The late Queen Elizabeth II’s French and her knowledge of racing was impeccable, while she was endowed with “a typical British sense of humour,” former head of French racing Louis Romanet told AFP Sunday.
Racing was the longest-serving sport of the British monarch, who died on Thursday at the age of 96.
The French race car drivers paid tribute to her with a moment of silence before the Group 1 Prix Vermeille – one of three Sunday trials of their flagship Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – at Longchamp.
“It was the least that the French races could do in her honor,” Romane said.
“She was a friend of France and racing.”
Romané, 74, saw her humor firsthand when her filly Highclere won the French Oaks (Prix de Diane) in 1974 at Chantilly.
Romanet, who was CEO of French racing agency France Galop for 40 years before retiring in 2007, accompanied her to a reception hosted by renowned breeder owner Marcel Boussac at his castle.
This was followed by a visit in her Rolls Royce to the Chantilly training center, where most of the top coaches are stabled, before she retired at the racetrack.
All this served as an aperitif, said Romanes to the race itself, where Highclere arrived in great repute, having won the English 1,000 guineas.
“It was fantastic,” he said.
“She couldn’t help it and was madly rooting for Highclere while her racing manager Lord Porchester waved binoculars over her head as she won.
“After Boussac handed her the trophy, I moved to collect it, but she looked at me intently and said in French: “Monsieur Romanet, why are you taking the trophy?”.
“I replied so we could engrave Highclere and your name on it.
“She smiled and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, give it to my secretary. I’m hosting a dinner at Windsor Castle tonight and I’d like it to be on the table.”
“You know, we also have very good engravers in England.”
“It was typical British humor.”
– ‘Midnight’ –
Romanet was due to visit Windsor Castle over 20 years later, in 1995.
He was invited as President of the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities (IFHA) to a pre-race dinner at Royal Ascot.
The Queen had one of her biggest successes when Estimeyt won the meeting’s most historic race, the Ascot Gold Cup in 2013 – her big smile was captured on TV and beamed around the world.
Romane said that he and his wife were too punctual and arrived first.
He found himself seated between the Queen and the Queen Mother, who was also a famous traveler.
“I started talking to the queen and she said, ‘I’ll make a sign when you turn around and talk to my mother,'” he said.
“However, she completely forgot when we talked about racing, and then, finally, she understood and gave a sign.
“I turned and spoke to the Queen Mother. Suddenly, after a few minutes, the Queen Mother stopped, smiled and said: “Monsieur Romanet, why, when I speak French, do you answer in English!”
“I replied: sorry, madam, I was so impressed by your French that I didn’t even realize that I was speaking English. We both burst out laughing.”
He said that another indication of the queen’s humor was that the famous Prix de Diane trophy was placed right in front of him.
It wasn’t the last time the Queen’s preoccupation with racing was at odds with her time.
The Queen, who traveled to Longchamp on a state visit in 1972 and the race was named “La Coupe de Sa Majeste Reine Elizabeth” (now Prix Sandringham) after her, was a guest of the late Alec Head at Haras. de Quesnay in Normandy in 1984 after the 40th anniversary of D-Day.
“Dinner ended at 10 and then we filmed the best races of the season and talked about the races,” Romane said.
“Suddenly, an assistant appeared, pointed to the clock and said: “Ma’am, it’s already midnight.”
“Her impeccable French, love of racing and humor – she was a wonderful woman!”