As the popularity of Thoroughbred racing increased in the UK, so too did the commitment of breeders and owners to improving the breed. The establishment of The Derby, The Oaks and other races which we have come to know as the classics, became the most important races on the calendar every year. The General Stud Book became recognized as the single most important registry of Thoroughbreds. All Thoroughbreds foaled were to be entered in the book and only Thoroughbreds within the book could be bred to each other to qualify future foals as being true to the breed.
The stallions and mares of the day had generation upon generation of Stud Book approved Thoroughbreds in their pedigrees. With the meticulous work in keeping such records now established, the English Thoroughbred became a breed of horse apart from other horse breeds. This system of recording the bloodlines was quickly adopted in the US and then copied worldwide.
While the racing system was beginning to stabilize and take the form we all familiar with, the horses bred for the races were becoming faster and stronger. The efforts of the breeders, trainers, jockeys and stable hands were starting to pay off in breed improving equine athletes. Many successful runners became fan favourites at race courses throughout the UK, and legends were born. The human fascination of these wonderfully exquisite horses became big news and spawned a love affair with the Thoroughbred breed that is still going strong today.
The popularity of Thoroughbred racing was growing on a global basis, no doubt helped by the advent of betting, legal or otherwise, at the races. It became an audience participation sport as much as a spectacle of color and excitement. The big races attracted big crowds, eager to see the best horses compete, and perhaps back the winner with their own money. Big race meets were to become the fashionably chic places to go. Stud books under development outside England would eventually merge together on a global scale with the English Stud Book, but this would take some time and with a great deal of controversy.
During this evolutionary period, the Thoroughbred breed being developed in other nations was also improving. European countries, especially France and Italy, were developing the breed at their own pace while across the Atlantic in the US and Canada, the breed was beginning to take shape. The importation of good, but not the best, stallions and broodmares to North America served to give breeders access to some of the blood lines developed in England. Furthermore, Australia and New Zealand were also importing Thoroughbreds from England to enhance and improve the bloodlines there.
The first Derby winner Diomed was imported to the US after standing unsuccessfully in England. He along with Messenger, Sharp and Medley became the four most important sires in American breeding during this time. Messenger became the founding sire of American standardbred trotters and pacers as well as contributing to the Thoroughbreds of the day, while Diomed at the age of 21 when he arrived in America, sired Haynie’s Maria, Potomac, Duroc , who sired American Eclipse, the undefeated but evil tempered Ball’s Florizel and the very fine Sir Archy. Sir Archy was the branch of Diomed’s line which led to the great Lexington.