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Mr Darley’s Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life: A History of Racing in 25 Horses By Christopher McGrath

Release date: 30th June, 2016
Publisher: John Murray

List Price: £20.00
Our Price: £17.00
You Save: £3 (15%)
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Some books take a while to get going, engaging with the reader only slowly, rather like cautious lovers who retain the subconscious option of walking away should things not work out as they hope. Other books insist upon your uninterrupted attention from the outset, a category reserved for finely-crafted tomes such as Mr Darley’s Arabian.

That all thoroughbred horses are descended from just three stallions imported to England around three centuries ago is well known, although author Christopher McGrath maintains that two of them, the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerley Turk have, over the past hundred years, “been eradicated from the ‘top line’ of racehorse pedigrees.”

The third stallion, the Darley Arabian, never raced and produced only around 20 foals after he was exported from modern day Libya to Yorkshire, yet he would create a ‘eugenic miracle’, uniting the lineage of nineteen out of twenty thoroughbreds lining up for any race in the world. “As founding fathers go,” writes McGrath, “Mr Darley’s Arabian must be counted the daddy of them all.”

Mr Darley’s Arabian opens in 2011 at the starting gate of the 2,000 Guineas as the great Frankel is loaded, his presence having an apparent, if unseen, impact upon his dozen four-legged rivals who sense a dangerous opponent first noted in the parade ring.

The description of how the race unfolds over the next 97 seconds is truly gripping, sufficient for any sports enthusiast to embrace the thrill of the chase, even though Frankel romps home,

The author wastes no time reminding us that the day’s prize money (£200,000) is ‘incidental’ to the stud fees commanded by Frankel and his ilk (£125,000 a time); a 12-month-old foal sired by Frankel would sell for £1.15 million.

This is a fascinating tale of horses comparable to Frankel and of those who owned, trained and traded them. The story is peppered with a cast of ‘characters’, a euphemism for shysters, many of ‘noble’ birth, and enough scandal, double-dealing and adventure to fill the trashiest novel.

Fortunately, Mr Darley’s Arabian is very well written, its narrative racing along effortlessly – as you might expect of a thoroughbred author.


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