The Three Founding Sires Of Thoroughbred Racing

By: Gen Wright


The Thoroughbred is the most well-known breed of racehorse in the world. Apart from racing, Thoroughbreds are also bred - with some strategic cross-breeding also involved - for show jumping, polo, hunting, combined training and dressage. They have also been cross-bred to improve the blood of other breeds, such as the Standardbred, the Quarter Horse, the Anglo Arabian and certain Warmblood breeds.

All the Thoroughbreds in Britain today can trace their ancestry back to the Three Foundation Sires brought to England from the Middle East between the late 1600s and early 1700s. These are the Godolphin Arabian(1729), Darley Arabian(1704), and the Byerley Turk(1680s). There are 74 Foundation mares who mated with the Foundation sires, and they came from a variety of breeds among England's racing horses.

Byerley Turk was captured by Captain Robert Byerley at the 1686 Battle of Buda. In 1689, he was sent to Ireland with his master to be part of King William's War, and they served in the Battle of Boyne as well. The horse is said to have been dark brown in color, with well-known Arabian features such as his arched neck, large eyes, and high-carried tail.

Byerley Turk traces his line to relatively few of today's Thoroughbreds - 3.3% as opposed to the Godolphin Arabian's 13.8% and the Darley Arabian's 95%.

The Godolphin Arabian, also known as the Godolphin Barb, is named after his most famous owner, Francis Godolphin, 2nd Earl of Godolphin. There is some controversy as to whether the Godolphin horse was actually an Arabian or a Barb, and this controversy continued to shroud him until his offspring Lath won the Queen's Plate at the Newmarket races nine successive times. About fifteen hands high, this bay horse has seen its descendants mating with those of Byerley Turk and Darley Arabian to produce several winning Thoroughbreds through the years.

The Darley Arabian is the most famous and most important of the three Foundation Sires. He was a bay Arabian, bought in Syria in 1704 by Thomas Darley. From what information can be accessed, the Darley Arabian was a sight for sore eyes - beautiful and refined, and about 15 hands high.

Like both the other Foundation Sires - coincidentally enough - the Darley Arabian also saw his paternal line continued by one single descendant for four generations. In this case, the bearer of the line was the iconic Eclipse, who was Darley Arabian's great-great-grandson. Recently, research has revealed that over 95% of today's stallions have a Y-chromosome that is identical to the Darley Arabian.

Thoroughbreds are among the most famous, coveted and prized breeds of horses. They are known for their speed and agility on the track, and their "hot-blooded" temperament off it.

What makes the Thoroughbred special is the high percentage of Type IIa muscle fibers it carries. Type IIa muscle fibers generate great speed but also allow for endurance, which is why the Thoroughbred is as fast as the fastest and can still maintain its speed for considerable distances in horse races.

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