World's great races named for Queen Elizabeth II

September 8th, 2022

As the world mourns the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, the global racing community can also take stock of her historic legacy. No fewer than five major jurisdictions have international Group 1 races named after her personally, and other high-profile events are closely associated with her - an apt tribute to her lifelong presence in the Thoroughbred racing and breeding arena

Queen Elizabeth II S. (G1) – Ascot

Naturally, the United Kingdom has feted its monarch with a marquee race. Formerly known as the Knight’s Royal S., the one-mile affair at Ascot was renamed the Queen Elizabeth II S. in 1955, three years after her accession to the throne.

The “QEII” has developed into Britain’s premier mile race of the autumn, now enshrined on Champions Day in mid-October and a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). Its honor roll includes legends of the turf spanning a half-century, from Brigadier Gerard (1971-72), Dubai Millennium (1999), and Frankel (2011) to its reigning winner, unbeaten superstar Baaeed (2021).

Queen Elizabeth S. (G1) – Randwick

Australia’s Royal Randwick rebranded a feature in Queen Elizabeth II’s honor as early as 1954. Currently the lucrative 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4-mile) showpiece of The Championships in April, it has featured such equine royalty as Winx. The all-time great mare signed off in a blaze of glory with a three-peat in the 2019 Queen Elizabeth S. Other notable winners include Tulloch, who won thrice (1958, 1960-61) in its incarnation as a 1 3/4-mile test; outstanding filly Tristarc (1986); Might and Power (1998); and Lonhro (2003). But it also became known for shock defeats for three champions at their final raceday starts: Gunsynd (1973), beaten by Apollo Eleven; Octagonal (1997), downed by Intergaze; and the aforementioned Lonhro (a son of Octagonal), who couldn't catch Grand Armee in 2004.

Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) – Sha Tin

Hong Kong instituted the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in 1975, during her visit to the then-British possession. The race has changed markedly in significance from its early days at Happy Valley, becoming the anchor of the Hong Kong season in late April at the flagship racecourse, Sha Tin. Renowned globetrotters Jim and Tonic (1999), Silvano (2001), Irridescence (2006) (beating the great British mare Ouija Board), and Loves Only You (2021), have taken top honors in the 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4-mile) race, but the home team has won its share with the likes of Vengeance of Rain (2005), Viva Pataca (2010), Designs on Rome (2014), and Romantic Warrior (2022).

Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) – Kyoto

Japan likewise moved to commemorate the Queen’s visit by honoring her with a major race at Kyoto. The Victoria Cup, then the final jewel of the fillies’ Triple Crown, was converted to the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in 1976. Mejiro Ramonu (1986) became the first to sweep three fillies’ classics. The QEII Cup later took on a new role when opened to older distaffers in 1996, as the Shuka Sho took its slot as the third fillies' jewel. Among the winners of the QEII Cup in its present 2,200-meter (about 1 3/8-mile) form are British-based celebrity Snow Fairy (2010-11) and Japanese stars Admire Groove (2003-04), Lucky Lilac (2019-20), and Lys Gracieux (2018), who went on to plunder Australia’s Cox Plate (G1) and the Arima Kinen (G1) in 2019. The Nov. 13 renewal is slated to carry an extra notation for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) – Keeneland

The pattern of race-naming in light of royal occasions continued at Keeneland in 1984. The inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup was contested with Her Majesty in attendance. In 1985, the 1 1/8-mile prize for three-year-old fillies was switched to turf, and its most memorable winners include Ryafan (1997), Perfect Sting (1999), Riskaverse (2002), Film Maker (2003), Aidan O’Brien’s Together (2011), Dayatthespa (2012), and Rushing Fall (2018).

Queen Elizabeth II with Steve Penrod, Mrs. William Lickle and Keith & Seth Allen at Keeneland 1984 (Courtesy of the Keeneland Library/Keeneland Association/Bill Strauss). This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Queen’s Plate – Canadian and South African-style

Two of the world’s oldest races long predate Queen Elizabeth II, but have been connected with her for much of their history.

Canada’s classic Queen’s Plate, dating back to 1860 during the reign of Victoria, became the King’s Plate after her passing in 1901. But the original title was regained upon Elizabeth II's accession in 1952. Among the historic winners of the 1 1/4-mile Classic for Canadian-breds in Elizabeth’s era are Northern Dancer, the 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero, and Flaming Page (1962) – the parents of English Triple Crown legend Nijinsky II (1970). Hall of Famer Dance Smartly (1991) is arguably the best of the Canadian Triple Crown winners kicking off their sweep in the Queen’s Plate. Awesome Again (1997), who won when the Queen was visiting Woodbine, would add the following year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). If recent heroine Moira (2022) likewise transcends the border, she would become a poignant final winner of a Plate referring to the Queen.

South Africa’s Queen’s Plate (G1) has a similar trajectory, commencing under Victoria in 1861, morphing into the King’s Plate, and coming full circle with Elizabeth. One of the highlights of Cape Town’s festival in January, the prestigious 1,600-meter (about one-mile) contest is a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Queen’s Plate heroes since 1952 include such time-honored names as Sea Cottage, on the short list for the country's best-ever horse (1966-67), Politician (1978-79), Wolf Power (1983), Empress Club (1993), Variety Club (2013), three-peater Legal Eagle (2016-18), and the legendary Pocket Power who completed a four-timer in 2010.

Platinum Jubilee (G1)

As Queen Elizabeth reached regnal milestones, Ascot joined the celebrations by renaming the six-furlong sprint feature during the Royal meeting in June. The former Cork and Orrery S. was upgraded to the Golden Jubilee (G1) in 2002, the 50th anniversary of her accession. For the 60th anniversary, it was fittingly labeled the Diamond Jubilee, and this year’s 70th bash saw another rebranding as the Platinum Jubilee. Unbeaten Australian sensation Black Caviar (2012) and compatriot Choisir (2003); Choisir’s son Starspangledbanner (2010) and fellow expat from Down Under, Merchant Navy (2018); Wesley Ward’s Undrafted (2015); and Hong Kong’s Cape of Good Hope (2005), himself a British-bred, helped to make it a global affair.

The modern Elizabethan era has ended, but it will be memorialized in the races that bear her name. After all, her late parents continue to be recognized with the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Ascot every summer, and her mother, the “Queen Mum,” has inspired races of her own, most notably the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Grade 1 highlight for two-mile jumpers at Cheltenham.