The Big Three
The Darley Arabian
Perhaps the most influential of the three founding sires, is the direct male line ancestor of approximately ninety percent of all of today’s Thoroughbreds. The Darley Arabian was a bay horse, of almost 15 hands, foaled in 1700. His original name was either Manak or Manica. Discovered in the Syrian Desert owned by Sheikh Mirza II of the Fedan Bedouins, the British Consul in Syria, Thomas Darley tried to purchase this fine young horse which he believed to be a pure Arabian.
As the legend is told, Darley and the Sheikh had agreed to a price of three hundred gold sovereigns. As Darley was awaiting his prized purchase, he was to discover that the Sheikh had changed his mind and was to renege on the deal. Darley was eager to bring this horse back to England so he devised a clandestine removal of the horse from the Sheikh’s possession through some sailors he was acquainted with. The colt was smuggled out, via Smyrna by the sailors. This cost Darley exactly one fine rifle in return for the sailor’s services.
Two of his sons, the full brothers Bartlet’s Childers and Flying Childers (out of the mare Betty Leeds), were his best. The latter was an exceptionally fast horse considered the greatest ever until Eclipse came along. Bartlet’s Childers however was the stallion who perpetuated the line at stud. Eclipse is his direct male line great grandson. The Darley Arabian’s great granddaughter Cypron produced Herod, another great sire to emerge in the early development of the Thoroughbred.
The Byerley Turk
Bred in 1680, this founding sire is the oldest of the three. It was reported that he was quite enjoyable to handle and was exceptionally fast but was never raced in an official recorded race. It is believed that his importation to England was through the siege of Buda in 1686 and 1687, along with the Lister Turk, thus both horses became the spoils of war. The Duke of Berwick had joined with Charles of Lorraine’s forces to repel the raiders. Captain Byerley was also part of this campaign. The young Duke laid claim to the Lister Turk with Byerley to take his prize.
He became Robert Byerley’s personal charger when Byerley commanded the sixth Dragoon Guards before he was to become one of the Thoroughbred breed’s founding sires. Byerley and his new charger were to serve in Ireland. Legend has it that the Byerley Turk was raced at Downpatrick on the way to the Battle of Boyne, 1690. If this were true then, this is where the horse’s speed would have been discovered.
Byerley, who was now a Lieutenant Colonel, retired from military duty and set up his breeding operation, first at Midrange Grange and then at Goldsborough Hall in North Yorkshire in 1697.
The Byerley Turk sired many winners in his day but his sire line has only survived through his great, great grandson Herod. The Byerley Turk’s influence through mares however is very important. His great granddaughter Partner Mare was the dam of the important early sire Matchem and in the direct female line of the important sire Whalebone.
The Godolphin Arabian
The Godolphin Arabian was the youngest of the three founding sires as he was bred in 1724. Of the three founding sires, his back story and acquisition seems to have more riddles than hard known truths. Believed to be foaled in either Morocco or Yemen, he was actually thought to be of Berber origin and is referred to by some as the Godolphin Barb. He lived a somewhat checkered life until it was discovered that as a stallion he could breed very fast and durable race horses.
He was given as a gift to King Louis XVI of France by the Bey of Tunis who, it is presumed, had acquired the horse through Syria, as one of several stallions within a lot of five. However the King had no interest in the horse. He was sold to an Englishman, Edward Coke of Derbyshire who, as the legend says, had noticed the horse pulling a water cart and liked what he saw. He was brought to England in 1731 and later bequeathed to a tavern owner named Mr. Williams, upon the death of Coke in 1733. Williams could not get the horse to train for racing, due to his somewhat difficult temper and thusly sold him to Lord Godolphin.
He was then used as a teaser on the Lord’s farm near Cambridge. While he was at Gogmagog Stud he was finally bred to an Arab mare called Roxana. The resulting foal was Lath, who became one of the best horses at the races. The Godolphin Arabian, as he was now known, became a hot sought after stallion. He also got Regulus and Cade, the latter of which became the sire of Matchem.