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Monday, April 5, 2010

Guest Post: Emery Lee, Author of The Highest Stakes

The Highest Stakes

Although horse racing dates back as far as the ancient Greeks, who introduced it into their games at the 33rd Olympiad in 648 B.C. , and who built a hippodromus at Elis just to accommodate their equestrian trials, I chose the first half of the eighteenth century, as it represents the genesis of the modern “thorough bred” racing horse.

To explain, I must begin in the 17th century with the restoration of Charles II, from whose passion, horse racing came to be called “the sport of kings.”

King Charles was an accomplished horseman, who raced his own horses against those of his courtiers. Like the ancient Greeks, he was so enamored of the sport, that he built a Royal Residence at Newmarket, as well as a special viewing pavilion to overlook his race course, one of which, the Rowley Mile still bears the name of his favorite horse to this very day.

As for his horses, the foundation of the Royal stud was based upon a number of mares imported from Tangier as part of Charles’ queen consort’s dowry. The blood of these mares would become highly coveted early into the 18th century when racing gained popularity with the Georgian gentlemen who gambled on horses as they gambled on everything else from pugilism to bear-baiting.

The early horseracing differed greatly, however, from what we know today. While modern Thoroughbreds rarely exceeding a mile and a half run, are most valued for sheer speed, the races of the eighteenth century were grueling trials of four to six miles, usually run in three heats, with rarely more than an half hour of rest in between! A test of this magnitude required a horse with not just proven swiftness, but with unusual courage and stamina, which the Georgians greatly esteemed as “bottom.”

Although the best horses were owned by wealthy and powerful aristocrats, racing in the early part of the century was rarely a high stakes event, with the usual wager set at around fifty pounds. Professional jockeys did not yet exist , so most races were run with the owners astride, as each man aspired to best his neighbor and prove his superior horse.

As the English aristocracy put their minds to the selective breeding of racehorses. They began by crossing the royal mares with the a number of highly bred stallions imported from the Middle East. Of these, three names would emerge to dominate the racing world of Georgian England: the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Barb.

These three “kings of the desert” would become known as the progenitors of the modern day Thoroughbred race horse.

Woven into the drama and romance of The Highest Stakes, the fascinating histories, the progeny, and the enduring bloodlines of these champion sires are revealed.


All thoroughbred horses in the world to this very day can trace their blood back to three specific Arabian stallions imported to England in the early part of the 18th century. Against this backdrop comes a painstakingly researched novel with breathtaking scenes of real races, real horses, glimpses of the men who cared for them, and the tensions of those who owned and controlled them.

In 18th century England and Colonial Virginia, when high-spirited stallions filled the stables of the lords of the land and fortunes were won and lost on the outcome of a race, a love story unfolds between a young woman for whom her uncle's horses are her only friends and the young man who teaches her everything about their care and racing. When she's forced into marriage, his only hope of winning her back is to race his horse to reclaim all that was stolen from him—his land, his dignity, and his love.

About the Author

Emery Lee is a life-long equestrienne, a history buff, and a born romantic. Combine  the three and you have the essence of her debut novel: a tale of love, war, politics, and horseracing. A member of Romance Writers of America, she lives with her husband, sons, and two horses in upstate South Carolina. For more information, please visit

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