The Foundation Sires of the Thoroughbred Horse
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.