Over the past week a lot has been written about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her love of horses.
On each of her 10 visits to New Zealand, dating back to 1953, a visit to the races or a horse breeding establishment was always included and over the last week photos of her at Ellerslie, Riccarton and Trentham as well as various farms have been shared in the media.
The NZTBA was privileged to have Her Majesty the Queen as their patron, the Association being one of only five organisations in New Zealand to be bestowed such an honour. That patronage commenced 32 years ago and every year since the Association has sent her a copy of the Register of Thoroughbred Stallions in New Zealand and each year she has sent a grateful reply.
Having her patronage was all thanks to the Association’s Administration Manager at the time Sally Cassels-Brown or Kibblewhite as she was then known.
Earlier this week Cassels-Brown reminisced about how that patronage came about, with the Queen opening the Association’s offices in Auckland on the Ellerslie racecourse property.
In late 1989, before the building was completed, a decision needed to be made about who would officially open the building.
“At that time Lou Neylon was working for the Association,” Cassels-Brown recalled.
“He was an Irishman who was an ardent royalist and he said wouldn’t it be fabulous if we could get Her Majesty to open the building.
“We knew she was coming to Auckland for the 1990 Commonwealth Games and there was chatter that she may open the new grandstand at the Ellerslie racecourse so he helped me construct a letter to the Palace to invite her to come and open the building.
“I also had a good friend in Lady Richardson and her husband, Sir Earl, was Chairman of the Commonwealth Games Committee and in charge of the Royal visit to coincide with the games, so I had a bit of inside information.
“So, I got in his ear, and asked him to help me get her to fit us in and to open our place while she was at Ellerslie to open the stand.
“While we were trying to get that organised Lou said that the Queen was the patron of the English equivalent of the Breeders’ Association so why not ask her to become our patron. So, he helped me construct that letter as well and it turned out she was delighted to be invited to be our patron and announced that patronage at the opening of the building.”
Once it was confirmed that the Queen was going to open the new building, before opening the new stand and having lunch on a special race day in honour of her visit, the Association had to start thinking about a guest list. They also needed to raise more funds to help pay for the building, so they established a 10-year subscription plan and included a guaranteed invite to the opening as an incentive to subscribe.
Ross Finlayson was President at the time with David Winn Vice President and President of the Auckland Branch. The councillors were Robin Archer, Jack O’Brien, Anton Koolman, Charlie Roberts, Tom Williams, Keith Wright, Charlie McCall and Mark Wilson and all were invited. Along with the staff at the time Brian O’Flaherty (Executive Director), Michael Martin (Director of Planning), Lou Nealon (Director of Public Syndication), Phillip Quay (Publicity Manager/Editor), Sally Kibblewhite (Administration Manager), Jenny Bockett (Secretarial) and Sarah Stevenson (Membership Secretary).
“It dawned a perfect Auckland summer’s day and in the morning the police arrived with their sniffer dogs and swept the building for bombs and then we were not allowed back in until she had officially opened the building,” recalled Cassels-Brown.
“Once she had cut the ribbon and officially opened the building she went inside to the library with Sir Patrick and Justine Lady Hogan. While in there she picked up a book, “A Trainer to Two Kings”, being the reminiscences of Richard Marsh who had trained for King Edward VII and his son King George V, the Queen’s grandfather, and commented that she had never seen this book before.
“So on the way out I gave the book to her equerry and said that Her Majesty may wish to read it and a couple of weeks later I received the book back with a delightful letter thanking me for lending the book to Her Majesty which she l enjoyed reading at Huka Lodge, and also for my assistance in organising her visit to open the office.”
David Winn shared that sentiment about Sally’s involvement in organising the Queen’s visit and her patronage.
“That was all down to Sally and I don’t believe she ever got the recognition she deserved for doing that, no one else could have done it,” he said.
Winn and his wife Kath have very fond memories about that day and were delighted to talk about it stating that it is at times like these that everything comes flooding back and realise how lucky they were to be part of it.
Winn recalled that after inspecting the premises it was time to retire to the upstairs balcony to watch the first race.
“I literally had a 45-minute private audience with the Queen, just me and the Queen on the upstairs balcony at the new building with a view of the front straight,” he recalled with amusement.
“It wasn’t meant to pan out like that but it did, no one came to join us. The first thing I had to do was to get her a gin and tonic and then we had a discussion about the racecourse and the upcoming races.
“We then talked about the use of the whip and how it was being used too much here and in England. I pointed out that the stewards might think that the horse hadn’t been ridden out and not encouraged significantly if it wasn’t used and she agreed with me on that.
“And still no one came to join us. So, at the time I had a share in Church Parade (Queen’s Hussar [GB] - Christchurch[GB]) who was standing at Haunui Farm. He was a horse she had reared so we had a chat about that, and by that time she was ready for another gin and tonic. Our part of the proceedings was running ahead of time and it still wasn’t time to go to lunch so we just chatted about families.
“Finally, the Duke, who Kath had been looking after, came upstairs to the balcony and joined us. All the guests at the opening were gathered on the lawn below the balcony and he looked down and said ‘all these people are breeders?’”
He also recalled how he had purchased a gold Parker fountain pen in the weeks leading up to the opening for the Duke to use when he signed the visitors’ book.
“I filled it with ink and checked that it worked. I polished it until it shone. I handed him the pen and he said to me I have my pen you know; well it wouldn’t write. I shook the pen and said if you wouldn’t mind please try again sir, I think it’s working now.
“It didn’t work again, and he said again ‘I have got my pen you know’, anyway on the third attempt it worked, he signed the visitors book and about a month later at a fundraising function we sold the pen for $700.”
Kath Winn recalled that it was her job to look after the Duke and introduce him to around 30 ladies who were among those invited to the opening.
“I had about 10 minutes to memorise everyone’s names before I had to introduce them and I only personally knew about 12 of them! I was very nervous, but very proud of myself that I managed not to stuff it up. I don’t think he was terribly impressed having to talk to all these people while his wife was upstairs enjoying a gin and the view.
“It was a wonderful day and we were lucky enough to be part of it, we have wonderful memories.”
The Queen’s visit to Cambridge Stud is well documented and snippets of it have been viewed on television over the past week. Thanks to Cambridge Stud we have attached a video from their archives detailing the visit, but it is in Sir Patrick’s biography “Give A Man A Horse”, that the background behind the visit is well covered.
During the Queen’s 1986 tour Sir Patrick was invited to attend a luncheon on the Royal Yacht Britannia which was docked in Auckland Harbour. According to the book, which is well worth a read for the anecdotes about the lunch, Sir Patrick was one of only a dozen guests and found himself seated next to the Queen and was informed he would have 30 minutes of her time to chat. Naturally their conversation was all about horses, horses and more horses. They talked about Sir Tristram and his success as a stallion and as the allotted time was nearing the end Sir Patrick rather cheekily asked why the Queen hadn’t come to see Sir Tristram when she was visiting Balmerino down the road at Middlepark Stud.
Her Majesty replied that she didn’t actually get to choose where she went, that was up to the Department of Internal Affairs and then approved by the Palace, so he suggested that she should come and visit the stud on her next visit.
Fast forward to 1989 and Sir Patrick received a phone call from a gentleman from the Department of Internal Affairs informing him that the Queen would like to visit the stud at her upcoming visit. At the time Sir Patrick thought that it was his friend Philip Vela having him on, so actually hung up on the gentleman, eventually it was all sorted and it was revealed that the Queen had made a special request to visit the stud and the rest is history. -Michelle Saba, NZTBA