le 1 décembre 2005
This is not the definitive history of grey horses as details on the first 200 years (prior to The Tetrarch) are somewhat skimpy except for the chapter on Master Robert (the most recent common ancestor of all modern grey racehorses). While the author acclaims Master Robert as the important ancestor of modern grey racehorses, the really important ancestor is the Alcock Arabian, the grey Arab horse imported to Britain 100 years or so earlier, but the author doesn't say much about him and I didn't learn anything that I didn't already know about that horse.
Furthermore, my American friends will be disappointed to note that this book, the first ever published about the history of grey racehorses, is limited to those that were trained on the UK or which won English classic races. Thus, horses such as Native Dancer, Dancer's Image, Cozzene, Spectacular Bid, Lady's Secret, Skip Away and Holy Bull are not featured although some get brief mentions as sires of featured horses. Important French horses such as Linamix and his son, Sagamix are also missing. Having also read American racing books, I am sure that if an American had written this book, very few European horses would have been featured.
If you accept the limitations already described, you will find this to be a fascinating book that presents a different perspective on the history of racing from the usual (by races, by racecourses, by male lines or by female lines). In particular, the book confirms that genetics work in mysterious ways.
All 20th Century English classic winners are included along with other popular horses together with an arbitrary selection of lesser horses. A few of these became important broodmares including Canton Silk (grand-dam of Barathea, the Breeders Cup winner) and Sunbittern (ancestress of several top European horses). I remember both those horses from their racing days but I didn't know they'd been so successful at stud. The book is up to date at the time of publication in 2005 - it includes Proclamation (winner at Glorious Goodwood) and Grey Swallow (winner of the Irish Derby and a member of Daylami's first crop of foals). Here is a list of the featured horses, each of which gets at least two pages with some getting more. English classic winners are starred.
Abelia, *Abermaid, Abernant, Absalom, *Airborne, Albanova, Alborada, Althrey Don, Alydaress, Anzio, Baron Blakeney, Birdbrook, *Bruni, *Caligula, Call Equiname, *Camaree, Canton Silk, Cassandra Go, Castle Moon, Caterina, Colonist II, Cry of Truth, Daylami, Desert Orchid, Dragonara Palace, Environment Friend, Erimo Hawk, Flying Wild, Further Flight, Grey Abbey, Grey Sovereign, Grey Swallow, Habat, *Hula Dancer, *Humble Duty, Indian Skimmer, Iris's Gift, Jojo, Kalaglow, Kribensis, *Mahmoud, Migoli, *Mr Jinks, Mumtaz Mahal, Myrobella, *Mystiko, Nicer, Nicolaus Silver, *Nocturnal Spree, One Man, Palariva, *Palestine, Pasty, Pelting, *Petite Etoile, Petong, Portlaw, Precipice Wood, Proclamation, Quorum, Raffingora, Right Boy, Roan Rocket, Rooster Booster, Royal Minstrel, Ruby Tiger, Runnymede, Saritamer, Secret Step, *Shadayid, Sharp Edge, Silken Glider, *Silver Patriarch, *Sleeping Partner, Sovereign Path, Stalbridge Colonist, *Sun Cup, Sunbittern, Suny Bay, Supreme Sovereign, *Tagalie, Tag End, *Taj Mah, Teeton Mill, Terimon, *Tetratema, The Callant, The Tertrarch, Town Crier, Vigo, Vilmorin, Warpath, What's up boys, Young Emperor ... and Master Robert.
This list brought back many memories for me. In some cases, I'd actually forgotten the horses were grey (easy to do if they are dark grey, therefore less conspicuous). Of the featured horses, I particularly enjoyed remembering Bruni, Canton Silk, Daylami, Desert Orchid, Dragonara Palace, Environment Friend, Erimo Hawk, Further Flight, Indian Skimmer, Kalaglow, One Man, Rooster Booster, Ruby Tiger, Sharp Edge, Sunbittern, Suny Bay and Teeton Mill, but your favourites may well differ from mine.
Despite the dominance of horses that raced in the last half-century, the biggest entries are for The Tertrarch (eight pages) and his daughter, Mumtaz Mahal (six pages). They played an important role in improving the quality of grey racehorses, who now seem to be more numerous and better than ever before. As the author acknowledges, without The Tetrarch, he could not have written this book. However, it may be in time that Native Dancer (the American horse) may be even more important to the survival of greys on the racecourse. His colour traces back via four mares to Roi Herode, sire of The Tetrarch.
Not all of my favourite greys are featured. The first grey that I became a big fan of was The Go-Between (a son of the featured horse Runnymede) who was a very fast two-year-old. My other favourites included Scallywag (a horse who had difficulty entering the stalls), King Midas (a Cambridgeshire winner), Grey Sombrero (a high-class long-distance steeplechaser) and Grey Mirage (whose own racing career was cut short by injury and who is now more famous as the sire of Desert Orchid). Some of these get mentioned briefly in the book. Another horse that only gets a brief mention is Flockton Grey (a son of the featured horse Dragonara Palace) who was involved in a ringer case in 1982, one of the biggest betting scandals in British racing in modern times, but that story has been told in detail in other books.
If you enjoy racing and have a soft spot for greys, you'll love this book especially if you are familiar with these horses. Perhaps this book will inspire an American writer to do a book about American grey horses.