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Horse People

Thoroughbred Culture in Lexington and Newmarket

Rebecca Cassidy

Publication Year: 2007

The world of Thoroughbred racing is glamorous, secretive, dangerous, and seductive—the sport of kings and the poor man's obsession. While the spectacle of racing stirs the imagination, it belies the ruthless business that lies beneath. This engaging original study demystifies this complex world by comparing centers of excellence in Britain and North America. Drawing from intensive field work in Suffolk's Newmarket and Kentucky's Lexington, Rebecca Cassidy gives us the inside track on all players in the industry—from the elite breeders and owners to the stable boys, racetrack workers, and veterinarians. She leads us through horse farms, breeding barns, and yearling sales; explains rigorous training regimens; and brings us trackside on race day. But the history of Thoroughbred racing culture is more than a collection of fascinating characters and exciting events. Cassidy's investigation reveals the factors—ethical, cultural, political, and economic—that have shaped the racing tradition.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Animals, History, Culture


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pp. vii-xiii

When William Faulkner attended the 1955 Kentucky Derby, he was struck by the bond between the racehorses and his fellow spectators, observing that ‘‘what the horse supplies to a man is something deep and profound in his emotional nature and need.’’ For Faulkner, this connection dwarfed the momentary pleasures of betting: ‘‘It is much deeper than that. ...

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1. Histories

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pp. 1-19

In 1881 Iroquois became the first American-bred horse to win the Epsom Derby. He was a small horse, less than fifteen hands two inches high, but he had proved that it was possible for a horse to cross the Atlantic and beat the English horses in their most prestigious race. English journalists, perhaps mindful that their own champions had been bullied...

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2. The Right to Be Well Born

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pp. 20-36

Despite the transformation of racing that took place in the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century and the distinctive character of racing in the United States, one thing remained constant: the use of Thoroughbred racehorses. The first step in the creation of the Thoroughbred was to distinguish it from other kinds of horses. ...

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3. The Horseman Makes the Horse

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pp. 37-53

Thoroughbred breeders today are still concerned with sorting out the proposition of making good crosses. As I observed during my fieldwork in the stud farms and auction houses of Newmarket and Lexington, modern breeders, like many of their predecessors, are not always consistent in their application of theories regarding matings, buying yearlings...

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4. The Centers of the World

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pp. 54-76

No two places in the world are more closely associated with the Thoroughbred than are Newmarket and Lexington. Other large-scale producers of Thoroughbreds—Ocala, Florida; The Curragh, Ireland; Chantilly, France; New South Wales, Australia—provide services including racing, training, and sales facilities, but these lack the same degree of international...

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5. Stud Farm

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pp. 77-98

The best place to observe contemporary ideas about Thoroughbred fertility inaction is on a stud farm. My first period of fieldwork was spent working in Cheveley, a village just outside Newmarket, on a stud owned by a businessman who had no interest in racing and visited only once a year. ...

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6. Auction

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pp. 99-119

Thoroughbred auctions are tremendous entertainment, and they take place in some beautiful settings. Keeneland has perhaps the most beautiful pavilion of all, with a copper roof, green seats, and a rural setting among cherry trees on bluegrass. ...

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7. Training

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pp. 120-146

Stories about racing often concentrate on the exploits of individual horses, trainers, and jockeys. Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit, Jane Smiley’s Year at the Races, and Elizabeth Mitchell’s Three Strides before the Wire all emphasize the excitement of competition between racehorses, the sacrifices made by animals...

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8. Racing Today

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pp. 147-166

Thoroughbreds and the relative merits of racing in the US and the UK were hot topics of conversation throughout my fieldwork, to the extent that I would dread being asked the seemingly innocent question, ‘‘Which do you think is better, American or English racing?’’ The problem was not initiating these discussions, but ending them. ...

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pp. 167-173

In explicit contrast to the North American emphasis on speed and uniformity, racing professionals in the United Kingdom regard their racing as the most authentic in the world, the closest to the sport that took place between royalty and the aristocracy on Newmarket Heath in the seventeenth century. ...


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pp. 175-190

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 191-200

The most important written resource for this text has been the racing press in Britain and North America, primarily the Racing Post, produced and published in London, and the Blood-Horse and the Thoroughbred Times, both produced in Lexington. ...


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pp. 201-208

E-ISBN-13: 9780801895968
E-ISBN-10: 0801895960
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801887031
Print-ISBN-10: 0801887038

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Animals, History, Culture
Series Editor Byline: Harriet Ritvo, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794701435
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Horse People

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Subject Headings

  • Horse racing -- Kentucky -- Lexington.
  • Horsemen and horsewomen -- England -- Newmarket (Suffolk).
  • Thoroughbred horse -- Breeding -- England -- Newmarket (Suffolk).
  • Horsemen and horsewomen -- Kentucky -- Lexington.
  • Thoroughbred horse -- Breeding -- Kentucky -- Lexington.
  • Horse racing -- England -- Newmarket (Suffolk).
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