Well bred

Professor Rebecca Cassidy of Goldsmiths, University of London, is an anthropologist of gambling and horse racing, and wrote the paper The Social Practice of Racehorse Breeding for Society & Animals (2002). She observes:

“The discourse of personalities in Newmarket includes both horses and humans, and the tendency to blur these categories is one of the most distinctive fea- tures of this society:

I have always been fascinated by the way—and it’s simply a habit not an insult—that racing people tend to refer to women as though they are horses. I remember once asking Fred Winter about what he thought of a certain trainer’s mistress and he replied, “Oh, she’s very moderate”. (Bernard & Dodd 1991, p. 58)”.

The Little Stranger is a 2009 gothic novel by Sarah Waters. In her review of the book for The Guardian of 23rd May that year, Hilary Mantel uses language faintly reminiscent of the equestrian world:

Mrs Ayres is a soignée woman living in the midst of decrepitude, well groomed despite the fact that she cohabits with sagging sofas, peeling walls, threadbare rugs. Her son Rod, in his early 20s, has come back from his service with the RAF scarred and limping, with a legacy of “nervous trouble”. 

Enter, in 1947, the local country GP: “Every ghost story needs a Dr Faraday,” notes Mantel, and provides precipitating context:

“His mother had once been a servant to the Ayres family, and as a little boy he had visited the hall on the occasion of an Empire Day fete, had eaten leftover jellies at the kitchen table while his mother lent a hand with the washing-up. A maid answering a bell had smuggled him upstairs, and he had been overawed by the exquisite, airy Georgian interior. His deprived eye had craved what he recognised as beauty, grace. Left alone for a moment in a corridor, he had broken off a plasterwork acorn, and taken it home in his pocket.

Was that tiny act of vandalism the moment when ruin began?”

Back to Professor Cassidy‘s paper:

The most common shorthand for sum- marizing a pedigree is that of mentioning the sire and the dam’s sire. Thus, for example, Zafonic, who is “by” Gone West, “out of” Zaizafon, who is “by” The Minstrel, will be described as “Zafonic (Gone West, The Minstrel).” Everyday discussions of yearlings would thus refer to Zafonic as “a Gone West colt out of a Minstrel mare.”.

…hence the perhaps apocryphal tale of the breeder who named a mare “Little Acorns Grow” for the ultimate satisfaction of hearing her yearling described as “Mighty Oaks, out of Little Acorns Grow”…

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