Queen's Diamond Jubilee kicks off with Derby at Epsom Downs

Sunday, June 3, 2012
By Robin Millard, AFP

EPSOM, United Kingdom--Tens of thousands of racegoers reveled in the party atmosphere Saturday as Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee party kicked off with a day at the races.

Rapturous racegoers greeted the 86-year-old sovereign, an avid horse racing fan and a respected breeder and owner, as she arrived dressed in royal blue to start four days of celebrations for her 60 years on the throne.

An estimated 200,000 people were expected to join her to watch the Derby at Epsom Downs racecourse, and packed the grandstands and the slopes for a view of the occasion, waving Union Jack flags ahead of the queen's arrival.

Celebrations began with a parachute jump display, in which members of the army's “Red Devils” team spun giant Union Jacks before landing on the turf to huge cheers, with others streaming smoke as they twirled through the overcast sky.

The 86-year-old monarch and her husband Prince Philip, 90, were driven down the course before mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins sang the national anthem ahead of the racing.

Gazebos were covered in bunting and flags, while food stalls were doing a roaring trade and music blared out as people whizzed through the air at a funfair.

Pincy Bryant, 43, a truck driver from Shoreham, was dressed to the nines in Union Jack regalia: a waistcoat, bow tie, braces and even heart-shaped sunglasses.

“I did have the hat but it blew away,” he lamented.

“I'm very excited. It's my first time here today and I'm looking forward to a lovely day.

“I'm really looking forward to seeing Her Majesty. It's a special day for all of us. She is one in a million. God save the queen!”

Other racegoers sported top hats and tailcoats and were wielding bottles of champagne.

The Derby, Britain's richest horse race, is the showpiece of seven races taking place Saturday at Epsom, southwest of London. It is often described as the world's greatest flat race.

The queen is a Derby regular and loves flat racing, while her mother, also queen Elizabeth, was a fan of jump racing.

Despite her age, the sovereign is still a regular rider. She reads the Racing Post newspaper every morning and likes to be kept up to date with the news from the racecourses.

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