One of the things that makes horseracing such a unique sport is horse ancestry. Every horse which competes at a thoroughbred racetrack today can trace its lineage to one of three horses. The Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian, and Byerley Turk are the ancestral sires of all thoroughbreds. The original goal was to create a pure bloodline of the best performance horses on the planet. Those who have a fondness for racing history will appreciate some information on each of these amazing animals.
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The Byerley Turk
The first horse to be imported to England for the purpose of siring thoroughbreds was the Byerley Turk. This horse was named after his owner, Captain Byerley, and was a famous war horse. Many battles were seen by this horse. Perhaps the most famous was the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. In this battle the horse showed tremendous courage while being ridden by Captain Byerley.
The Byerley Turk was obviously chosen for his hardiness and spirit, but once he arrived in England he sired only a few foals in comparison to the other two studs. Nevertheless, his progeny are still racing and siring their own foals today.
There is less known about this Arabian than his two counterparts. Perhaps that is because he was the first to arrive. Those who specialize in handicapping bloodlines take great pains to measure how the offspring of this horse perform under a variety of conditions.
The Darley Arabian
Next to arrive was the Darley Arabian. This horse was also named after his owner, Thomas Darley. Darley found the animal in Syria and negotiated a private purchase in 1704. The horse was immediately sent to England and entered stud service.
The results were immediately impressive. One of the first horses sired by the Darley Arabian was Bartlett’s Childers. This horse in turn sired Eclipse, one of the most successful racehorses of all time. The yearly awards for excellence in horseracing are named after Eclipse. The horse was so famous that his skeletal remains are preserved to this day in Newmarket at the National Horseracing Museum.
About 95% of thoroughbreds competing today are descended from the Darley Arabian, making this sire far and away the most successful of the three original thoroughbred sires.
One of the most popular thoroughbred owners today is Sheikh Mohammed, leader of the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Mo, as he is affectionately known to race fans, named his breeding operation after the Darley Arabian.
The Godolphin Arabian
It did not originally seem that the Godolphin Arabian was destined for greatness in the breeding shed. It is believed that the horse was born in Morocco. At some point he was given as a gift to King Louis XV of France. The king apparently did not think much of his present. The horse ultimately ended up pulling a cart through the streets of Paris.
Edward Coke arranged to buy the horse and then sold him to the Earl of Godolphin upon his return to England. Noted for his small stature, the Godolphin Arabian had a reputation for producing small offspring. The legendary Seabiscuit, himself a small horse with a warrior’s spirit, was descended from the Godolphin Line.
Godolphin Racing Stables, led by Sheikh Mohammed of the UAE, is named after this legendary sire. While there are not many of his line left today, Godolphin offspring continue to compete and sire champions.
All thoroughbreds today must be DNA tested to verify their connection to one of the three original sires. Additionally, a Stud Book is maintained by the Jockey Club which documents are verifies the bloodlines of all thoroughbred horses. If you are able to touch a race horse, be aware that you are touching history!
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