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The Foundation Sires of the Thoroughbred Horse

Updated on November 3, 2011
The Godolphin Arabian
The Godolphin Arabian

The Thoroughbred horse is one of the fastest animals on the planet. The product of hundreds of years of breeding, they are descended from the stocky horses of England and the swift, fine-boned Arabians of the Middle East. All modern thoroughbreds can be traced back to three stallions- the foundation sires of the entire breed. These three horses, who begat sons and daughters like those never before seen in England, came to their new homes from very different beginnings, but all eventually gained recognition for their unparalleled progeny.

The Byerly Turk

The Byerly Turk passed into the hands of Captain Robert Byerley in 1686: spoils of the Battle of Buda. From there, Byerley and his new charger fought in several battles together in Ireland before retiring in England. The Byerly Turk's most famous descendant was Herod, a champion racehorse and prolific sire who carried the Turk's male line into the present day. He is the least represented of the three foundation sires in modern Thoroughbreds, but his influence crafted the early breed and produced many stakes winners.

The Darley Arabian

Perhaps the most celebrated of the foundation sires, the Darley Arabian was purchased in Syria in 1704. He was reportedly an exquisite-looking horse, and stood stud in England for Thomas Darley. His most famous son was Flying Childers, a horse unmatched in his days on the track. Flying Childers is sometimes called the first great Thoroughbred racehorse. But the stallion who would guarantee the Darley Arabian's continued influence was Eclipse, the undefeated superhorse of the mid-eighteenth century. Eclipse proved to be an even better sire than he was a racer, making him a common sight in pedigrees today.

The Darley Arabian is estimated to be in the ancestry of 95% of today's Thoroughbreds.

The Godolphin Arabian

The Godolphin Arabian's origins are less clear. Believed to be a gift from the Bey of Tunisia, it is known that the stallion wound up in the hands of Edward Coke in France, who kept him in England until Coke's death. The small stallion passed to the Earl of Godolphin, but was not allowed to breed due to his perceived weakness when compared to English horses. It was only when a circumstantial breeding produced Lath, a brilliant speedball and winner of the Queen's Plate, that the Arabian earned his rightful place as the premier stud at the Godolphin Stables. He is represented in the maternal line of Eclipse, and his most famous descendant is the mightiest race horse of all time - Man o' War, who passed on his bloodline to champions such as War Admiral and Seabiscuit. Today, Tiznow is the most prominent stud continuing the line.

These three horses from distant lands mingled with native stock to produce the modern thoroughbred, a culmination of speed and stamina at the apex of animal athleticism. They brought a new culture of horse fancy to the English and Europe, encouraging selective breeding and a society that turned to the Thoroughbred for work and pleasure. Today, the breed is represented by champions and paddock-ornaments alike, versatile and the carriers of a proud and ancient heritage.


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    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      Gofygur, Very informative and well written article. Nice work.

    • Gofygure profile image

      Gofygure 5 years ago from Kutztown, PA

      Thanks! All the horse racing news lately means I have Thoroughbreds on my mind. :)

    • Derby Deals profile image

      Derby Deals 4 years ago from Jeffersonville, Indiana

      Great article!! I love soaking up information on these magnificent animals.

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