Why Competitors at Aintree, Cheltenham & Epsom turned to buying Thoroughbreds.
The history of thoroughbred horses is as old as horse racing in Britain. The first horse races on the British Isles were dated back to the time of the Romans, and likely a tradition of horse racing existed even further back. As horse racing evolved, the need for faster, stronger, and more hot-blooded horses arose. And thus, the history of the thoroughbred begins in the 3rd century AD.
Although what we consider to be a thoroughbred was first recorded in the 17th and 18th century in Britain, the seeds of this stock were planted back in the 3rd century when Arab and Barb horses were imported. These breeds were much stronger than anything native to the isles, and soon these stallions began to breed with local mares to produce faster and stronger horses now witnessed within British venues such as Cheltenham Racecourse.
Before, while horse races were always a common sport, the horses used tended to not be breed specifically for horse races. They were work horses, and selective breeding as we now know wasn’t part of the scientific community at the time. A horse for racing had to be fast and strong, naturally, but would also need to work in a field or transport a rider.
The ancestors of all modern-day thoroughbreds were three stallions imported during the 17th and 18th century. These were Byerley Turk, who arrived in the 1680s, Darley Arabian in 1704, and finally Godolphin Arabian in 1729. These horses were much larger, and stronger, than the native English stallions, and so they were introduced to a variety of mares in the hopes of having great sires.
Given the prominence of thoroughbreds in modern horse racing, we can say these introductions were a success. What makes thoroughbreds successful in modern races is due to their large size, stamina, and feisty nature. Unlike other workhorses, thoroughbreds are very spirited which translates well into races.
The buying and selling of thoroughbreds dates back to around the time this breed began to take off in Britain during the 1700s, as well as the establishment of well-known races such as the Classics races and the St. Leger Stakes. The offspring of those three stallions were proving themselves to be fast, and with modern for the time record keeping, the linage of each horse could be successfully traced.
With better record keeping, the popularity of thoroughbreds skyrocketed in Britain, and by the 1850s the breed was imported to America. Of course, thoroughbreds at the time like they are now were very expensive. With proper record to trace their lineage, a thoroughbred of the 1700s and 1800s could cost what is the equivalent of thousands of modern-day pounds.
That said, the price is much cheaper than a thoroughbred now. The purchase of a thoroughbred, especially one that has significant championships, can be hundreds of thousands of pounds. Some horses sell for over three hundred thousand pounds or more if their linage is well known. Because of their cost, and the upkeep cost, thoroughbreds were treated much differently than regular horses. They weren’t bred to work, but to race.
The upkeep of a thoroughbred, much like today, wasn’t cheap. Thoroughbreds need a specialized diet that’s rich in energy, calcium, and other important nutrients. They need spaces to run, to train which makes them an expensive challenge for anyone wanting to own one, let alone even consider racing one.
With an expensive price tag, but with great deals of stamina, it’s no wonder why most if not all major races worldwide use thoroughbreds. The modern horse racing we know and love today likely would never have existed if it wasn’t for the likes of thoroughbreds. They are bigger, and more importantly faster. Racetracks could be extended, inviting more spectators to the races as opposed to just the nobility.
We owe a great deal of praise for thoroughbreds and how they improved horse races. While they’re spirits might be wild, at least according to some, there is no denying that this fighting spirit is what makes this breed one of the fastest in the world. Without those original three stallions all those hundreds of years ago, the modern racehorse and racehorses as we know them may never have existed. With a rich history behind them, we can all appreciate just how important thoroughbreds are.