The story of the thoroughbred begins in the 1700s, when three Arabian horses were imported to England. The foals of these stallions and the Royal mares were the first horses to be called thoroughbreds and every racehorse in the world can be traced back to one of these stallions.
The first to be imported was the Byerley Turk. He was a famous warhorse and was at many battles including the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland, where he was ridden by his owner, Captain Byerley. Although he sired relatively few foals, his influence was still strong and his descendents still stand at stud today.
The Darley Arabian was the second horse to be brought to England. He was bought, when he was four years old, by Thomas Darley in Syria in 1704 and became a stallion in Yorkshire, siring a famous horse named Bartlett's Childers. Bartlett's Childers is the great-grandfather of Eclipse, one of the most famous horses ever. Over 95% of thoroughbreds are descended from the Darley Arabian and his great-great-grandson, Eclipse. The skeleton of Eclipse can be seen at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket.
Sheikh Mohammed named his breeding business Darley Stud Management after the Darley Arabian and Dubawi, one of Darley’s most prominent sires, can trace his family back to this foundation stallion.
The last of the three stallions to arrive in England was the Godolphin Arabian, who came from Morocco. He was a gift to King Louis XV of France and was bought in Paris by Edward Coke who is thought to have found him pulling a cart!
He was sold to the Earl of Godolphin who gave him his name. The Godolphin Arabian was small but his sons and daughters have had a lot of success on the track. A famous horse from this line is Seabiscuit who won 33 races and has even had a film made about him.
Sheikh Mohammed’s racing stable Godolphin is, of course, named after the Godolphin Arabian.
As racing and breeding became more popular and the number of thoroughbreds increased, there was a need for breeding information to be recorded. In 1791, a company called Weatherbys in the UK first published the General Stud Book to make sure that each horse really belonged to the parents it was supposed to.
All foals must now be DNA-tested at birth to get into the Stud Book and prove that they are genuinely a thoroughbred.