FLY­ING CHILDERS AND WHIS­TLE JACKET

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The Duke of Devon­shire’s Fly­ing Childers, foaled 1715, and his full brother born the next year, Bartlett’s Bleed­ing Childers, were the first horses to run away from all com­pe­ti­tion in King’s Plate rac­ing. Thor­ough­bred his­to­rian Alexan­der Mack­aySmith refers to theirs as the “tap­root pedi­gree," for the distaff side com­bines the best English speed blood­lines from the time of Henry VIII with just those strains of Tur­co­man ca­pa­ble of mid­dle-dis­tance speed. The noble­men and wealthy gen­tle­men who bred th­ese horses knew what they were do­ing.

The pedi­gree as pre­sented here is “re­searched”—in other words, di­rect record can't be found for some breed­ings so the iden­ti­ties of the horses must be de­duced. Mackay-Smith brings all the avail­able ev­i­dence for this to­gether in his Speed and the Thor­ough­bred and The Colo­nial Quar­terRun­ning Horse.

A very in­ter­est­ing fact emerges when we ac­cept Mackay-Smith’s as­sump­tions: 16th- and early 17th-cen­tury breed­ers were “con­serv­ing” Hobby blood, in other words en­deav­or­ing to keep the per­cent­age of Hobby at about 25 per­cent in the foals they pro­duced. The pedi­gree pre­sented goes back six gen­er­a­tions, and yet a cen­tury later the “Childers” stal­lions still car­ried about one-quar­ter Hobby blood.

As­sum­ing that the Dar­ley Ara­bian was 50 per­cent Asil, his sons were quar­ter-Ara­bi­ans with 37 per­cent Tur­co­man, 23 per­cent Hobby, and 15 per­cent Barb. If the Dar­ley horse was ac­tu­ally only one-fourth Asil, his sons were 50 per­cent Tur­co­man, which in the light of re­cent DNA stud­ies seems more likely.

By the last quar­ter of the 18th cen­tury, Bri­tish race­horse breed­ers were pro­duc­ing not only “strong and use­ful” horses that could “carry speed over a dis­tance of ground,” but also some that were out­stand­ingly beau­ti­ful to look at, as well. The Dar­ley, an im­ported horse, was far more fa­mous in his day for beauty than ei­ther for speed or for pre­po­tency

at stud. Bri­tish breed­ers also pro­duced lovely horses at home, by cov­er­ing English-bred Hobby-Barb mares with Tur­co­man-Ara­bian stal­lions.

The early Thor­ough­bred most fa­mous to­day for sheer beauty is Whistle­jacket, foaled in 1749. Stubbs painted this horse at least twice, once in 1762 “with Si­mon Cobb, the Groom” and again the same year, a mon­u­men­tal nine-footh­igh can­vas of the horse posed in an ex­pres­sive galop à droite. I present the Si­mon Cobb im­age here in or­der to give an

WHISTLE­JACKET

idea of Whistle­jacket’s stand­ing con­for­ma­tion. To a de­gree this por­trait suc­cumbs to the 18th­cen­tury fash­ion for ren­der­ing the horse’s head and neck smaller and finer than they re­ally were. How­ever, his life-sized por­trait in mo­tion ren­ders th­ese parts re­al­is­ti­cally (en­larged de­tail, right) and shows us a head so fine that it ap­pears to have been car­ven of wax, bear­ing an ex­pres­sion of great in­tel­li­gence and sen­si­tiv­ity.

Un­like the Dar­ley, Whistle­jacket was a win­ner at King’s Plate rac­ing. A grand­son of the Godol­phin “Ara­bian,” anal­y­sis of Whistle­jacket’s pedi­gree (be­low) re­veals a bal­ance of an­ces­try a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than that of Fly­ing Childers, par­tic­u­larly in car­ry­ing a higher per­cent­age of Tur­co­man blood. A one-eighth con­tri­bu­tion of Asil an­ces­try through Whistle­jacket’s dam was ev­i­dently enough to pro­duce a horse that not only had speed, “bot­tom” and qual­ity but also out­stand­ing beauty.

TAP­ROOT PEDI­GREE

FLY­ING CHILDERS

WHISTLE­JACKET

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