As the title states, the book is a fictionalized biography of the Godolphin Arabian, one of the three foundation sires of the Thoroughbred horse breed.
- A Boy and His X: The book is about the (mis)adventures of a young slave named Agba and the Arabian horse he is bound to serve.
- A Hero Is Born: Sham comes into the world in Chapter Three, which is even titled "A Foal Is Born". The first two chapters are about Agba and how much he loves Sham's dam.
- The Alleged Steed: Sham is treated as this from the moment he arrives in Europe, where he's seen as a scrawny runt compared to the larger, sturdier European horses.note (It doesn't help that he and his fellows were cheated of food on the voyage and arrive half-starved.) Even his long and high-crested neck — also a good thing for an Arabian — is considered a deformity. His hot-blooded temperament does nothing to improve his reputation.
- Babies Ever After: Sham spends the rest of his days as a prized stud, and the story ends with a description of his most famous descendants and their achievements.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Agba can't bring himself to hate the mare Lady Roxana because she's so beautiful. Conversely, the established sire Hobgoblin is large and heavy, and thus stupid and/or evil.
- Bittersweet Ending: Sham becomes a foundation sire for the Thoroughbred race, but he never gets to race himself. Many years later, when he dies, Agba returns to his life of slavery.
- Cool Horse: Sham and his descendants, especially Man o' War (for whom this was definitely Truth in Television).
- Cute Mute: Agba is gentle and sweet, and eternally loyal to Sham, but he cannot speak (it's never specified why).
- Death by Childbirth: Sham's dam. This was also the fate of the real Lady Roxana — see below.
- Did the Research, Truth in Television and Based on a True Story: Not only was Sham (more properly, Shami or el-Shami) real — his descendants are champion racers to this day — but so was the cat Grimalkin and the Arab caretaker, both of whom appear in paintings, although their names are not actually known and Henry just chose common names. The story of the Sultan's gift is real as is the mistreatment of the horses along the way. Henry filled in some of Sham's misfortunes with guesswork based on what tended to happen to spirited, temperamental horses at that time.
- Fat Bastard: The Godolphin stud Hobgoblin is large and heavy compared to Sham. While the English think his size is impressive, Agba's opinion is more this trope.
- Framing Device: The book begins in 1920 with Man o' War's match race against Sir Barton and Samuel Riddle's decision to retire Man o' War from racing. When questioned about his decision, Riddle begins to tell the story of the Godolphin Arabian, starting off the story proper.
- Happily Ever Before: The main plot ends with Sham retiring to a happy life as one of the Thoroughbred foundation sires, though the book does mention that he eventually diednote and Agba had to return to his life of slavery.
- Horsing Around: Sham is hot-tempered, disobedient, and prone to throwing any rider who isn't Agba, which doesn't help the view of him as The Alleged Steed.
- Interspecies Friendship: The three-way friendship between Sham the horse, Agba the human, and Grimalkin the cat.
- Kick the Dog: A number of Sham's owners do this, though the cruel woodcarter is easily the worst. There's also the jailer who ignorantly destroys the document proving Sham's pedigree.
- Meaningful Name: Agba comes from "father" and Sham means "sun" (his bay coat explicitly has a gold sheen to it).
- Missing Mom: Sham's mother dies only a few days after giving birth. No mention at all is made of Agba's parents.
- Moody Mount: As noted under Horsing Around, Sham is temperamental and will not suffer any rider but Agba.
- Portent of Doom: When Sham is born, his owners see a 'wheat ear' pattern of hairs on his chest that means bad luck. Fortunately, Agba notices a white spot on his heel that means speed, so the two signs cancel out. Sham's life is indeed marked by significant turns of good and bad luck, and his dam dies only a few days later.
- Society Marches On: In 1948, Henry had to sell her audience on the idea that a horse retiring to stud is only the beginning of his greatness. Nowadays, no one would be surprised by a good stallion prospect retiring, as Man o'War did, after his third year: there's a lot more money to be made in the breeding shed, and it's less risky than racing.
- Spared by the Adaptation: The Real Life mare Lady Roxana died after foaling Cade. The novel doesn't mention this and suggests that the third foal, Regulus, was also out of Roxana.
- Vague Age: Agba is said to be around the same age as Louis XV of France, who would have been about sixteen at the time (assuming Sham, like the real Godolphin Arabian, was foaled in 1724). However, he doesn't begin to reach manhood until Regulus (foaled in 1739) is a two-year-old. The author tries to avert this by never giving exact dates in the story, but it's still distracting to readers who are aware of the history.
"His pedigree has been lost. It is written in his sons."