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A Racing and Breeding Tradition: The Horses of the Aga Khan
By Philip Jodidio
Prestel Publishing, February 2011, 272 pages hardcover

A familiar sight in top-class European racing are the green silks with red epaulets of His Highness the Aga Khan. Racing fans know him for his powerful racing and breeding operation based in Ireland and France, the products of which include greats such as Sinndar, Dalakhani, Zarkava, and the late Shergar. His success in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is unmatched, as that race is clearly his goal every year. Beyond his racing exploits, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims is also well-known for his presence in world affairs and culture, especially through his many humanitarian projects. In his latest work, Grimentz, Switzerland-based author Philip Jodidio covers the Aga Khan and the horses that have contributed to the success of his breeding empire. This is a large, coffee-table sized book with 172 color photographs to accompany the text.

The current Aga Khan, the fourth, gained his title at the age of 20, succeeding his grandfather on July 11, 1957. Jodidio interviewed His Highness in July 2010 to discover how he was introduced to the sport and how, with the help of masters such as Germaine Vuillier, Robert Muller, Alec Head, and Francois Mathet, especially through the purchase of the breeding stock of Francois Dupre, Marcel Boussac, and Jean-Luc Lagardere, he built up his Thoroughbred breeding operation. He had to learn the business in short order, suffering a setback when the deaths of his grandfather and father led to inheritance sales of many horses, including stakes-producing broodmares. However, the family's existing bloodstock crossed well with those he purchased. In the late 1980's he sponsored the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, through the Ciga Hotels group he controlled, building up the Arc to the prestigious 2-day race meeting that it remains to this day under new sponsors, and successfully attracting the non-racing public to witness the sport at its greatest. This move also served to raise his own profile, such as in 2009 when his horses won 5 Group 1 races and 2 Group 2 events on Arc weekend.

Jodidio traces the history of the Aga Khan's racing and breeding activities, back to where it began in India in the 1800's with Aga Khan I. After visiting England in 1898, Aga Khan III decided to shift operations to Europe, leading to successes such as Bahram, the 1935 English Triple Crown winner, and Blenheim II, one of his most successful stallions. Prince Aly Khan, the father of the current Aga Khan, led the farm until his death in 1960. The current Aga Khan was willed 2/5 of the operation as was his younger brother Prince Amyn, while their half-sister Princess Yasmin had the other 1/5. His Highness bought out his two siblings, despite having no experience in the Thoroughbred world. The family tradition will carry on, as his daughter Princess Zahra, who was raised at the family stables at Chantilly, is very active in the business and also races horses under her own colors.

The third major section of the book, "What Makes a Great Thoroughbred", discusses the recipe for success utilized by the Aga Khan's Studs, starting with basing their operations in Ireland and France, where the nutrient-rich soil results in ideal grazing for young foals. Aga Khan III hired Jean-Joseph Vuillier, the father of modern dosage theory, as his exclusive consultant to determine his matings. Years later, Princess Zahra recommended that the farm use computers to calculate which matings would be most successful. As well, the Aga Khan refuses to allow his horses to race on drugs, which may explain why his horses are rarely seen in America. The fourth section deals with His Highness' support for the racing industry, most notably by renovating the aging Hippodrome de Chantilly which was threatened to close in the early 1990's, singlehandedly saving the historic track from demolition. In Ireland he assisted both the Curragh racecourse and Goffs auction house, and in France he is the principal shareholder of the Arqana sales agency.

Racing fans will enjoy the fifth and final section of the book, "Ten Horses of the Aga Khan", covering in detail arguably the ten best horses to have been owned by His Highness. In chronological order, these are Mumtaz Mahal, Nasrullah, Petite Etoile, Blushing Groom, Shergar, Akiyda, Darshaan, Sinndar, Dalakhani, and Zarkava. Each horse is covered by his or her own separate chapter, detailing the horse's success on the track and later in the breeding shed. Many photographs of the subject horse are included, including stakes races, conformation photos, and enjoying life on the farm. Zarkava is photographed several times with her first foal, by Dalakhani in 2010.

"A Racing and Breeding Tradition: The Horses of the Aga Khan" is highly recommended to fans of international Thoroughbred racing, as his influence in the sport is unmatched. The reader will quickly learn about the Aga Khan's racing operations, the many great horses and people that combined to create success on the track, racehorse breeding theory, and will also enjoy the many large, stunning photographs in the book. This is a unique resource for anyone interested in the sport of kings beyond the gambling side of the business.

The Horses of the Aga Khan has a list price of $75 and can be purchased from for $47.25.

Rating:     4.5/5

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