Following publication of yesterday's thinly disguised infomercial for the Portfield Estate and its owners the Earl of Protfield Estates Inc, we asked our Equine Wellbeing correspondent - Horsen Howend - to tell us more about one of the Earl's eccentric predecessors whose prized thoroughbred Eclipse was "mentioned in dispatches" at some point in all the general "come visit us" fluff.
Mr Howend writes:
Though it is not unheard of for a race-horse to have aristocratic forebears [the whole concept of line and pedigree is, after all, founded on such semi-anthropomorphic concepts]. it is unusual to encounter one actually sired by an English nobleman*. And yet, if 18th-century rumours are to be believed [and why should they not?] then Eclipse - without question the greatest horse of its generation and possibly of all time - was almost certainly so conceived.
*though many such rumours exist - and the degenerate traits of some aristocrats are otherwise inexplicable without it - few are well documented. The case of the 4th Earl Portfield is, in this respect, almost unique. [Sub Ed] [Can something be almost unique? [Ed]]
Much has been written about the proclivities of the 4th Earl Algernon [or Algie the Queer to his family and intimates] - his gambling, womanising, gender fluidity, dressing habits and unprecedentedly large manhood are the stuff of legend**. [During one of his very infrequent visits to the House of Lords, he was described by the Lord Chancellor as "Our most remarkable member", a term many took as a reference to his physical rather than his mental prowess.]. It was "Algie" who briefly converted the Lodge at Portfield House into a continental style entertainment centre - described by contemporary moralist E Settick as "a palace of luxuries, a grotesque indulgence, a vanity project beyond compare and a testament to the self-aggrandising vision of a single man" [cf the recent chapter on The Alma Mater College Library in White and Elephant  Unnecessary College Buildings [The Threadbone Architectural Press] for a modern-day comparison]. Not surprisingly, the fifth Earl converted the Lodge into the Steam Engine House.
** See Rupert d'Avoire  The Stuffer of Legend: Algernon, 4th Lord Portfield [Threadbone Press]]
According to expert horse breeder and Equine Historian Lyn E Edge:
Eclipse [1 April 1764 – 26 February 1789] was an undefeated 18th-century British Thoroughbred racehorse who won 18 races, including 11 King's Plates. After retiring from racing he became a very successful sire and today appears in the pedigree of most modern thoroughbreds as well as in a cabinet in Portfield House.
Eclipse was conceived in 1763 after a short courtship with the 4th Earl. The dam [My Precious Peach - a Godolphin Arabian] was introduced to the Earl during a visit to Newmarket where he was scouting for a new set of chaps following a tip from George III’s valet. My Precious Peach was covered following a short blessing conducted by the sire's brother [the Bishop of Derry] at the Portefield stud during a solar eclipse on 1 April 1764 an event after which the foal was named. [It was said at the time that for some onlookers [the Earl liked an appreciative audience] the eclipse was seen as a bad omen; the sign of a misdeed from which no good would come. [The horse’s outstanding record of success and record prize-winning form must have knocked that on the head. [Ed]]
Eclipse was widely held to be a brother - by another mother - of the successful broodmare Proserpine. That branch of the family were inbred to Snake in the fourth generation (4m x 4f) of their pedigree. After his death Eclipse was first “stuffed” [the Earl preferred the term "engorged"] and later skeletonised by the inconsolable Earl who, it was said, visited Eclipse’s mortal remains every single day for the rest of the week.
Eclipse was a bright chestnut with a narrow blaze running down his face. He had a white stocking on his right hind leg. Eclipse was a big horse for his time, just over 16 hands [64 inches, 163 cm)], [though reputedly 18 when the Duke had him in hand] and was an inch higher at the rump than at the withers - a sure sign of his paternity. He was strong, sound and fast. He was sometimes criticized for having a large, unattractive head [another sign]. His difficult temperament was well documented [ditto], and might have led to him being gelded [here the similarity ends]. Instead, he was handled personally and frequently by Algernon who took a deeper interest in Eclipse than in most of his children ["they earned me nothing, gave little in return for my affections and never came higher than third in the village sack-race; their attempts at the egg and spoon were, frankly, a disgrace to their heritage"]. Known to one and all as “a rough-rider” Algie worked Eclipse hard all day, as well as at night, if the stories [and reports of wild screams] are to be believed. This treatment, rather than souring his disposition, settled Eclipse enough to allow him to be raced, although his jockeys never attempted to hold him as he had eyes only for the 4th Earl. He was occasionally "loaned out" to the Earl's half-sister Lady Mountmee, but usually returned in an exhausted state. When he came back to Portfield in May 1782, after an overnight session and "in a pitiably sorrowful state", he was never again exposed to Lady Mountmee's affections.