1 May 2024

The History Of The Thoroughbred

The origin of the Thoroughbred may be traced back to records indicating that a stock of Arab and Barb horses was introduced into England as early as the 3rd century. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that ‘The Sport Of Kings’ truly came to prominence, over 100 years before racing was established in Australia in 1810.

The English Thoroughbred has since been introduced to most countries, where it is bred for racing or used to improve local breeds. A son of the Darley Arabian, Bulle Rock, was imported to Virginia in 1730. During the following 45 years, 186 Thoroughbreds imported from England became the foundation of Thoroughbred breeding in the United States.

The first thoroughbred sire to be imported to Australia was Rockingham in 1799 and by 1880 a further 400 stallions had been shipped to the Australian colonies.
The Australian breeding industry is predominantly located across the eastern states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, the island of Tasmania and the southern regions of South and Western Australia.

The Founding Fathers:

The Byerley Turk:

One of three foundation sires of the modern thoroughbred, the Byerley Turk is born. The stallion is believed to have been captured by Captain Robert Byerley at the Battle of Buda and served as Byerley’s war horse when he was dispatched to Ireland in 1689 during King William’s War. He saw further military service in the Battle of the Boyne. Some of his most productive sons were Jigg (born 1701), who became the sire of Partner, who in turn sired Tartar, who in turn sired Herod in 1738. Herod produced one of three sire lines from which all modern Thoroughbreds descend today. He also sired a productive racehorse, Basto (born 1704).

The Darley Arabian was one of three foundation sires of the modern thoroughbred. This bay Arabian horse was bought in Aleppo, Syria, by Thomas Darley in 1704 and shipped back to Aldby Park in England as a present for his brother. The Darley Arabian stood at just 15 hands but was renowned for his striking appearance.

The Darley Arabian:

the great-grandfather of Eclipse, a prolific racehorse born in 1764, the Darley Arabian was bought in Aleppo, Syria, by Thomas Darley – an English trader and emissary of Queen Anne – who exchanged the horse for a shipment of rifles in the first arms deal in the Middle East. The stallion was then shipped to his family estate of Aldby Park in England and entered racing legend as the Darley Arabian.

Known to have covered mares from 1706 to as late as 1719, before dying at the advanced age of 30 while at the property of John Brewster Darley – the brother by marriage of Thomas Darley – the Darley Arabian has proved to be the most prepotent of the stallions who formed the thoroughbred.

Most racehorses alive today carry several hundred crosses of his descendants – and 95% of modern thoroughbred racehorses can trace their Y chromosome back to this single stallion.

His greatest descendants include Eclipse, an unruly colt but an exceptional racehorse, winning 18 races and inspiring the phrase, “Eclipse first, the rest nowhere.” He was said to have near-perfect conformation with one unexpected characteristic — an abnormally large heart. This enlarged muscle gives a horse greater stamina and strength and is said to be a common characteristic of racing legends like Secretariat and Phar Lap.

The Darley Arabian (Source Godolphin)

The Godolphin Arabian:

Also known as the Godolphin Barb, was an Arabian horse and was one of three stallions that founded the modern thoroughbred. He was named after his best-known owner, Francis Godolphin, 2nd Earl of Godolphin. The horse would later give its name to Sheikh Mohammed’s international horse racing stable. Foaled in Yemen sometime around 1724, the Godolphin Arabian was shipped from Syria to Tunis before being given to King Louis XV of France as a gift or part of a gift from the Emperor of Morocco. While little factual evidence can be found to support or deny it, some accounts claim the King cared so little about the horse that he was eventually used to pull a water cart through the streets of Paris. The Godolphin Arabian was a headstrong, small, brown bay with a large crest in his neck that was noted in many of his paintings. He was described as having a “beautiful conformation, exquisitely proportioned with large hocks, well let down, with legs of iron, with the unequalled lightness of forehand – a horse of incomparable beauty whose only flaw was being headstrong. An essentially strong stallion type, his quarters broad in spite of being half-starved, tail carried in true Arabian style.”

Evolution Of The Thoroughbred:

The evolution of the Thoroughbred over time has been shaped by intentional breeding practices, advancements in veterinary science, changes in racing demands, and a deeper understanding of genetics. With the development of pedigree analysis and advancements in technology, breeders gained the ability to assess bloodlines more thoroughly. This has allowed for more informed decisions in selecting mating pairs based on desired traits and performance history.

Breeders now have a better understanding of the genetic factors influencing speed and stamina. While the fundamental characteristics of the Thoroughbred have remained, the breed has evolved in response to the demands of the racing industry, advancements in breeding practices, and a broader understanding of equine genetics and welfare. The ongoing commitment to preserving the breed’s integrity while enhancing its athleticism and durability remains a central theme in Thoroughbred breeding.

Many of today’s key stallions especially those from Ireland, America and Australia can be traced quite easily to one of the 3 founding sires. The Darley Arabian is the most influential, as a grandsire of Eclipse. His bloodlines can be traced to some of the modern greats and most importantly the dominant bloodline in world racing. With Sadler’s Wells, Galileo and Frankel all being descendants of Eclipse and the Darley Arabian. The Sadler’s Wells line is the dominant breeding family of the late 20th and early 21st century.


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