The Thoroughbred is the most well-known of all the racing breeds, developed from a “need for speed” in the 17th century to satisfy the ever-growing, wildly popular sport of flat racing in England. With the introduction of a handicapping system and better training programs for the equine athletes, it became apparent a better breeding program was also needed.
All modern Thoroughbreds trace their lineage back to three Middle Eastern stallions imported into England in the late 17th/early 18th centuries. They were the Byerley Turk (1680s), the Darley Arabian (1704), and the Godolphin Arabian (1729). (However, a major new study out of the University of Florida has revealed some surprising revelations about the Arabian breed, including the likelihood that the founding “Arabians” that gave rise to the Thoroughbred were Oriental in origin, but probably not Arabians.)
With royal blessing during the reigns of Charles II and Queen Anne, racing and breeding flourished, with the term “thro-bred” first used to describe these race-bred horses in 1713, laying the foundation of the Thoroughbred breed.
The first Thoroughbred to arrive in the US was Bulle Rock in 1730. After the American Revolution, Kentucky and Tennessee became hubs of breeding and racing. Popular match races were held, and the traditional four-mile and multiple-heat formats were changed to shorter races of 5 furlongs to 1.5 miles. Today, Thoroughbreds are bred and raced in countries around the world, commanding staggering sums at yearling auctions and racing for rich purses worth millions of dollars.
Classified among the spirited “hot-blooded” breeds, the Thoroughbred is an attractive and athletic animal ranging from 15.2 -17 hands. A chiseled head sits atop a long neck, high withers, and a deep-chested lean body with long legs. They are intelligent, brave, and possess incredible agility, speed and stamina. Usually bay, brown, chestnut, black, grey, or roan in colour, palomino or true white are very rare.
Regardless of what date they are born, Thoroughbreds have an official ‘birthday’ to help standardize races by age group. If born in the Northern Hemisphere, that date is January 1st; in the Southern Hemisphere it is August 1st.
While the Thoroughbred is primarily bred for racing, if it is not suited to that purpose, or once its career on the track is over, they can be retrained for a variety of equestrian disciplines such as hunter/jumper, eventing, dressage and polo. There are many re-homing organizations in North America and other Thoroughbred racing countries to help match off-the-track thoroughbreds (OTTBs) with new owners.
Some of the most famous thoroughbreds in history include American triple crown winners Sir Barton (1919), War Admiral (1937), Count Fleet (1943), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), American Pharoah (2015), and Justify (2018). Canada’s most famous racehorse, Northern Dancer, won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Queen’s Plate in 1964, then went on to become an influential sire of champions.
For more information, visit:
Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society