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Reviewed by:
  • The Cambridge Companion to Horseracing ed. by Rebecca Cassidy
  • Susan Hamburger
Cassidy, Rebecca, ED. The Cambridge Companion to Horseracing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xxvii+ 226. Notes, index, and bibliography. $27.99 pb.

In her introduction, Editor Rebecca Cassidy comments that new writings about racing “urge us to rethink conventional descriptions of racing as an invention of the English aristocracy, which has been exported, unchanged, to the New World. Part of the purpose of this volume is to understand why ideas such as these have endured in place of cosmopolitan alternatives” (p. 3). While examining thoroughbred racing from a focal point fanning out globally from England, each author explores new topics along the themes of “cosmopolitanism and cross-class contributions to racing; internationalism, regionalism and localism; racing and politics; the commercialization of racing and breeding; the funding of racing by betting; and the depiction of racing in popular culture” (p. 10). The editor drew on authors from academics (art history, English, communications, sociology, sports history), journalism, and popular literature, and representing Australia, England, Ireland, and the United States.

Richard Nash dispels the common misconception that the thoroughbred horse as a breed originated during the reign of Charles II who died before the three foundation sires arrived in England, and before the General Stud Book codified thoroughbred pedigrees. Douglas Fordham concentrates on the thoroughbred in British art with a focus on individual horse portraiture and examines the realism of eighteenth-century artist George Stubbs, juxtaposing Stubbs and subsequent horse portraitists with the movement toward modernity, and poses a larger question about sporting art in exploring the relationship [End Page 118] between art and the British Empire. Author Jane Smiley examines the fiction of horseracing before and after the split into popular and literary and the sociological aspect (the implications of betting and scamming) of English racing fiction versus the American focus on equine personality.

In Wray Vamplew’s memoir about his 1976 book, The Turf, he explores the research undertaken since its publication. It is less of a literature review than an explication of who agreed and who disagreed with his findings, and a career history of where he taught, whom he co-authored with, and what publications he has produced over the last thirty-seven years. Sean Magee distinguishes between the nature and origins of socially fluid festivals compared to race meetings with aristocratic or royal beginnings. He misstates that the origination of the term, “run for the roses” (a nickname for the Kentucky Derby), was coined in 1833 (p. 77); the race was first run in 1875, so 1833—probably a typographic error—should be 1883.

Wayne Peake gives a quick overview of the distinctiveness of Australian racing as it emerged from British colonialism and developed a two-tiered system of urban and rural racetracks. Turning to the humans most intimately involved with racing—the jockeys— John Maynard shares the experiences and difficult lives and tragic deaths—some by suicide—of contemporary jockeys. Expanding beyond the recognizable stars on horseback, James Helmer offers a glimpse into the unsung workers on the backstretch, the pivotal role of the horse in their lives, and changes brought about by the marriage of racetracks with casinos. Michael Hinds notes that the rise to world prominence of Irish stud farms owned by absentee landlords hearkens back to the feudal system as does the classism of Ireland in the servant-stable role for Britain.

Jonathan Silverman explores the attraction of Saratoga racecourse and what engenders the loyalty of race fans to return to experience the ambiance of the upstate New York venue that is different from yet much the same as any other American racetrack. Balancing history and modernity, Rachel Pagones covers the international racing scene in Dubai where the Maktoum family spends prodigiously to “bring the racehorse home” and wonders how long their dominance over the sport will remain in the face of continuing global economic declines. Even further afield, Mark Godfrey introduces the reader to racing in Asia, with a focus on China with its ban on trackside betting. Mark Davies provides a thoughtful look toward the future of the betting industry, and Chris McConville concludes the...


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