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Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee off to the races at Epsom

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who owns racehorses, arrives for the Epsom Derby on Saturday to start celebrations of her 60 years of reign.

Associated Press

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who owns racehorses, arrives for the Epsom Derby on Saturday to start celebrations of her 60 years of reign.

LONDON — Britain marks Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne with four days of street parties, pageantry and concerts, underlining the widespread popularity of the monarchy.

The Diamond Jubilee weekend got under way Saturday when the queen, 86, arrived at the Derby, the highlight of the flat horse-racing season. It will culminate Tuesday with a day of pageantry including a service of thanksgiving at St. Paul's Cathedral in central London, when Britons will enjoy an extra public holiday.

Her televised arrival at Epsom race course, southwest of London, showed the queen, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, 90, cheered by many of the estimated 150,000-strong crowd.

Earlier, gun salutes were held in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast to mark the anniversary of the coronation in 1953.

Only one British monarch has spent longer than the current queen on the throne: Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901. Her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, captured on grainy black-and-white film, is the only precedent for this weekend's events.

"For 60 years the queen has been a point of light in our national life; brilliant, enduring and resilient," Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in a tribute to the monarch this week for Parliament's The House magazine.

The queen, the 40th monarch in a line that began with William the Conqueror in 1066, took the throne at a time when Britain was recovering from the ravages of World War II, with food rationing still in force, and beginning to grant independence to its colonies. Winston Churchill, who had led the country to wartime victory, was again prime minister, the first of 12 who have held weekly audiences with the monarch.

Saturday's big race at Epsom is an appropriate way for the jubilee weekend to start. Owning and breeding racehorses is one of the queen's main interests, though she has never won the Derby.

Today, the focus switches to the River Thames, where the queen will join a flotilla of more than 1,000 vessels for the Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

Monday evening there will be a concert outside Buckingham Palace, the monarch's central London residence, featuring stars such as Paul McCartney, Elton John and Tom Jones, all of whom have been knighted by the queen.

The final day of the celebrations will see the queen and the extended royal family attending the national service of thanksgiving at St. Paul's in London's financial district on Tuesday.

Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee off to the races at Epsom 06/02/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 2, 2012 11:06pm]

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