Origins of the Thoroughbred

01st July 2022

Horseracing is the second most popular spectator sport in the country and nowhere more so than in Yorkshire. The county is steeped in racing history and the industry is worth over £300 million to Yorkshire’s economy.

But a lesser know fact is where the modern-day thoroughbred originated – of course it was in Yorkshire!

Charlotte Russell from Go Racing In Yorkshire said,

“Racing is so prevalent in Yorkshire, but not many people are aware of its contribution to the origins of the modern-day thoroughbred. As a county with nine racecourses, two major training centres, the National Horseracing College, Goffs sales ring and Jack Berry House, it’s not surprising to learn that Yorkshire was involved right at the beginning.”

Charles II was responsible for resurrecting the Sport of Kings in the 1660’s and while Newmarket became the racing centre, it’s renaissance began in Yorkshire.

The three founding stallions, The Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian and Godolphin Arabian were either from or have close connections to the white rose county. They were among the Oriental stallions imported to Britain in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. The Byerley Turk took up residence with Captain Robert Byerley at Goldsborough Hall near Knaresborough, where he is also buried, while the Darley Arabian was a gift from Thomas Darley to his brother Henry, who lived at Aldby Park, near York.

The Godolphin Arabian eventually made his way into the ownership of Lord Godolphin and lived at his stud at Gog Magog in Cambridgeshire. Lord Godolphin had family and friends in Yorkshire, he was the godfather of Sir Marmaduke Wyvill, from Constable Burton, who’s daughter was married to King Charles II’s stud master, giving him access to some well-bred mares.

Of all the stallions that were imported, it is the genes of these three stallions that prevailed. They combined to produce the three progenitors, Matchem, Herod and Eclipse. These three horses share 14 common ancestors and the Byerley Turk is found in each of these pedigrees, along with either the Darley Arabian or the Godolphin Arabian.

Today, 95% of all thoroughbreds trace their genetics back to Eclipse through the male tail line and hence the Darley Arabian. The Byerley Turk is represented through Herod of whom, Pearl Secret, a winner of the Beverley Bullet, who stands at Norton Grove stud near Yorkshire, is one of the very few stallions continuing this line. Alarmingly the Matchem line, which descends from the Godolphin Arabian and the Herod/Byerley Turk line are in serious decline.

Go Racing In Yorkshire is keen to promote the Yorkshire heritage of the modern thoroughbred and a dedicated website has been developed to provide more information.