’s horses, I’ve been able to enlarge on the sort of fantasy that many of us engage in when we place our bets every Saturday. Who doesn’t get a tiny feeling of ownership for each horse that we gamble on? I’ve had the pleasure of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle and the Grand National, although I didn’t try to lead any of the winners in after the races – which is the sort of wayward behaviour which got one racegoer banned from Yarmouth earlier this week.

One race that I’ve never won, despite many attempts, is the Ayr Gold Cup. It’s a great shame, following the abandonment of Saturday’s race, that I won’t have a chance to improve my record this year. This week’s selection, Sternrubin, runs at Newmarket instead. 

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