The Current·Q&A

'She just wanted to talk about horses': Remembering Queen Elizabeth II, the horse racing enthusiast

The Queen's Plate race is a Canadian tradition that Queen Elizabeth II enjoyed for years. Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, says she was just like any other horse lover and enthusiast.

Queen was regular viewer, horse runner, at the Queen’s Plate in Toronto, says Woodbine Entertainment CEO

Queen Elizabeth II presents the 151st Queen's Plate trophy to Big Red Mike's owner Dom Romeo (centre) and jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva at Woodbine racetrack in Toronto in 2010. (Geoff Robins/AFP via Getty Images))

Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, has met many horse lovers at the Queen's Plate race. But the most special interaction he's had might have been with Queen Elizabeth II in 2010.

"In my particular case, our family had a horse running in the race that day — and she had done her homework in advance," he told The Current's Matt Galloway. 

"Not only did she know about the horse and its breeding, but the connection with me and my family."

The Queen, 96, died at Balmoral Castle on Thursday. She was the United Kingdom's longest-serving monarch; she came to the throne in 1952 and reigned for 70 years.

Her son, Charles, automatically became king upon her death. His estate, Clarence House, confirmed his title was now King Charles III.

WATCH: Queen Elizabeth II's first and final visits to the Queen's Plate

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip make first and final visits to the Queen's Plate

2 years ago
Duration 11:25
Look back at 1959, the first time Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attended the Queen's Plate, and their final visit in 2010 at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto.

Lawson said the Queen was "intellectually curious and smart," and despite her position, she felt in her element at Woodbine Racetrack and around horses. 

He spoke to Galloway about the Queen's love of horse racing and the animals in particular. Here's a part of their conversation. 

You spoke with Queen Elizabeth when she was at the Queen's Plate in 2010. Tell me about that conversation. What do you remember about it?

We spent an inordinately long time talking about North American breeding and horse racing, and it was fascinating just how knowledgeable she was. 

She let her hair down and she just wanted to talk about horses. It was really fun and just an amazing discussion.

...she loved, in particular, looking at the physical specimens of the horses.-Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment

Did you pinch yourself in that conversation thinking you're not just talking to somebody else who loves horses, but you're talking to the Queen?

It didn't feel like that because she just was so natural and nice and kind. I probably pinched myself afterwards and said, "Wow, that's a lovely woman — and so kind."

People have seen this, where she, at races, would be very animated and engaged, but also just when she was interacting with the animals. Did you see that as well?

One of the things that she did at all of the Queen's Plates … is she liked to go down to the paddock, and the tradition is she would meet the owners of the horses, and she loved, in particular, looking at the physical specimens of the horses. 

I know when she came over to meet my father, she was very interested in inspecting the horse; which is which is pretty neat because that just showed her love of and her knowledge about horses, that she would take the time to to inspect the horses.

Queen Elizabeth II attends the third day of the Royal Windsor Horse Show in Windsor, England, in 2004. (Carl De Souza/Getty Images)

What are you going to remember most about her?

Oh, I think her love of the sport and her passion. 

It wasn't just the Queen's Plate visits. She had horses running here on a couple of occasions and and she lived a lot for horse racing. It was a big part of her life, I guess. 

I think the horse racing industry, not only in Canada but across the world, loved her support and will dearly miss her because it was a big part and a big element of our sport, that the Queen was was so invested in in the sport of horse racing.

WATCH: Queen Elizabeth II's most famous Canadian sports moments

Remembering Queen Elizabeth's famous Canadian sports moments

9 months ago
Duration 1:00
After the death of Queen Elizabeth II, CBC Sports looks back on some of the most famous sporting moments with the Queen in Canada.

I guess it just goes back a little bit to what [former governor general] Adrienne Clarkson was saying, that she was the Queen but did not carry herself with airs that you might expect would accompany that — that there were moments where you could catch the human being in all of that.

Oh, absolutely. I know — [this] wasn't the last time she ran a horse at Woodbine, but in 2016, I spent the day with her racing manager, and he said to me, "Let's call mum. She wants to know how the horse did." That was 11:30 at night in the United Kingdom. 

She was a fan. She wanted to know how her horse, Dartmouth, ran that day — and he was second in the Canadian International that day. 

She was like any horse owner, staying up to listen to the result and presumably maybe watched the race online.

Produced by Ines Colabrese and Howard Goldenthal. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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