THE LEGEND OF A HORSE

The Godolphin Arabian

Image via Wikipedia

Due to his outstanding influence on the early thoroughbred that has continued through the ages, particularly in the female line, the Godolphin Arabian has inspired several legends.

The most famous of these was immortalized in Marguerite Henry‘s, Newberry Award Winning  King of the Wind:

The story begins in Morocco as Agba, a mute stable groom, wakes to find a new foal in the stable. He notices a white spot on his hind heel, considered the emblem of swiftness and good luck, but the Chief Groom, sees it as a sign of bad luck and attempts to kill the colt. Agba intervenes and saves the colt later naming him Sham because of his golden coat. (The Godolphin was in reality brown/black as depicted in several portraits)

Sham matures into a promising racehorse, and becomes a gift, one of six horses, from the Sultan to the French King. Agba accompanies Sham to France where he is to remain and care for the horse until its death.

In France, these six desert horses are frowned upon, believing them not ‘lusty’ enough to be racehorses. Five are sent to work in the army, but Sham is eventually sold and is later debased to pulling water in the streets of Paris until he is purchased by a Quaker and taken to England where he is again passed from owner to owner.

He eventually arrives in the hands of the earl of Godolphin, whose most prized stallion is Hobgoblin, who Sham detests. Lady Roxana, a mate meant for Hobgoblin, arrives, and Sham fights Hobgoblin for her. The Earl is angered and embarrassed and sends Sham, Agba, and Grimalkin far away to life in Wicken Fen.

Lady Roxana later has a foal from the accidental mating with Sham, name Lath.  Lath,was untrained due to his skinniness, one day jumps the fence and beats some of the earl’s racing colts, proving his worth. His ire, Sham is returned to the racing stables and renamed after his owner, the Godolphin Arabian. He and Roxana produce two more foals, Cade and Regulus who race at Newmarket to great success.

Plot summary courtesy of Wikipedia: ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_of_the_Wind )

In one of my  very favorite scenes from THE HIGHEST STAKES, another perhaps truer variation of the Godolphin legend is told as Robert and Charlotte tenderly daydream about their plans to start a racing stud:

“Indeed, Charlotte. Amoret has exceptional lineage, precisely why she must be our foundation broodmare. Now as to the others we need for our harem, I would have a mind to also seek out mares of Byerley blood, as well as daughters of this Godolphin Arabian.”

“You mean El Sham,” she corrected.

“El Sham, eh? I surmise that Jeffries has entertained you with his version of this soon-to-be legend’s history.”

“Indeed he did! ’Tis such a romantic story, don’t you think?”

“Perhaps it is all in the telling, dearest.” He chuckled and stroked her cheek.

“Then perhaps I shall recount my version to you.”

“Pray do so, my sweet.” He smiled indulgently.

Bright-eyed, Charlotte began. “The story starts ten years hence. It is a dark, dreary, and rainy morning. An emaciated brown horse strains through the streets of Paris, pulling a water cart. The carter plies the whip to the poor beast, who is too weak to take another step and stumbles to his knees. The man raises the lash again, but the poor horse is too feeble, and his knees too ravaged by the cobbles to pull himself up. Observing the incident, a passerby, a foreigner, stays the whip hand of the brute.”

“And instead shoots the horse to put him out of his misery,” Robert interjected.

Charlotte glares in indignation. “I thought you wanted to hear my story?”

“A million apologies, my sweet.” He brings her hand to his lips. Charlotte frowned but was mollified. The tale continued.

“The foreigner is an Englishman and a Quaker, with business in Paris. His heart goes out in sympathy for the poor animal. He offers the carter three gold louis to buy the horse. The carter agrees, in the belief it will cost him more to dispose of the body. He unhitches the cart, and the Englishman, Mr. Coke, leads the horse back to his filthy stable, where to his immense surprise, he finds a blackamoor groom and a large gray cat.

“‘What is this?’ asked Mr. Coke of the carter.

“‘It is a madman, a groom who accompanied the stallion from his homeland and is avowed never to leave his side.’

“‘Never?’

“‘Never, Monsieur. Queer beliefs have these Moors.’

“‘And the cat?’

“‘A curiosity. It rarely leaves the horse’s side. So for three gold louis, Monsieur, you are now the owner of the horse, the groom, and the cat!’

“Poor Mr. Coke was quite stunned at first, but he did acknowledge the need of a groom to help nurse the poor creature back to strength. After several days, as the animal begins to improve, the gentleman realizes this is no ordinary horse. As poor as he appears, he is possessed of a beautiful conformation. He is exquisitely proportioned, with a small head on a well-arched and heavily crested neck. He is short-coupled with large hocks, tremendous quarters, and a high-set tail. But although he is of incomparable beauty, the stallion is fiery and headstrong.

“Knowing the stallion is too distinctive in appearance to be anything but Eastern bred, Mr. Coke makes inquiries of his friends at Versailles. He is amazed to learn that this pathetic creature was once the pride of the desert, one of the great blood stallions of the Bey of Tunis, given as a gift to the King of France, but was deemed by the equerries as too difficult to manage. This was how he came to the carter.

“Excited by this knowledge, Mr. Coke arranges to transport the new members of his family back to England but finds the stallion gentle only toward his loyal groom and his pet cat, Grimalkin. He is far too volatile for Mr. Coke to ride, so the gentleman gives him to a friend. This friend, failing also to manage the stallion, passes him along to another, and another, until his ultimate fate: this magnificent son of the desert, who once had a harem of the choicest mares of the purest, most ancient blood, was destined to become a lowly and despised teazer stallion for the racing stud of Lord Godolphin.”

“Do you even know what that is, my dearest?” Robert interrupted.

“What what is?”

“A teazer stallion.”

Charlotte blushed. “Yes. Jeffries was kind enough to explain to me that valuable stallions are not wasted with the preliminaries of mating; that a lesser stallion is often utilized to…to…to…”

“Prepare the mare for mating?” Robert offered.

“Yes. Precisely so,” Charlotte added hastily. Robert’s laugh rumbled deep in his chest.

“Are you quite ready to attend now?” she asked peevishly. He nodded with a smirk, and Charlotte continued her tale. “The pride and joy of Lord Godolphin was Hobgoblin.”

“Another fine stallion of the Darley line,” Robert volunteered.

“Indeed. And one he intended to breed to his most prized racing mare, the lovely Roxana.”

“Do you know of this mare?”

“Only that Jeffries described her as unparalleled.”

“In more ways than one. A flightier mare never was. She was of such an excessively nervous temperament that she had to be led to the starting post with a blindfold that was only removed at the word ‘go’!”

“I would just call her a female of great sensibility and discriminating taste, Robert,” Charlotte defended. “After all, she would have none of Hobgoblin. Though the tale is told that he refused her, I am not the least inclined to believe it. She instinctively knew him as the inferior male and had eyes only for El Sham, with whom she demonstrated all willingness. When he was removed from her and Hobgoblin led out to leap her, she repelled him most violently, calling instead to her love, El Sham. That stallion responded to her entreaty by breaking loose from his handler and attacking his rival for her affections.

“The stallions reared and pawed and rained blows upon one another. It appeared, at the start, that Hobgoblin, the larger of the two, would prevail, but El Sham sunk his great teeth into the other stallion’s crest and wrestled Hobgoblin to the ground, where he lay stunned. Conceding defeat, Hobgoblin turned tail and ran away.”

“And to the winner went the spoils?” Robert added with a grin. “And one year later, Lath arrived, one of the greatest racers of our day. The next year came Cade, and now we see the excitement surrounding Regulus, the third son of Godolphin to make his name on the turf in as many years.”

“What was the word you used, pre…”

“Prepotent. Yes, the Godolphin has most definitely made his mark as a champion sire.”

“Now you see what a lovely story that was?”

“Not near as lovely as the lips that told it.”

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