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Falling in Love with Horses: The International Thoroughbred Auction

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Based on fieldwork in Newmarket, England, and Kentucky, this paper examines the acts of looking that take place at international thoroughbred horse auctions. Racehorse caretakers (owners) employ bloodstock agents to select the yearling thoroughbred who will make the best racehorse as a 2-year-old and, hopefully, successful stallion or broodmare after retiring from the track as a 4- or 5-year old. The paper assesses the criteria used to assess yearlings: pedigree, conformation, and "that something extra."The paper concludes that the ambiguous status of the bloodstock agent derives from the liminal task the agent performs, communicating with a young, nonhuman animal to discover the animal's essential properties. Selecting yearlings depends upon a process of divination that mitigates against the characterization of western thought as "rational" and opposed to decision-making processes conventionally thought of as "non-normal" or irrational.


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