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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight into British Horse Racing
This book is a fascinating insight into the history of horse racing from it's very early times. School history did not teach some of the stories told here. I remember well the picture of 'Gin Lane' by Hogarth, and this epitomises these times. All our great race horses can be traced back to this horse in their pedigree. I admire the copious research that the author...
Published on 7 July 2010 by Lisa J. Hargreaves

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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Speed bonnie horse like a bird on the wing
Born in 1764, Eclipse easily won every event in which he competed. This wide-ranging book provides a long-overdue look at his life and career, together with the people around him and an insight into life in eighteenth century London. It also explain some of the major developments in the way horseracing evolved and what happened to Eclipse`s skeleton. There's even an art...
Published on 12 April 2009 by Peter Durward Harris


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Speed bonnie horse like a bird on the wing, 12 April 2009
By 
Peter Durward Harris "Pete the music fan" (Leicester England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Eclipse (Hardcover)
Born in 1764, Eclipse easily won every event in which he competed. This wide-ranging book provides a long-overdue look at his life and career, together with the people around him and an insight into life in eighteenth century London. It also explain some of the major developments in the way horseracing evolved and what happened to Eclipse`s skeleton. There's even an art chapter featuring George Stubbs and other painters. Part of one of George's paintings adorns the front cover.

The early history of horseracing is hazy, as events weren't chronicled meticulously. Other events of the time are also open to doubt, especially concerning the people who were in some way connected to the story of Eclipse. Eighteenth century journalists, like their modern counterparts, were prone to distorting the truth when it suited their objectives. With all those caveats, and allowing for further embellishment by the author, the story as told is certainly fascinating even if it may not be entirely true.

Plenty of upper class people feature in the story, notably the Duke of Cumberland. His military career included victory over Bonnie Prince Charlie's army at Culloden, but was otherwise mostly a series of failures. (Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped; his army were butchered.) More successful as a racehorse owner and breeder, the duke bred both Herod and Eclipse, but he died of ill-health (at least partly self-inflicted, it seems) in his mid-forties when Eclipse was just a yearling, well before he started his racing career.

The main characters were a disreputable but charismatic Irishman, Dennis O'Kelly, and his partner, Charlotte Hayes, an up-market brothel owner. Charlotte was well aware that her reputation depended on the health and well-being of her prostitutes (aka nuns), so she encouraged her clients to use Mrs Phillips' famed new engines to avoid spreading venereal diseases. Charlotte also taught her nuns to behave in a very ladylike fashion, appropriate for her upper class clients.

In 1769/70, when Eclipse raced, all races were run in heats over long distances, as they had been for centuries before. Within the next decade or two, British racing changed rapidly to single races over shorter distances. The St Leger started in 1776, the Oaks (for fillies only) in 1779 and the Derby in 1780. If these races had existed in 1767, when Eclipse was three years old, he would surely have won the Derby and St Leger. As it was, he didn't start his racing career until he was five, which was the custom of the time.

Two chapters on Eclipse's male line legacy feature horses that the author wanted to write about, irrespective of whether they were important to its continuance - Hambletonian, Whalebone, Running Rein, Gladiateur, Hermit, St Simon, Sceptre, Pretty Polly, Phar Lap, Arkle, Nijinsky, Secretariat and Dubai Millennium. (Seabiscuit wasn`t a member of the Eclipse male line, otherwise it's clear that he would have been included too.) Running Rein doesn't deserve mention in such illustrious company, but the author clearly wanted to write about the notorious 1844 Epsom Derby. Really, I think that somebody in Hollywood should use that race as the basis of a movie. In the piece on Nijinsky, the author grudgingly concedes that Mill Reef (who got me hooked on racing) may have been a better racehorse than Nijinsky; Lester Piggott certainly thought so. In the piece on Dubai Millennium, he disparages Snaafi Dancer, The Green Monkey and Jalil, omitting to mention that Jalil was a decent horse who won at Group level, albeit never justifying his purchase price.

In those legacy chapters and in the main story, the author sometimes contradicts himself in different passages. He acknowledges the importance of Herod and Matchem in the development of the thoroughbred, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, yet maintains that the pre-eminence of the Eclipse line today proves Eclipse's superiority. Yet the eighteenth century annual champion sires lists (which Eclipse never topped, though he was often second) show that the Herod line was the strongest at that stage, as the author acknowledges. Eclipse was probably the best racehorse of the eighteenth century (though Flying Childers and Highflyer appear to be other candidates for that title) but he was a less successful stallion than Herod or Herod's son Highflyer. The author even suggests that St Simon ensured the survival of the Eclipse line, yet St Simon's branch of that line is as much in peril today as are the Herod and Matchem lines.

The author discusses Eclipse's large heart, explaining a theory that the gene for it may be tied to the X chromosome. If so, a stallion can only pass it to his daughters, but a mare can pass it to all her offspring. That may explain why Highflyer (often mated with Eclipse's daughters) was such a great stallion and may also explain why some stallions (including Secretariat, who had a huge heart) become successful broodmare sires while their sons are disappointing. If this theory is true, Eclipse was a more important stallion than we thought, but not because of the male line. Male lines are interesting as Ed Bowen's Dynasties: Great Thoroughbred Stallions shows, but never tell the whole story, as the author also acknowledges.

The book is fascinating, but sometimes strays far beyond the world of horseracing. Although the author may have tried to write with a wider readership in mind, I'll be surprised if it appeals to a non-racing readership; this book isn`t another Seabiscuit: The True Story of Three Men and a Racehorse. I wanted to read about all the people connected to Eclipse, but I wonder if the author overdid this aspect, especially as the main story continues into the early nineteenth century, well after both Dennis O'Kelly and Eclipse were dead.

The book was bound to be flawed because of its reliance on eighteenth century sources, but the author has added in his own flaws. Nevertheless, there's a great story here with a lot of information that's worth reading, if you tolerate the flaws.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight into British Horse Racing, 7 July 2010
This review is from: Eclipse (Paperback)
This book is a fascinating insight into the history of horse racing from it's very early times. School history did not teach some of the stories told here. I remember well the picture of 'Gin Lane' by Hogarth, and this epitomises these times. All our great race horses can be traced back to this horse in their pedigree. I admire the copious research that the author Nicholas Clee has done to create this book. Not a book I would normally read but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Eclipse first. The rest nowhere!", 22 May 2009
This review is from: Eclipse (Hardcover)
This wonderful book not only tells the story of Eclipse, the horse from whom so many famous winners are descended, but also gives a vivid picture of late 18th century life in English sporting circles and society. Eclipse's owners went from a royal duke to an Irish rogue with a respectable English merchant in between. Rightly named, this remarkable horse did indeed eclipse all his rivals, and is one of the few horses never to be beaten. "Eclipse first. The rest nowhere."

The book is a fascinating mix of racing facts and thoroughbred pedigrees, amusing anecdotes, of life from the great houses to the Fleet prison, and Nicholas Clee brings to his book a complete mastery of his subject, a race-goer's enthusiasm and a light touch that makes it a wonderful read.

I loved it. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Every race-goer should have a copy.

Tessa Bennett
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eclipse, 19 July 2009
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This review is from: Eclipse (Hardcover)
This book is a facsinating insight into the origins of the racehorse and racing in general. Very well worth reading. Historically very interesting and one can picture the era from the very full descriptions of the characters and lay of the land. The pictures are also wonderful.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Eclipsed but not forgotten, 21 April 2009
By 
Mr. A. J. Dunn (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Eclipse (Hardcover)
This is an extremely well-researched book and loaded with facts, despite which the author has managed to make it both readable and enjoyable. Having said that, the book contains more about the people (including some right rogues and weirdos) associated with Eclipse than the horse itself. Recommended if you want to know more about the background in which horse racing took place and developed during the 18th century.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Gift, 14 Jan 2014
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This book was a gift and I'm told by the recipient that she enjoyed it. There is nothing more to add.
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5.0 out of 5 stars for the racing fan, 24 Oct 2013
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If you love your racing and want to know more about its history this could be the book. You would have to have an understanding of bloodlines as well.
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5.0 out of 5 stars History at it's best., 30 Jan 2013
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Scrat (Co. Derry Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This is not only the boigraphy of a superb horse but also a window into the decadence of the 18th century.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Eclipse, 3 Jan 2012
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A very informative book, only for equine lovers interested in the breeding of horses. I was pleased to see he was descended from the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Misnomer, 28 April 2009
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This is a disappointing book.It should have been an entertaining read but was not.The early part of the book building up to the racing career of Eclipse was amusing and entertaining.Two short chapters dealt with the career of the racehorse and its raffish owner but after that the book went rapidly downhill and the reader had to wade through pages of trivia concluded with musings about Eclipse's descendants.The b est thing about it is the cover.
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Eclipse
Eclipse by Nicholas Clee (Paperback - 4 Feb 2010)
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