Mr Darley's Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life: A History of Racing in 25 Horses by Christopher McGrath
|Mr Darley's Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life: A History of Racing in 25 Horses by Christopher McGrath|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: If you have any interest in horse racing at all this book is a must read. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: June 2016|
|Publisher: John Murray|
All thoroughbred racehorses are descended from one of just three stallions which came to England about three hundred years ago; The Byerley Turk, The Darley Arabian and The Godolphin Arabian. The last century or so has seen a decline in the lines from the first and last of these stallions, to the extent that some 95% of all thoroughbreds worldwide - not just in England - are descended from The Darley Arabian, which was originally bought in Aleppo from Bedouin tribesmen and shipped to Yorkshire in 1704, by Thomas Darley, who died, in difficult financial circumstances before he could follow his horse home.
We look at the lives and careers of twenty-five horses descended from the Darley Arabian (what was his name I wonder, what was he called in the stable?) and it's a fascinating thread to follow. The thought of following a bloodline through twenty-five horses might sound rather dull, but the book is anything but as Christopher McGrath neatly ties in the characters who've populated racing over the last three hundred plus years with the horses who made it all possible. It was fascinating to see the development of the sport beginning with the gruelling races, each often many miles long and run in heats and usually only entered by animals who were six years old or more. These changed to shorter races, some as little as a few furlongs and not that many that are well over a mile which catered for horses as young as two and the breeding of the animal became more important in consequence.
It's social history looked at through the magnifying glass of the sport as we see the men and occasionally women (it's predominantly men until very recently) who were involved. In the early years - until the second half of the nineteenth century - the sport's reputation was bad and largely deservedly so, which was why Queen Victoria despaired of the interest her eldest son showed in the turf, but it was Bertie's involvement then and later when he became King Edward VII which gave the sport an aura of respectability. McGrath doesn't restrict himself to the high and mighty - we meet the trainers, the jockeys and the owners and not just in England. His research has stretched to Europe, Argentina and America.
But what of the horses you'll be wondering. Some you'll be familiar with. Eclipse surprised me by being from the late eighteenth century: somehow he's always seemed so much more of the present. I knew of Flying Childers but was surprised to find that it was Bleeding Childers who was the notable sire. Other stallions played a major part in taking the line forward but are not so well known in racing terms - it wasn't unusual for a horse to have little success on the racecourse but to be an outstanding sire. Nevertheless we owe a great deal to Squirt, Pot8os, Waxy, Whalebone and many others who live on only in history - and stud books. Names from the twentieth century are more familiar, beginning with Northern Dancer who I was surprised to find was born in 1961 - he's another horse who seems so much more current. It was then a delightful trip through such favourites as Sadler's Wells, Galileo and finally the inimitable Frankel. I wept - yet again - as I read of the death of the wonderful Sir Henry Cecil.
Mr Darley's Arabian is a brilliant read - I finished it rather more quickly than I was expecting because I fell prey to 'just one more horse' syndrome. It's a book which gives rather more than you expect too. There's the luxury of an excellent index (increasingly rare even in good books, these days), a glossary which rightly assumes that not everyone is conversant with the language of the stable yard and a timeline which neatly puts the people and horses in context. An excellent bonus was the regular Day at the Races feature which told the story of a particular race, or race meeting. It's excellent stuff.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If you're interested in the life of Edward VII, Bertie: A Life of Edward VII by Jane Ridley is quite exceptional. For social history through the lens of a particular racing stable we can recommend The Masters of Manton: From Alec Taylor to George Todd by Paul Mathieu.
You can read more book reviews or buy Mr Darley's Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life: A History of Racing in 25 Horses by Christopher McGrath at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Mr Darley's Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life: A History of Racing in 25 Horses by Christopher McGrath at Amazon.com.
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