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As early as 1140, the first of a long line of kings named Henry tried to improve Hobby horses--pony-sized Irish horses--by importing Arab stallions to give them more speed and stronger power. Throughout the Crusades, from 1096 to 1270, Turkish cavalry horses dominated the larger English warhorses, leading the Crusaders to buy, capture or steal their share of the stallions. After the War of the Roses, which decimated England's horse population, King Henry aimed to rebuild his cavalry. Both the king and his son, Henry VIII, imported horses from Italy, Spain and North Africa, and maintained their own racing stable. Henry's Hobbys, as they were called, raced against horses owned by other nobility, leading the word "hobby" to mean a "costly pastime indulged in by the idle rich." It also lends credibility to horse racing being labeled as the Sport of Kings, although this phrase's origination comes later, as found in Part II.

Henry used tax revenues to maintain his stables, claiming that by breeding winners with winners he could improve the quality of the cavalry. While certainly a landmark philosophy in horse racing, Henry was unable to apply its practice; his Master of the Horse, the title of Henry's racing stable director, was not a professional horseman and recklessly crossbred the entire stable. The stable consisted of a variety of international horses with an even wider mix of genes, so well mixed they earned the moniker "cocktails," our current word for a mixed drink. It is not known for sure, but this may be the oldest piece of evidence linking horse racing with drinking!

Anyway, Henry's daughter, Elizabeth I, drastically improved her father's stable during her fifty-year reign, dispensing of horses not qualified for racing or the cavalry and moving the best horses to new barns at Tutbury near Staffordshire. Elizabeth kept a close watch on matings and systematically recorded pedigrees. On the advice of her Master of the Stable the Queen added more Arabian horses to the stable, breeding Arab stallions to Hobby and Galloway (Scottish) mares. When Elizabeth I died, James VI of Scotland, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and his son, Charles--who became king in 1625--expanded both the palace and royal racing stables at the track of Newmarket. In 1647 Oliver Cromwell's army defeated Charles' Cavaliers, forcing Charles back to Scotland and allowing Cromwell to capture the royal stables at Tutbury and take inventory; he swiftly sold most of the Royal Mares, keeping fewer than 100 to breed stronger, lighter horses to replace the slower, heavier ones no longer suited for warfare due to the development of gunpowder.

Cromwell's focus was on the cavalry, not racing. He even passed several laws prohibiting racing and went so far as to confiscate horses and cause pedigree records to be ruined. Royalists and Cavaliers were either forced out of England or in retreat to their country estates where they could do two things: maintain their records of horses bred for stag hunting and racing, and wait for the end of Cromwell's repressive religious throne. When Cromwell died and Charles II became king, the wait was over.

After the Revolutionary War more and more immigrants poured into Kentucky and horse racing became more and more of a Kentucky institution. At the 1775 Transylvania Convention Daniel Boone introduced the first bill "to improve the breed of horses in the Kentucky territory." Many Kentucky settlements--with the notable exception of Louisville which already had a race track--featured a Race Street, a straight stretch located just off the main thoroughfare and named after what went on there. In 1797 Kentucky's first Jockey Club was founded at a formal race meet, then was reorganized as the Lexington Jockey Club in 1809. (Kentucky statesman Henry Clay was a founding member.)

Helping Kentucky establish its foothold on horse racing was Virginia's struggle to maintain racing under the burden of religious censure and bad business practices. The Revolution had damaged their stock, which was then replaced by low quality horses from dishonest British horse merchants. Diomed, who never performed up to par after his 1780 Epsom Darby win, was them sent to stud, although his sires floundered in England. He was then considered useless and thereby suitable for trade to America and shipped to Virginia in 1800. For some reason his luck changed in Virginia; each year his crop of sire champions grew, even to the point of joining the line of Aristides, who won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875.

The War of 1812 took a heavy toll on horses. Afterwards, racing was slow to recover in the South and reformers shut it down entirely in the North and East. Lexington, however, always had a track where owners competed their best homebreds; horsemen quickly realized there was no equal to the Bluegrass when it came to nurturing pedigreed stock. Bluegrass, for those who have always wondered, is a deep-rooting, thin bladed hardy perennial (a plant that lives for an indefinite number of years), native to the steppes of the Black Sea. Some credit Quaker leader William Penn with its importation, but the seed probably came to America in the pockets of Mennonites ousted from Russia, for whom Pennsylvania was a safe haven before they headed west. Settlers quickly cleared land, maximizing the pasture available for grazing not just for horses but for hogs, sheep and cattle as well.

In 1826, 60 prominent Bluegrass businessmen organized the Kentucky Association for the Improvements of Breeds of Stock. Thoroughbred breeding records were too jumbled at that point in time, however, and a centralized breed registry comparable to Weatherby's General Stud Book (see Part I) until Lexington native Col. Sanders D. Bruce compiled the American Stud Book in 1868. Nevertheless, the first Kentucky Association races took place at the mile-log, circular Old William Track in Lee's Wood, before a course was laid out nearer to downtown Lexington; it was later remodeled in 1832, becoming America's second mile-long, fenced, dirt track. By 1850 landlocked Lexington lacked only one thing: a railroad system with direct access to Ohio River trade. The lack of cheap transportation greatly handicapped farmers, whose incomes were linked to their ability to ship their wares around the country. As trade became pivotal to economic survival, Lexington became reliant on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, Louisville's "iron horse."

By contrast, Louisville was a swampy, riverfront settlement named for France's King Louis XVI, and had developed from Portland, where the treacherous Falls of the Ohio frequently forced hapless travelers ashore. From the beginning, Louisville was a brawling river town, home to successive waves of German and Irish immigrants making their way up river from New Orleans. They became hardworking citizens but had no desire or money to buy and race thoroughbreds. Townspeople with English roots, however, organized the Louisville Jockey Club and arranged matches down by the river. Another track was built on the east side of the county, and both tracks flourished and gave rise to the notion of the "Louisville races."

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