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Home First Posted: Jan 2, 2010
Aug 3, 2010

Thoroughbred Origins

The Thoroughbred originated in Great Britain and its genetic origin is Arabian. The "foundation" stallions of the breed were: the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian. They were bred to native sprinting mares -- very probably Scottish Galloways -- and the resultant foals were the first Thoroughbreds per se. This happened in the 17th century. The results were horses with strength, speed and stamina.

The General Stud Book was the original breed registry of the United Kingdom for horses. It specifically was used to document the breeding of Thoroughbreds and related foundation bloodstock such as the Arabian horse. In 1791, James Weatherby published Introduction to a General Stud Book, which was an attempt to collect pedigrees for the horses racing then and that had raced in the past. It was filled with errors and was not at all complete, but it was popular and led in 1793 to the first volume of the General Stud Book which had many more pedigrees and was more accurate. Volume one was revised many times, the most important being in 1803, 1808, 1827, 1859 and 1891. The General Stud Book has been owned by Weatherbys ever since; the two horse racing authorities that cover the United Kingdom, the British Horseracing Authority in Great Britain (historically the Jockey Club) and Horse Racing Ireland for all of Ireland, including Northern Ireland, do not maintain the registry. This differs from the American Stud Book which is owned by the United States Jockey Club. General Stud Book

It was left to James Weatherby, through his own research and by consolidation of a number of privately kept pedigree records, to publish the first volume of the General Stud Book.

The Thoroughbred Foundation Stallions

The Byerly Turk

The Byerly Turk by John Wootton

The Byerley Turk or Byerly Turk, (c.1684-1706) was the earliest of three stallions that were the founders of the modern Thoroughbred horse racing bloodstock (the other two are the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian). The stallion is believed to have been captured by Captain Robert Byerley at the Battle of Buda (1686), served as Byerley's war horse when he was dispatched to Ireland in 1689 during King William's War and saw further military service in the Battle of the Boyne. The General Stud Book simply states, without reference to his origins, that both man and horse were in Ireland: Byerly Turk, was Captain Byerly's charger in Ireland, in King William's wars.

The Byerly Turk was reportedly a dark brown horse with the strong oriental or Arabian features of large eyes, arched neck and high carriage of the tail. Many of his offspring were also noted to have been either bay or black. The Byerly Turk

Relatively few modern Thoroughbreds trace their sire-line back to the Byerly Turk. However, one is the Hong-Kong-trained gelding, Cape of Good Hope, who won the 2005 Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot. The Byerley Turk founded a line of Thoroughbreds, the most distinguished of which was Herod, who was foaled in 1758, and proved to be a very successful sire himself.

Stud Record

In 1696, Captain Robert Byerley married his cousin, Mary Wharton (sole heir to the estate of Goldsborough, near Knaresborough, North Yorkshire), England and moved to live with his wife at her family home of Goldsborough Hall. After Byerley retired (as Colonel Byerley), the Byerley Turk retired to stud, first at Middridge Grange, then, from 1697, at Goldsborough Hall, near Knaresborough. The Byerley Turk died there in 1706 and it is believed he is buried close to the Hall. Goldsborough Hall is now a private family home that offers accommodation, which includes the commemorative Byerley suite.

The Byerly Turk was sire of Jigg, who in turn was sire of Partner, sire of Tartar who was the sire of the very good racehorse and influential sire, Herod, who was foaled in 1738. The most famous of his racing offspring was Basto, but he also sired the Byerley Turk mare, founder of Thorougbred family 1; Bowes' Byerley Turk mare, the "Dam of the Two True Blues," the taproot of family 3; plus the Byerley Turk mare that was the taproot of family 41. There are 12 Epsom Derby winners, 10 St. Leger winners, and 14 The Oaks Stakes winners listed in family 1 as descendants of the Byerly Turk.

The Darley Arabian

The Darley Arabian was one of three dominant foundation sires of modern Thoroughbred horse racing bloodstock. This bay Arabian horse was bought in Aleppo, Syria by Thomas Darley in 1704 and shipped back to Aldby Park in England, where he stood at stud, usually private but sometimes open to outside mares. By all accounts, the Darley Arabian stood about 15 hands high and was of substantial beauty and refinement.

The Darley Arabian sired Flying Childers and he was the great-great-grandsire of the extremely influential Eclipse. The Darley Arabian was to become the most important sire in the history of the English Thoroughbred.

Godolphin Arabian

Godolphin Arabian - Painting by George Stubbs in 1792.