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Breeders' Cup 2017
HRN Original Blog:
Around the Oval with Melaina Phipps

Foundation Sire, Foundation Story: The Godolphin Arabian by Eugene Sue

Pedigree. Almost every Thoroughbred that is foaled today is the product of particular attention to pedigree. What all of them have in common in their bloodlines is one of three foundation stallions of the breed: the Byerley Turk (1678), the Darley Arabian (1700), and the Godolphin Arabian (also known as the Godolphin Barb) (1724). Each of their sire lines is a veritable red carpet of Thoroughbred race horses throughout the centuries, each one contributes and incredible story to the heritage of the Thoroughbred breed.

The story of El Scham, the Barb, has been recounted over the centuries, notably in the U.S. is the story King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry.  The Godolphin Arabian, by Eugene Sue (translated by Alex de Jonge, Derrydale Press, 2003), tells the tale of the life of the noble steed and his faithful companions Agba, the Arab who followed him from Tunis and looked after his welfare; and Grimalkin, the cat who remained always by his side—and sometimes on his back  . . .  napping. (By the way, that's Grimalkin in the lower right-hand corner of the image on the book cover.)

The horse’s beginnings were noble, indeed, as one of eight horses gifted b y the Dey of Tunis to Louis XV in 1731. Not quite the type of horses favored by the French for war or for hunting, the equines are dispersed to do other work, El Scham ending up pulling kitchen carts for the king’s staff.  While this coarse work was not what was intended for a horse as fine as El Scham, it was not the worst of what would befall him—from Tunis to Versailles, to Paris, to England.

Great fortune and great adversity would alternately come to pass in his life; it was fated as such. Agba, who was with the colt from the day he was foaled, took note of the two signs that marked the Barb. The whorl in his coat, in the shape of a wheatear, destined him to misfortune; the white on his off hind coronet, on the other hand, was a sign of a glorious future.  It was Agba’s great devotion to and love for the horse that would compel him to follow El Scham and like a parent, do his best to protect him—from mistreatment at the hands of those who did not appreciate his fine pedigree, from those who reacted with cruelty to that which they fear or don’t understand. Agba did his utmost to care for and show love to the fine animal, living in the stable if necessary with him and his feline companion Grimalkin. A fine trio they made unlikely companions though they might have been.

During times when the stars smiled upon El Scham, the trio found themselves living among good and kind people, who appreciated their gifts and showed compassion for all souls. And so it went for years—hardship alternating with glory—until they finally found themselves in the good graces of the Duchess of Marlborough and the Earl of Godolphin. And though the prospect was bright and Agba’s expectations were great, there would still be obstacles to overcome before El Scham would be recognized as the great stallion history now knows him to be.

This novella is rich with the range of emotions that come hand in hand with love of the horse, the love of the sport. It’s a simple tale, really—of loyalty and dedication, of commitment and faith. How fitting, that the chronicle of this sire of sires, this sire of champions, should embody all those principals we admire in the best of the breed and the best in ourselves.


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Meet Melaina Phipps

I came to horseracing only about a decade ago. (And no, I am no relation to the celebrated racing family of the same name.) My equine interests prior to that began, as they do for most young girls, with riding lessons and horse shows, and ended up with me playing polo while a graduate student at UVA and thereafter. It was entirely unexpected that I should spend time on the backstretch at Saratoga in the summer and on the rail at Payson Park in Florida in the winter watching some of the best trainers and horses in the country work. But that’s where I found myself and where my interest in this wild ride of an industry took shape. I don’t exercise racehorses; I don’t work with a trainer.  I watch, I listen, I ask a lot of questions, and I learn.  I enjoy supporting equine charities. Sometimes I bet a little.

I leave the handicapping and serious race talk and examination to those more knowledgeable than I. What I’d like to share through Around the Oval are some of the myriad observations, stories, histories, events, charities, places, and personalities that make up the variegated landscape of the Thoroughbred racing industry. If you find any—or all—of it interesting, please leave comments. Have any particular interests you’d like to read about? Send word—suggestions are more than welcome! 

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