Celebrities

1.

So many years at home, Lexington, Kentucky, heart of the Bluegrass, as we name it, to wrench it away from the Kentucky mountains with their hills scarred and rutted from ruthless strip mining for coal; the Anglo-Saxons or Scotch-Irish on the front porches; their songs with zithers and fiddles; bungalow churches and the enduring speech of aint’s and haint’s and hit’s down yonder, elevated by friendly philologists to an honorable heritage from old England or Scotland.

Lexington is horses, along with tobacco and Bourbon whiskey for the solace of the citizens. Not horses for plowing the fields, but thoroughbred animals for racing and for breeding future racers by way of a fantastical, almost religious, avowal of equine cloning: noble sire and pedigreed princess for mare, their Almanach de Gotha the Stud Book and The Bloodhorse, founded and published in Lexington. The horse magic of our county, Fayette, is thought to be a historic accumulation of limestone in the soil, productive of strong bones; our shining green grass, mysteriously called blue, rich for grazing. We walked over the lustrous grass, went to school by way of Limestone Street without noticeable benefit from the bone nutrients beneath the sidewalks; yet there is little reason to doubt the local gift to the modern racer whose bloodlines, according to history, may be traced to Darley Arabian, captured in Turkey in 1698 and shipped to England. A Barbary horse—the name given to Othello by Iago in an obscene passage warning the house of Desdemona: “You’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you will have coursers for cousins, and gennets for germans.”

On my street in New York one can of an evening sometimes hear the weary clop-clop of horses going home to wherever the stables may be. Perhaps it is the mounted police returning from their surveillance duties in Central Park, whose trees and bushes and dark, curved pathways may hide a purse-snatcher or an urban demon with unspeakable desires. More likely it is the forlorn hoof of the drooping horses who stand across from the Plaza Hotel, hitched to their patched-together open carriages, drivers in a battered top hat and tail coat: a faux antique for the tourists like the claw-footed settees in the junk shops. Here and there a faded memory of the unruly horse who has since the dawn of history served, under restraints, for personal transportation, chariot war games, agriculture, and, for three centuries, the sport of kings, racing each other.

Man o’War, a daunting local and national celebrity, outshining Daniel Boone, the intrepid explorer of the “dark and bloody ground,” Kentucky. August Belmont II, or Junior, sold Man o’War as a yearling to Samuel Riddle in 1918 and after a notable number of triumphs the famous horse was retired to the Riddle farm in Lexington. There he stood as stud to many successful runners, including the Triple Crown winner War Admiral. When not thus employed, the horse was visited…


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