When you hear the words ‘Barbers Shop’, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Haircuts, obviously. Or possibly musical quartets. Though not necessarily those including Homer Simpson on the roof of Moe’s or Peter Griffin going around hospital wards.
In this corner, mention of Barbers Shop evokes memories of what I think was Queen Elizabeth II’s last runner in one of the Championship races at the Cheltenham Festival. As it happened, the Gold Cup.
From memory, the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding had won some of the recognised trial races for the big one during the season. But not even Royal approval could give Nico De Boinville’s mount the wherewithal to get himself up the famed hill quickly enough.
It was alwas my suspicion, though, that HRH was more a fan of Flat fare. Indeed, she bred much of her own bloodstock. Thus explaining that photograph which has become iconic of herself and her long serving Racing Manager John Warren sharing a joyous moment when Estimate won the Asot Gold Cup at ‘her’ meeting.
How fittimg it was then that her purple and red silks were back in the winner’s enclosure on the day the sport’s most famous patron and ambassador retired to the viewing paddocks off yonder. And there could hardly have been a more apt bearer of the Royal silks than a steed called Love Affair.
For that is what the record-breaking monarch had with all things equine throughout her long and remarkable life. Which is why it made absolutely no sense for St Peter to have to greet HRH at pearly gates with “Sorry Ma’m, there doesn’t appear to be any racing on the TV in the Royal Box”.
There could have been no greater tribute to Elizabeth than for the sport she loved and gave so much to over the years to have gone ahead. But then, this weekend has proven – if time hadn’t already – football and horse racing are without doubt the most sycophantically obedient sports going. From an Irish perspective, the GAA would sit nicely the same clique. Though obviously not in the case in question here.
Now, in one sense, it can be totally understood how sections of Irish society feel extreme difficulty in going along with the general narrative following The Queen’s death.
However, and this is only My Opinion, much of what was carried out by parties and entities containing her name in their title would not have had her approval. Nobody will ever tell me she ok’d her troops to kill and maime innocent people during The Troubles in Northern Ireland or to invade Iraq on the basis of non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
No, opprobrium for all the above – and however further one wishes to go back – can be directed towards various Prime Ministers. In the case of Northern Ireland, Maggie Thatcher and John Major, and for Iraq, see Tony Blair and Gordon Browne.
It is for that reason, President Higgins’ warm comments about the deceased were understandable. Indeed, chances are I wasn’t the only one whose views on her changed significantly on the occasion of her visit to Ireland in 2011.
Her use of a few words as Gaeilge when she addressed “A Uachtairain agus a Chairde” at the State Dinner in Dublin Castle and, from a personal perspective, her visit to Croke Park, meeting several GAA stars of the time – including our own Joe Sheridan – and her laying of a wreath in memory of the victims of the Bloody Sunday massacre at the stadium.
So much of what has already happened and will take place in the aftermath of the death of The Queen will have been scripted and put in place years ago. Yet even peering inward from this remove, it would appear that, having waited 73 years to assume the throne, while King Charles III seems determined to operate to as similar a game plan as is possible to that of his late mother, he will also want to put his own stamp on things.
Evident already in how, during his first address to his people. he wished “To express (his) love for Harry and Meghan as they continue their work overseas”. In stark contrast to those pulling the strings in the Brains Trust previously who made it quite obvious they couldn’t wait to get the affable Harry and his ‘lovely’ wife out of the picture.
The other thing which stood out most to this viewer was the new King’s ‘promotion’ of William and Kate to the roles he and his late (first) wife Diana formerly held – Prince and Princess of Wales. It’s a different world now to what it was a quarter of a century ago. In one sense, that should mean the latter in particular shouldn’t have to put up with the same level of intrusive harrassment as, ultimately tragically, befell the last holder of that title. That said, she will have some distance to travel to get to the echelons of popularity as did Diana.
And so we arrive at the matter which prompted what you are now reading. Trivial in comparison to what went before it, but it would be ventured that nobody would be remotely surprised at yours truly commenting thereon.
Reference is of being made to Her Majesty’s considerable string of racehorses. Specifically, what will become of them now that their rather important owner has departed. Elizabeth II most certainly didn’t lick her love for all things equine off the ground.
Who could forget the Royal-owned Devon Loch seemingly having the Grand National won only to put down, literally, on jockey Dick Francis, only yards from the line. Furthermore, what for many of us is the most prestigieous, exciting race of the entire Cheltenham Festival, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, scarcely needs any further billing.
The big question, though, is whether the deceased managed to imbue any of her offspring with her steadfast love of racing. You’d hope so, because all the King’s horses could do a lot to maintain a significant number of jobs in an often beleagured industry.