Hence I am thrilled to accept an invitation to the Sharjah
International Book Fair, a chance to visit the Arab cradle of
international horse racing.
Currently there are four Thoroughbred racecourses in the
UAE, one each in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, and two in Dubai, at
Meydan and Jebel Ali. But, of course, horses are not the only
animals used for racing in the Emirates. Camels have been raced
here for centuries, although recently the child riders have been
replaced by robots that constantly whip the dromedaries as they
charge down the five-kilometre track, chased enthusiastically by
their owners and trainers in a fleet of Range Rovers.
I have recently started writing my next novel, for publication
in 2015, and therefore, between events at the book fair, I will
be trying to get some words done – maybe a murder or two –
but they are unlikely to feature a robot jockey either as victim
Damage by Felix Francis (pictured below with his father) is
published by Michael Joseph, price £ 18.99 hardback
Horseracing is a worldwide phenomenon. From
Flemington in Melbourne to Churchill Downs in
Kentucky, from Royal Ascot to Happy Valley in Hong Kong, the
Thoroughbred racehorse reigns supreme. Yet where does the
term Thoroughbred actually come from? It was not a natural
breed of horse, but one that was manufactured with the aim of
creating the most efficient racing “machine”.
For a horse to be classified as a Thoroughbred it has to
be registered in either The General Stud Book of the United
Kingdom, or in the American Stud Book, or in the official Stud
Books of other recognised racing authorities. The condition
for entry is that both its sire and dam are also registered as
Thoroughbreds. It is a closed shop, with no opportunity for
others to join the club.
The breeding and racing of Thoroughbreds is now a huge
industry that directly employs almost half a million people and
generates some 34 billion US dollars in revenue annually in the
United States alone. Well over 100,000 Thoroughbred foals are
registered each year.
But where did it all start? The General Stud Book was
initiated in 1791 as a means of regulating the breeding of
racehorses. Today, all the Thoroughbreds in the world trace
their descent, in their male lines, from one of three stallions
imported to the United Kingdom in the late 17th and early
Two of those stallions were Arab horses, the Darley
Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian. The Darley
Arabian is the male line ancestor of more than
90 per cent of contemporary Thoroughbreds.
Throughout man’s history there have
always been races, be it between naked
Greek athletes at the ancient Olympics,
between charioteers around the Circus
Maximus in Rome, or between men and
fast cars in Formula 1. But it is racing
between people on horseback that
has been the most enduring, and the
Thoroughbred, with its Arabian ancestry,
has been at the forefront.
FeLiX FRancis writes racing thrillers in
the tradition of his late father, jockey-turned-best-selling author dick francis. here he reflects
on why sharjah is a special destination for anyone
steeped in horseracing history. he is appearing at
this year’s sharjah international book fair.
raCinG and wriTinG in the uae