Anthropological study of horseracing in Newmarket
Cassidy, Rebecca Louise
This PhD examines horseracing in Britain. It is based upon fifteen months fieldwork in Newmarket, Suffolk, often referred to as the International Headquarters of Flat Racing. My research consisted of participant observation within the four main aspects of the racing industry; on a stud, at a training stable, at the Tattersalls sales and with professional gamblers and bookmakers on the racecourse. I also conducted interviews with racing officials and with individuals who considered themselves to be members of 'Newmarket families'. In addition, I examined the consumption of horseracing by gamblers. Betting on horseracing contradicts the ideology of pedigree whereby breeding will determine ability, and is therefore one of the sources of conflict between the suppliers and the consumers of racing. My intention was to examine the idea of pedigree as it is applied to the English thoroughbred. I have sought to specify the mechanism by which this idea can be applied to the human contingent of racing society, such that the hierarchy amongst animals naturalises the hierarchy amongst humans and vice versa. The thesis focuses particularly upon the ideas of relatedness held by members of racing society who consider themselves to be 'real Newmarket families'. Racing ability is envisaged as born and bred rather than taught, and racing credentials rest upon one's claims to kinship with successful individuals. Despite the apparent basis of this system in the sharing of blood, connections may also be created in its absence. It is argued that the ideology of pedigree contains a descriptive element, according to which relations of blood are mapped, and also a cultural imperative whereby ability must be explained on the basis of breeding. I suggest that it is this imperative which maintains the class based division of labour within racing. The naturalisation of class inequalities through the conventions of the racecourse, the jockey's apprenticeship, and the embodiment of taste (Bourdieu 1984) are all considered at length. I describe the ideology of pedigree as containing a theory of reproduction similar to that described by Delaney (1986), and ideas of relatedness which Bouquet has identified in the genealogical method (1993). These ideas are most completely worked out in relation to favoured animals, particularly racehorses. However, ideas of nature in Newmarket enable the application of pedigree to humans also. Nature in Newmarket is both a separate realm from humanity and also a realm encompassing humans. Racehorses can thus be made to stand, metaphorically, for persons, whilst in other contexts they may be conceptualised as 'man's noblest creation', such that humans are outside, and opposed to, nature. Both these conceptions of 'nature' are illustrated with relevant fieldwork examples. The final section of this thesis considers the impact of the new reproductive technologies upon thoroughbred breeding. These techniques are explicitly outlawed by the International Stud Book, and the debate surrounding their use in the future stresses ideas of the loss of control of blood. I argue that racing society in Britain is thus experiencing a literalising process (Strathern 1992b) whereby the class imperatives which inhere in the ideology of pedigree may be exposed.