Royal Heroine (IRE)
Royal Heroine was an international star. She beat the boys. She set a North American record on racing’s biggest stage. She was a champion. There wasn’t much she didn’t accomplish. Bred in Ireland by B. Larry Ryan, Royal Heroine was impeccably bred. A dark bay, she was a daughter of Lypheor (GB) out of the Relko (GB) mare My Sierra Leone (GB). Lypheor was a son of two-time leading French sire and Group 1 winner Lyphard (PA). Relko, meanwhile, won or placed in 11 of 13 career starts, including a victory in the 1963 Epsom Derby.
My Sierra Leone
B. Larry Ryan
Robert E. Sangster
Sir Michael Stoute
Royal Heroine was an international star. She beat the boys. She set a North American record on racing’s biggest stage. She was a champion. There wasn’t much she didn’t accomplish.
Bred in Ireland by B. Larry Ryan, Royal Heroine was impeccably bred. A dark bay, she was a daughter of Lypheor (GB) out of the Relko (GB) mare My Sierra Leone (GB). Lypheor was a son of two-time leading French sire and Group 1 winner Lyphard (PA). Relko, meanwhile, won or placed in 11 of 13 career starts, including a victory in the 1963 Epsom Derby.
Royal Heroine was campaigned by Englishman Robert Sangster, who had developed an international racing and breeding empire. Sangster engaged the legendary Sir Michael Stoute to train Royal Heroine when she began her career in Europe as a juvenile. After finishing fourth in her debut at England’s Doncaster Racecourse on June 26, 1982, Royal Heroine broke her maiden next out at Newmarket on July 7. Two weeks later at Ascot, she stepped up into stakes competition, winning the listed Princess Margaret by 2½ lengths. Royal Heroine raced once more that year, finishing second to multiple Group 1 winner and future champion Habibti in the Group 2 Lowther Stakes at York.
As a 3-year-old, Royal Heroine won the Group 3 Child Stakes at Newmarket, the listed Sceptre Stakes at Doncaster, and the Group 2 Prix de l’Opera at Longchamp in France before Sangster made the decision to send her to America.
After 11 starts in Europe, Sangster took aim at California and transferred Royal Heroine into the barn of trainer John Gosden. After finishing off the board in her American debut in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes in early November 1983 at Santa Anita, Royal Heroine was entered in a division of the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby two weeks later at Hollywood Park. With new rider Fernando Toro in the irons, Royal Heroine defeated multiple Grade 1 winner Interco by three-quarters of a length to earn her first victory in the United States in the final start of her sophomore season.
Returning to the races at Santa Anita as a 4-year-old, Royal Heroine was injured in the Garde 1 Santa Ana Handicap and sidelined three months. Upon her return in June, she defeated males, including multiple graded stakes winner Bel Bolide, in the Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood Park. Two weeks later, Royal Heroine bested multiple Grade 1 winner Adored by 1¾ lengths in the Grade 2 Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood. Next out, she crossed the finish line first but was placed third by disqualification in the Garde 3 Palomar Handicap at Del Mar.
Royal Heroine then ventured outside of California to meet future Hall of Famer John Henry in the Arlington Million in Chicago. She acquitted herself well, finishing second to the legendary gelding and well ahead of the remainder of the field. Returning to her California base, Royal Heroine finished a strong second to multiple stakes winner Flag de Lune in the Grade 1 Ramona Handicap at Del Mar.
With the inaugural Breeders’ Cup taking place at Hollywood Park, Royal Heroine was returning to a venue she thrived at, having won all three of her previous starts there. The grand stage of the Breeders’ Cup proved no different. With regular rider Toro aboard, Royal Heroine delivered a record-setting performance against a field of nine elite males. At the wire, she was 1½ lengths clear of multiple graded stakes winner Star Choice. Cozzene, who went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile and an Eclipse Award in 1985, finished third. The final time was 1:32.60, a new North American mile record for turf.
Two weeks after the Breeders’ Cup, Royal Heroine won her fifth race without a defeat at Hollywood Park, defeating graded stakes winner Reine Mathilde by a length in the Grade 1 Matriarch in her final career start. Royal Heroine was retired with a record of 10-4-2 from 21 starts and earnings of $1,229,449. She was voted the Eclipse Award for Champion Female Turf Horse for 1984. Overall, she won nine stakes, seven of which were graded or group events, including three Grade 1s.
Hollywood Park named a stakes race in Royal Heroine’s honor. When the track closed at the end of 2013, the race was moved to Santa Anita. In retirement, Royal Heroine produced seven foals as a broodmare, but none had any notable success despite being sired by the likes of Affirmed and Sadler’s Wells. One of Royal Heroine’s daughters, Castilian Queen (by Diesis) did produce French Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye winner Carmine Lake (by Royal Academy).
Royal Heroine died at the age of 22 in 2002.
- Eclipse Award Champion Turf Female — 1984
Breeders' Cup Highlights
- Won the Turf — 1984
- Won nine stakes races
- Won seven graded/group stakes, including three Grade 1s
- Undefeated in five starts at Hollywood Park
- Set North American turf record of 1:32.60 for one mile in 1984 Breeders’ Cup Mile