Friday, 3 February 2017

Tall Tales of Small Horses

Last week the National Army Museum in Chelsea was accused of fakery - when news that they were reassembling the skeleton of Marengo was greeted with an assertion that Napoleon’s horse, famously painted crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David, never actually existed.

According to popular history, Marengo was an Arabian horse standing at just 14 hands high – not overly big but quite tall enough for the 5 foot, 6½ inch Napoleon. We all tend to think that Napoleon was rather small, but 5½ foot was about average for a Frenchman two hundred years ago and I dare say the extra half inch was important to him. Marengo was acquired by Napoleon, in Egypt, in 1799. He was already 22 years old by the time he was captured at the Battle of Waterloo, which gives me hope that my old favourite Knockara Beau, trained by George Charlton, will still be going strong eight years from now.  

Except now it materialises (according to The Times) that Jill, Duchess of Hamilton, scoured the official records of 1,762 horses belonging to Napoleon, only to discover that no such animal existed – not the name, nor a horse which matches the skeleton’s age and size. Which begs the question: whose horse have they got in the museum?
Copenhagen in Glasgow
There has always been room for interpretation when it comes to the description of historic horses. Take for example, Copenhagen – the mount of the Duke of Wellington, who occupied the opposite corner of the battlefield at Waterloo. There are two large bronze statues of him in Scotland, one in Edinburgh, the other in Glasgow. The Edinburgh version gives him the appearance of a noble steeplechaser – think Strong Promise, Sprinter Sacre or Dublin Flyer. The Glasgow version, where the Duke’s head is almost permanently augmented with a road traffic cone (perched at a jaunty angle), portrays Copenhagen as small, narrow and unimpressive.

As you might expect from a city known for its gritty realism, it is the Glasgow version which is most likely correct. According to contemporary correspondence, Copenhagen was about 15 hands tall, had a scratchy short stride and a cantankerous temperament. Sired by Meteor, a winner of the Kings Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes, Copenhagen had at least ten outings on the Flat, winning just two matches without impressing. He wouldn’t have been a match for a horse like Aristo Du Plessis, this week’s selection at Musselburgh, who is seeking his eighth win under rules.
Copenhagen in Edinburgh
The entries for the 2017 Grand National were published this week, sadly without Many Clouds whose name deserves to be remembered for two hundred years or more. A quick scan of the entries reveals that Highland Lodge is well placed to get into the race this year. If the Jimmy Moffatt trained gelding wins at Aintree, perhaps they’ll erect a statue of him in Cartmel village square - if so, I hope that racegoers will refrain from adding a traffic cone to Henry Brooke’s attire.

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