British Monarchs have had a huge role to play in developing horse racing as we know it. King Charles I and his son King Charles II played a big role in developing horse racing, wanting to breed better and faster racehorses. But their horses, were on the heavy side. They wanted to make lighter horses without losing any of the speed and stamina. Enter the foundation stallions.
Who are the three foundation stallions
For centuries, knights returning from the crusades spoke of fantastic war horses. These Arab or Turkoman horses were known for their speed, stamina and agility. This sparked the idea that they could be used to improve the current racing stock in Britain. This started with the three foundation stallions. These stallions are the fathers of the thoroughbred.
Owned by Captain Byerley, Byerley Turk was the first imported stallion to be introduced. This ex war horse was described as big, dark brown, almost black with incredible speed. Before being owned by Captain Byerley, he is believed to have been captured from a Turkish officer during a battle. But there is no real evidence to say where he came from. He may have even been born in the UK, sired by other captured Turkish stallions.
While Byerley Turk’s breeding line has nearly died out, the line has continued due to a particularly good stallion ermerging every few generations. A great example of this is one of Byerley Turk’s grandsons, Herod. Herod is one of the modern foundation sires of the thoroughbred.
He was the second stallion to be imported and is arguably the most famous. This is due to how prolific he has been as a sire. Thomas Darley, a wealthy Englishman, purchased Darley Arabian to improve his families own breeding stock. Darley described him as “immediately striking owing to his handsome appearance and exceedingly elegant carriage.”
While Darley Arabian never raced, he was a hugely successful breeding stallion. It is believed that 95% of all modern day thoroughbreds can be traced back to him through the Y chromosome, which is only passed down the male line. His great-great-grandson was Eclipse, another of the modern day foundations stallions. Some of his descendants include Northern Dancer, American Pharoh, Secretariat and Mr. Prospector.
This stallion’s start to life is a bit of a fairytale. We will never know how true this story was, but he was said to have been a gift from the Emperor of Morocco to the King of France. The king is said to have had him pulling carts around Paris. An Englishman spotted him and brought him back to England. On his early death, the stallion was passed onto the Earl of Godolphin, which is where he got his name.
He produced several good sires, including Regulas, who’s daughter foaled Eclipse, and Cade who’s great-grandson was Matchem, the final modern day foundation sires.
Alcock Arabian wasn’t a foundation stallion and his sire line has now died out. He is the grandfather of all grey thoroughbreds.
Modern Foundation Sires
While all thoroughbreds can be traced back to at least one of the foundation stallions, between them they created three stallions what shaped the thoroughbred into what it is today. These stallions are:
Last Updated on 31/03/2023
I owned a thoroughbred that went back to Northern Dancer. She never raced as she had an injury to her front leg. We bred her to a top crabbet Stallion and her first daughter, Arabesque Stardancer produced many anglo-arab Endurance horses. She also was the dam of a foal by our quarter horse stallion. He was called Arabesque Qirab and registered as a part bred Arabian. He was placed sixth in a recent super-long endurance race run in Namibia – that was over 200 km. Must say, Quirab was the fastest, strongest, biggest and most “ornery” part-Arab I ever bred! Sadly, I put down StarDancer this year and miss her a lot. However, I have just purchased another Northern Dancer Thoroughbred mare. Three years old, chestnut, over 16hh and intend breeding registered Appendix Quarter horses with her. That Northen Dancer line breeds FOUR STRONG HOOVES. Never had to shoe my previous thoroughbred and wont be shoeing this one either!!!