Dark Horse and ‘the sport of the King’

Meanwhile back inside the book, Dark Horse: unraveling the mystery of Nearctic.  Let’s face it, writing a book is not only hard work, but it takes forever.  Start to finish, Dark Horse was particularly challenging.  Still, in retrospect, I learned so much.

For example:  while Thoroughbred racing is often referred to as the ‘sport of kings,’ I would discover that the actual designation was the ‘sport of the King.’  Singular.  The monarch behind the saying was Charles II.  Indeed, Thoroughbred racing, as we know it today, began with the ascension of to the British throne of Charles II.

Highly visible at Newmarket, he could be found riding in a race, surveying the gallops from his pavilion at the top of the hill, or hacking around on Old Rowley, his trusted riding  horse.  (The 8 furlong Rowley Mile, site of British classics, 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, derives it’s name from the King’s mount.)

An accomplished rider, Charles II, must also have been physically fit, for he frequently rode his own horses in races conducted over 3 heats.  He was also reputed to enjoy dancing and partying long into the night.  In 1671, English diarist, John Evelyn, described Newmarket’s post-race festivities: “I found the jolly blades racing, dancing, feasting, and reveling, more resembling a luxurious rout, than a Christian court.”

In the midst of all this cavorting, the world was inching toward the establishment of the Thoroughbred, as Charles II commissioned his Master of the Horse to procure the finest bloodlines in order to improve the quality of his running horses.

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