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An Introduction to the Thoroughbred, by Peter Willett

After a bit of a hiatus from writing about books on horse racing (family member has been sick), I’m back with another worthwhile book, An Introduction to the Thoroughbred, by Peter Willett. Although I wrote a little about this book in the post A List of the Best Books on Horse Racing, because it is considered such a masterpiece, I wanted to add a little more information about this well-regarded book. As discussed in that post, Racing Post writer John Randall considered it #10 of the top 10 masterpieces representing the pinnacle of turf literature, for its coverage of breeding, one that everyone interested in the subject should read before any others.

First published in 1966, Willett’s book is about the evolution of the British Thoroughbred, which is described as “one of the most remarkable products of English genius.” My copy of the book is the revised 1975 edition, and in it, Willet included more of the latest research and trends in breeding at that time, modifying earlier judgments if necessary, and added a new chapter exploring the international factors, French and American, which were also affecting the evolution of the thoroughbred. The aim of the book, as Willet writes in the introduction, “is to provide a consecutive account of the development of the British Thoroughbred and of the principles involved, from his known origins down to the present day.” (p. 11)

Flying Childers, foaled in 1715, was the first great racehorse. Dimple, foaled about 1708, was closely related to the dam of Flying Childers and sired a number of winners

He begins as far back as 1660, looking at the Stuart Restoration and King Charles II. Willet writes that “Charles was the first royal racing regular, and was a competent race-rider himself. His unwavering enthusiasm and constant patronage of Newmarket helped to make racing a national sport.” (p. 15) From there he discusses the first great racehorse, Flying Childers, and then writes about breeding topics, including heredity and environment, breeding theories, inbreeding, blood-lines and families, and The General Stud Book. Throughout the book are nice black and white illustrations and photographs of various notable horses, including Eclipse (“the second great racehorse and one of the most influential sires in thoroughbred history”), Hyperion (“The winner of the Derby and St. Leger in 1933, Hyperion became one of the foremost Classic sires int he mid-twentieth century”), and Ribot (“The unbeaten winner of sixteen races, Ribot, bred in Italy in 1952, was one of the great racehorses and sires of the twentieth century”).

Ribot was one of the great racehorses and sires of the 20th century

The last chapter of the book is about international competition in the second half of the 20th century. By the mid-19th century, the English breed of horses had been exported to Russia, France, Germany, the United States, Baden, Mecklenburg, Holstein, Prussia, India, Sardinia, Tasmania, Jamaica, Sweden, and New South Wales. Willet writes that eventually some of the foreign countries would be capable of producing horses superior to the British. This chapter describes races where foreign-bred horses challenged the British.

The book concludes with a nice Glossery defining terms used in a factual and conversational way, followed by a number of pedigrees. I learned a lot from this book and can understand why it is so well-respected.

If you have any comments or questions about this book, please post them below.


Cassell’s Book of the Horse, by S. Sidney, 1879-81


The full title of Cassell’s Book of the Horse is The Book of the Horse: (Thorough-bred, Half-bred, Cart-bred), Saddle and Harness, British and Foreign, with Hints on Horsemanship; The Management of the Stable; Breeding, Breaking, and Training for the Road, the Park, and the Field. This is the oldest book in this collection of books on horses and horse racing, dated on the spine 1879-81, and written by  Samuel Sidney (S. Sidney). Throughout this 604 page book are beautiful, vibrant, “full-page coloured” illustrations of horses, which you can also find reprinted and framed various places online. Nothing is quite as good as the images in the book though, which are amazing still, especially given their age. There are also numerous beautiful wood engravings throughout.


Contents include 29 chapters on everything from estimates of annual expenses of a carriage and horses and the origin of the modern british horse to horsemanship, or the art of “equitation,” stable clothing, fodder, and work, and hunting. Other chapters discuss breeding , breaking and training, and veterinary information.

The book was published by Cassell Petter and Galpin at Belle Sauvage Works in London. John Cassell founded the British publishing company, putting out its first publication on July 1, 1848, and it remained in existence in one form or another until it was taken over by the Orion Publishing Group in 1998.


The book’s binding and cover is part brown leather and part green and brown marbleized paper, and there is no dust jacket. Someone wrote “Samuel” in pencil above the S. Sidney on the title page. I doubt it is a signature of any kind. I do not know if this is the original cover, or if it is, the book appears to have new endpapers. It looks like the inner part of the book is intact. There are some spots (probably foxing) at the beginning and end of the book. The beautiful illustrations throughout seem mostly in good condition, with vibrant colors, although the one across from the title page has some spots. Most have a tissue inserted to protect them.

If you’d like more information about this rare book, please leave a comment or contact me at Previewing this post, I see how great the illustrations look, and I might take some more photographs of the beautiful illustrations and post them later.

H.H. Aga Khan’s Irish and French Studs, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987-88

I have 6 books, all titled H.H. Aga Khan’s Irish and French Studs, each from a different year (or two), 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1986, and 1987-88. Each book provides detailed information about the Aga Kahn’s “Stallions, Brood Mares, Horses in Training, Yearlings and Foals” for that particular year. These books are in pristine condition, not sure if they have ever been used, as some of the bindings creak when opened, as if they never have been opened before. All have the year on the spine, except for 1980 and 1981.

On facing pages, each horse is described in detail, by full name, birth year, family tree, turf record, family record, and stud record. As the Aga Khan was one of the most successful, if not the most successful, breeders of all times, these books should prove to be invaluable.

1980 is 167 pages, plus an unnumbered section on Horses in Training, Yearling and Foals.

1981 is 205 pages, followed by the same unnumbered Horses in Training, Yearling and Foals section and then a section called “Produce of 1980” and then “Produce of 1981.”

1983 is 206 pages, followed by the same unnumbered Horses in Training, Yearling and Foals section and then a section called “Produce of 1982” and then “Produce of 1983.”

1984 is 276 pages – now all pages are numbered.

1986 is 307 pages, all numbered.

1987-88 is 316 pages, again all numbered.

I have written a couple of other posts on books about the Aga Khan, one on 75 Years: The Aga Khan’s Racing and Breeding Studs, 1922-1997, by Georg Lange, and the other on Stanley Jackson”s The Aga Khan: Prince, Prophet and Sportsman.

If you are interested in knowing more about these fascinating books, please contact me at

Another List of Books on Horse Racing and Horses: The Thoroughbred Heritage Bibliography

I found a very extensive list of books on thoroughbreds, horse racing, breeding, and more, somewhat hidden on the Thoroughbred Heritage website. Titled Recommended Reading, the list contains quite a number of books that are in the collection that I have for sale. Thoroughbred Heritage is sponsored by The National Sporting Library, a research center for horse and field sports, and contains information on breeding lines, portraits, genetics, and more.

The National Sporting Library just opened a museum, in historic Middleburg, Virginia. They also have an interesting page on their website for Book and Film Reviews. Both the Thoroughbred Heritage website and The National Sporting Library have lots of information on the horse and are worth a look.

As for Thoroughbred Heritage’s extensive bibliography, I have 57 books on the list and have already sold 14 others. Even reading their titles gives a good overall impression of the depth and breadth of books on thoroughbreds, racing, and breeding. Here are the 57 I currently have:

1         Backyard Race Horse: The Training Manual; A Comprehensive off-track program for owners and trainers., by Janet Del Castillo with Lois Schwartz, 1996 (3rd edition)

2        Bloodstock Breeding, by Sir Charles Leicester, 1957 (fifth reprint, with revisions) (also 1983 version)

3        (Cassell’s) Book of the Horse: (Thorough-bred, Half-bred, Cart-bred), Saddle and Harness, British and Foreign, with hints on horsemanship; the management of the stable; breeding, breaking, and training for the road, the park, and the field, by Samuel Sidney, 1879 (very rare)

4        Bred to Run: The Making of a Thoroughbred, by Mike Helm, 1993 (2 copies)

5        Breeding To Race, by Sir Rhys Llewellyn, 1964

6        The Brigadier: The Story of Brigadier Gerard, by John Hislop, 1973

7        British Racing Prints, 1700-1940, by Charles Lane, 1990

8        The Byerley Turk: Three Centuries of the Tail Male Racing Lines, by K.M. Haralambos, 1990

9        The Classic Racehorse, by Peter Willett, 1989

10        Dark Horse: Unravelling the Mystery of Nearctic, by Muriel Lennox, 2001.

11        Development of Successful Thoroughbred Sire Lines in England and France, by Achille de Biase, 1961

12        Dr. Fager: Thoroughbred Legends, by Steve Haskin, 2000

13        Dynasties; Great Thoroughbred Stallions, by Edward L. Bowen, 2000

14        English Racing Stables, by Andrew Sim, 1993

15        Estes Formula for Breeding Stakes Winners, by Joseph A. Estes, 1998

16        Famous Running Horses, Their Forebears and Descendants, by Colonel John F. Wall, 1949

17        The First Century: Daily Racing Form Chronicles 100 years of Thoroughbred Racing, by Joe Hirsch, 1996

18        Fred Archer: His Life and Times, by John Welcome, 1967

19        Great Breeders & Their Methods, by Abram S Hewitt

20        Great Racehorses of the World, by Roger Mortimer and Peter Willett, 1969

21        A History of the English Turf 1904-1930: Supplementary to the History of the English Turf by Sir T.A. Cook, Volumes 1 and 2, by Captain T.H. Browne, 1931 (2 books)

22        The Horse Traders; Inside the billion dollar breeding industry that rules racing today, by Steven Crist, 1986

23        Hyperion, Introduced by The Earl of Derby and edited by Clive Graham, 1967 (first edition) (2 copies)

24        In Search of Shergar, by Colin Turner, 1984

25        International Stallions and Studes: The Founders of Modern World Racing, By Michael Seth-Smith, 1974

26        An Introduction to the Thoroughbred, by Peter Willett, 1975

27        Joe Taylor’s Complete Guide to Breeding and Raising Racehorses: Advice from America’s Master Horseman, by Joseph Lannon Taylor, 1993

28        Man O’War, by Page Cooper and Roger L. Treat, 1950 (first edition)

29        More Great Racehorses of the World, by Roger Mortimer and Peter Willett, 1972

30        My Story, by Sir Gordon Richards, 1955

31        The Names They Give Them, compiled by J.B. Faulconer, edited by Jim and Suzanne Bolus, 1998

32        Nashua: Racing’s High-Society Horse (Thoroughbred Legends series, #8), by Edward L. Bowen, 2001

33        Nijinsky: Blue Riband Sire, by Lesley I. Sampson, 1985

34        Northern Dancer: The Legend and His Legacy, by Muriel Lennox, 1995 (3 copies, including one with a Publisher’s bookplate stuck to inside front cover, with the signature: “Marianna Haun,” who analyzed and wrote about Northern Dancer in her second book on the X-factor)

35        Pedigrees of Leading Winners 1960-1980, compiled by Martin Pickering and Michael Ross, 1981

36        Reflections in a Silver Spoon: A Memoir, by Paul Mellon with John Baskett, 1992

37        The Science of Bloodstock Breeding, by B. Vijay, 1991

38        Secretariat, by Raymond G. Woolfe, 1998 (signed)

39        Sires of Winners: The stallion side of breeding and racing, by Richard C Templer, 1949

40        A Sound of Horses: The world of racing from Eclipse to Kelso, by David Alexander, 1966 (first edition)

41        Spectacular Bid: Racing’s Horse of Steel (Thoroughbred Legends series, #9), by Timothy T. Capps, 2001

42        Stud: Adventures in Breeding, by Kevin Conley, 2002

43        Sunday Silence: Racing’s Hard Luck Hero (Thoroughbred Legends series, #12), by Ray Paulick, 2001

44        The Tesio Myth, Frank Varola, 1984 (first edition)

45        The Tesios as I Knew Them, by Mario Incisa Della Rochetta, 1940 (signed, inscribed)

46        That’s Racing, edited by Peter O’Sullevan and Sean Magee, forward by HRH The Princess Royal, 1996

47        Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 Racehourses of the 20th Century, by The Staff of Blood-Horse Publications, 1999

48        Thoroughbred Pedigrees Simplified, by Miles Napier, 1973 (hard cover)

49        Thoroughbred Studs of Great Britain, by Alan Yuill Walker, 1991

50        Thoroughbred Style: Racing dynasties – the horses, the owners, the studs, by Anne Lambton and John Offen, with a foreword by The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Derby M.C.

51        Thoroughbred Types 1900-1925: Race Horses, Steeplechasers, Hunters, and Polo Ponies, by W.S. Vosburgh and others, 1926, edition of 250, of which this is #97.

52        Training Thoroughbred Horses, by Preston M. Burch, 1976

53        Traits of a Winner: The Formula for Developing Thoroughbred Racehorses, by Carl A. Nafzger, 1994

54        Treasures of the Bloodstock Breeders’ Review, by Miles Napier and Leon Rasmussen, 199o (2 copies)

55        Vincent O’Brien’s Great Horses, by Ivor Herbert and Jacqueline O’Brien, 1984

56        Wild Ride: The Rise and Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America’s Premier Racing Dynasty, by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach, 1995

57        The X Factor: What It Is & How to Find It: The Relationship Between Inherited Heart Size and Racing Performance, by Marianna Haun, 1997 (new and signed, on publisher’s bookplate)

Here are the ones that have already sold:

1        Champions: The Lives, Times, and Past Performances of the 20th Century’s Greatest Thoroughbreds

2        Cherry and Black: The Career of Mr. Pierre Lorillard on the Turf (first edition), by Walter Spencer Vosburgh, 1916

3        The Functional Development of the Thoroughbred 

4        Horsetrader; Robert Sangster and the Rise and Fall of the Sport of Kings, by Patrick Robinson with Nick Robinson, 1994 (2 copies)

5        Lightning in a Jar (new), by W. Cothran Campbell and D. Wayne Lukas, 2000

6        Seabiscuit: Special Illustrated Collector’s Edition: An American Legend (new)

7        Shergar and the Aga Khan’s Thoroughbred Empire, by Richard Baerlein, 1985

8        Story of Kelso, 1965

9        Sunny Jim: The life of America’s most beloved horseman James Fitzsimmons, by Jimmy Breslin, 1962

10       Thoroughbred Breeding: Notes and Comments, by Mordaunt Milner, 1987

11        A Treatise on Thoroughbred Selection, by Donald Lesh, 1940

12        Understanding the Power of the X Factor: Patterns of Heart Score and Performance, by Marianna Haun, 2001

13        Upgrading Thoroughbred Families: Using the Guidelines Laid Down By Federico Tesio, by Jack Glengarry, 1995

14        The Will to Win: Ron Turcotte’s Ride to Glory, by Bill Heller, with Ron Turcotte, SIGNED by Ron Turcotte, 1992

I find these lists fascinating. Unless I find another list, this might be the last post on lists, and I’ll continue to post on specific books instead. Any requests?

For more information on any of the books, please contact me by leaving a comment or emailing













Added Five More Books to Inventory of Books

A small number of books on horse racing were found on an overlooked bookshelf, and I’ll be getting them and adding them to the inventory. I just got 5 more (well, 6, though one sold very quickly), shown below:

Traits of a Winner: The Formula for Developing Thoroughbred Racehorses, by Carl A. Nafzger, 1994

Joe Taylor’s Complete Guide to Breeding and Raising Racehorses: Advice from America’s Master Horseman, by Joseph Lannon Taylor, 1993

Sires of Winners: The stallion side of breeding and racing, by Richard C Templer, 1949 (2 volumes) – a second copy of this highly recommended 2-volume set

Breeding To Race, by Sir Rhys Llewellyn, 1964

The Science of Bloodstock Breeding, by B. Vijay, 1991

And these are the 25 books that nearly made the grade…

As a continuation of one of my latest posts on the top 50 books on horse racing, as identified by John Randall and his colleagues at the Racing Post, the article also lists the “25 books that nearly made the grade.” I almost overlooked this list, which is at the bottom of Part 1, numbers 31-50 of the list, and I’m glad I noticed it recently. Randall does not provide descriptions of these 25 books, as he did with the top 50. Here are the three that are I have, with short descriptions based on my research.

#14 of the next best books on horse racing is The Brigadier: The Story of Brigadier Gerard, by John Hislop (1973). The dust jacket now is protected with a mylar cover, which is why there is a bit of reflection in the photograph. Hislop was the breeder of Brigadier Gerard, one of the best and most popular British Thoroughbred race horses of the 20th century, winning 17 of his 18 races, and in this book, he tells their story. As described on the inside of the dust jacket,

Now John Hislop tells how for years he and his wife had bred and raced horses on a modest income; of how his life’s ambition had been to acquire a brood mare from the family of the immortal race mare Pretty Polly; how he found such a mare at the Newmarket sales, paying only 400 gns. for her; and how as a result the Hislops, by sending her daughter La Paiva to an unfashionable stallion, produced from her a foal whom they were sure was a true champion. They were right, and the theory and practice of their achievement Mr. Hislop fascinatingly describes.

400 gns. (or guineas) is approximately $675. Interestingly, many race horses are still sold in guineas, which is the currency in which they were sold hundreds of years ago. There are a lot of great photographs of Brigadier Gerard throughout this fascinating book too.

#18 on this list is The Great Breeders and their Methods, by Abram Hewitt (1982). I wrote about this book in an earlier post. I’ll add that Hewitt wrote, about the breeders he discusses in the book:

However much experimenting and unplanned ‘mindless probing’ most of these breeders had to do before striking a winning vein, this would seem to be no longer wholly necessary for new breeders entering the field today. New breeders are in a position to study the breeding operations of their predecessors and to screen out the important features which were the foundation of great successes in the past.

Our earnest hope is that the more important of these features have been pointed out in the chapters in The Great Breeders and Their Methods, and that this may be of some possible help to present day and future breeders.

I can see how this book would be important in the field of horse racing and worth reading.

and #19 is Vincent O’Brien’s Great Horses, by Ivor Herbert and Jacqueline O’Brien (1984). Vincent O’Brien was an Irish race horse trainer, who was voted the greatest influence in horse racing history in The Racing Post’s 2003 world-wide poll. Herbert had full-cooperation of O’Brien in writing the book, and the trainer’s wife, Jacqueline O’Brien, is co-author, providing a lot of the background material. As described on the dust jacket,

This is the first inside account of sixteen of the most famous horses trained by Vincent O’Brien, from triple Gold Cup winner Cottage Rake to Irish Sweeps Derby winner El Gran Senor. In between gallop the like of Hatton’s Grace, Royal Tan, Ballymoss and Gladness, Sir Ivor, Nijinsky, The Minstrel, Alleged and Golden Fleece.

Both this book and The Brigadier give personal accounts of their authors’ lives in horse breeding and racing, providing unique insights into their successes. With Hewitt’s book, there is a lot of information about breeding and horse racing, supported by amazing photographs of the horses and breeders involved.

If you’d like more information on these books, please let me know.

Why is Seabiscuit #50 on the List of the Best Books on Horse Racing?

In my last post, I wrote about a list of the best books on horse racing, as determined by racing historian John Randall and fellow Racing Post staff writers. Part 1 of the article mentions that Racing Post‘s list was “inspired by the US magazine Sports Illustrated, which in 2002 published a survey of the top 100 sports books of all time.” Part 1 of the Racing Post article also began the list of the top 50 best books on horse racing, from number 50 up, with number 50 being Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand (2001). This book is described in less than glowing terms:

This biography of the 68th-best American racehorse of the 20th century has achieved spectacular success but is vastly overrated. In relating the obstacles overcome by Seabiscuit and his connections, Hillenbrand is much more interested in myth-making than factual accuracy, notably in the absurd claim that her hero was the No. 1 newsmaker of 1938. She is a skilled story-teller but not a historian.

Since all the other books on Randall’s list are described with such amazing positive traits, tying them into the history and importance of horse racing literature, I wondered why Hillenbrand’s book was not given the same treatment. Then I looked at the Sports Illustrated article. I was excited to see which of the books on horse racing had made their list. Then I saw it. Amongst the books on football, baseball, boxing, and hockey, there was only one – #12 – Seabiscuit.

Sports Illustrated described the book more positively:

People who’ve never been to the racetrack love this book, and it’s easy to see why. Hillenbrand has an irresistible story to tell, about a homely hay burner who came to dominate the Depression-era sports pages, taking a colorful crew of humans along for the ride.[New York Times best-seller]

Perhaps the intent of the Sports Illustrated list is a little different, as they began, “Many of the country’s best writers have long been fascinated with sports, and that passion shows up in their prose. After all, when done right, sportswriting transcends bats and balls to display all the traits of great literature: incision, wit, force and vision, suffused with style and substance. Herewith the editors of SI’s favorite sports books, compiled with love and reason, out of intense and sometimes unruly discussions.”

Perhaps they went for more emotion, taking writing style and popularity into account, listing if a book was a New York Times best-seller and/or became a movie, not looking back into the broadness of a sport as Randall and his fellow writers did. And perhaps Hillenbrand’s ability to make a story about horse racing enticing to those who never go to the track is admirable and noteworthy. Randall’s list took on a new perspective for me though, as more of a response to the Sports Illustrated article, outlining the greatness of the writing on just one sport, by someone who had the opportunity to go into the depth of writing and history of that one sport beyond the popular literature of the time. Randall’s list, in three parts, then becomes an important document in itself about the history of horse racing, worth re-reading, savoring, and not forgetting.

(By the way, in the Sports Illustrated list, Seabiscuit comes right after one of my favorite books, about fly fishing and family, A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean, which I also highly recommend.)

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