20th Century Begins

As the 1800’s became the 1900’s, Thoroughbred racing and breeding was growing by leaps and bounds. It would not be long before radio would broadcast the big races right into the homes of fans who could not attend. Television would take over the mantle in the fifties and sixties, and air the images as well as a race caller’s description. There would be some bumps in the road however, some unavoidable, some not. The prohibition of race betting in the US would trigger a mass exodus of American bloodstock to Europe, creating an outcry in pedigree legitimacy. The controversial and unfortunate Jersey Act in 1913 would be the result.

New race courses would be built while many of the old ones would continue on and enhance the legacies they justifiably earned. Purse money was increasing, making the cost of training a bit more bearable, unless you had a stable of non-winners that is. An entire industry was emerging around the sport. Training centers could now comfortably employ staff on a more permanent basis and pay a more respectable wage. Breeding farms could also do likewise as the sales of yearlings and breeding stock became a more lucrative proposition. Race tracks could employ full time staff for the upkeep and maintenance of the grounds.

The life of a horseman or horsewoman was a life separate from the outside world. Consumed with the passion to care for the health and well being of the horses became a 24/7 lifestyle. If you were not fully committed to this then the chance of success would be nil. Trainers, grooms, hot walkers, exercise riders, farriers, veterinarians and general stable hands all working together to develop winning race horses. When it clicks in harmony, there is nothing quite as gratifying.

The Thoroughbred industry was becoming more of a business, as opposed to a hobby of the rich and privileged.

The war years would cause disruptions, especially in Europe, where the battles were fought. Some of the big races and classics were moved to alternative sites in fear of attack. Also some of the best horses could not participate because of the restricted travel. Many top stallions and broodmares were sent to America, for a substantial price, in order to protect them from the possible harm of war. Such was the commitment of the leaders of the sport to do whatever was needed to preserve the top bloodlines.

Races were becoming shorter in overall distance as the long three mile and beyond races where increasingly less popular. National hunt races and steeplechases kept the longer distances however. Sprint distances of five furlongs to a mile were becoming highly regarded. To this end, breeders were breeding horses for more speed and less endurance. Staying ability was still needed however if a talented horse was to compete for the Derby (12 furlongs) or other prestigious races. The right balance was needed.

The classic twelve furlong race in Europe required horses to carry their speed to this distance. The Ascot Gold Cup, the St. Leger Stakes and other longer races were still highly sought after prizes, however with the Irish Derby and the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) at the twelve furlong distance, the latter was shortened to eleven furlongs in 2005, and the establishment of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, contested at Lonchamps, at the same twelve furlong distance, to become the unofficial season ending championship weight for age race, stamina would still be important

In North America the need for speed was greater. The optimum classic distance of ten furlongs had been established. The Kentucky Derby, now run traditionally on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, would become the first leg of the American Triple Crown. Although the third leg, the Belmont Stakes run in New York, would eventually be twelve furlongs, this was considered as the distance race. The Travers Stakes run in August at Saratoga, known as the midsummer classic, also became a valued prize. This race is at ten furlongs for three year olds as well. Most of the racing in North America is run on harder dirt tracks. This allows for longer meets to be held at the various racing centres. Grass turf racing was and still is available, gaining more popularity as the century rolled on.

Canada tended to follow the US style. The Queen’s/King’s Plate is the oldest continuously run major stakes race in North America. The distances and eligibility changed throughout the century until establishing the present distance of ten furlongs in 1957 for three year olds. The Breeders Stakes became the third jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown and was eventually contested at twelve furlongs on grass.

Australia and New Zealand generally followed the European form of racing with twelve furlongs being the distance for the top classic Derby races in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland etc. The New Zealand Derby run at Ellerslie Race Course, Auckland is also twelve furlongs. However the greatest prize was and still is the Melbourne Cup, run at a distance of two miles (16 furlongs). All races, until quite recently, were on grass courses.

During the early part of the twentieth century, some of the most revered and influential stallions and broodmares were bred. St. Simon the undisputed top stallion when the new century began continued on while others such as his sons Persimmon and St. Frusquin were furthering the legacy. In America Hastings, Domino, Broomstick and Star Shoot were the bosses of the sires while Lochiel and Grafton ruled in Australia. Flying Fox, La Sancy and Rabelais were the top of the French standing stallions.

The oceanic travelling of bloodstock gave breeders the ability to blend different Thoroughbred blood in an attempt to create champions. The progeny of leading sires in various parts of the world would then be dispersed throughout in order to perpetuate the breed. Broader choices gave breeders far more scope to introduce different strains of blood to their existing stock and perhaps discover nicks that developed into a line of championship Thoroughbreds. In 1913 two foals were born who became extremely influential to future generations. The two were Teddy and Phalaris.

Both stallions came from the Bend Or branch from his sire Doncaster back through to Stockwell. Hence these two were direct male line stallions of Eclipse. From Bend Or, came Ormode, Orme, Flying Fox, Ajax then Teddy. While Phalaris came from Polymelus by Cyllene back to Bona Vista, a son of Bend Or.


  • I’m sorry if I missed it, but what about Seattle Skew? So many good race horses have his blood in them, and he was a sire of sires, including A P Indy, and leading North American sire Tappit

  • Well Ruberta, I have posted an article on Seattle Slew for today. I hope you enjoy it. There will be further articles on his descendants in future articles as well.

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