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The British Thoroughbred

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



HORSES—THE BRITISH THOROUGHBRED—British Ancestry—What combination of causes produced the British thoroughbred it would be almost futile to inquire, for the combination was in most cases more or less fortuitous, and the extraordinary result must have been, in the last century, quite unexpected. It is not intended here to deal in detail with the origin of our horses, but it may be stated with absolute confidence that while vitality, quality and stamina were gained from Eastern sources, speed was in the first instance derived from the native English breed. This proposition can have its truth on the one part demonstrated to-day by the fact that not the highest caste Arab, however admirable for other purposes, can gallop even as against a polo pony of its own size, while on the other hand we know from Gervase Markham that the native English-bred horses did excel in speed, long before the stud-book was thought of. Thus, he writes :

" Again, for swiftness, what nation hath brought forth a horse which hath exceeded the English ?—when the best Barbaries that ever were in their prime, I saw them overrunne by a black hobbie at Salisbury ; yet that hobbie was more overrunne by a horse called Valentine, which Valentine, neither in hunting or running was ever equalled, yet was a plain bred English horse both by syre and dam."

The incident referred to was described as above in the reign of James I., and it may be further gathered that during that reign the public races were contested by a breed distinct from, and more speedy than, Arabs ; that is to say, a native breed, including " hobbies," which had preserved the native distinctions of form and head, but had never been surpassed by the very best Arabs ever raced against them.

" In other words," writes that veteran authority, Mr. Joseph Osborne, "the breed was British because it was Britain that produced its excellence, and it retained the native characteristics in a paramount degree despite any Eastern crosses that may have been in it." The Arab blood exercised a purifying, refining influence which has, by luck rather than design, built up on the native British foundation the extraordinary thoroughbred which we now know ; but it is clear that, without such a foundation, that result could never have been achieved. Many nations have had greater facilities than England for using Eastern blood, but none have succeeded in producing horses of anything like such character, insomuch that the Britishthoroughbred has to be imported, not merely for racing, but for the production of cavalry remounts and other active horses, to all parts of the world, and without constant recurrence to the parent stock the breed, save in Great Britain and Ireland, can nowhere be maintained without degeneration.

Arabian Blood—Without going further into the origin of the British thoroughbred, it may be stated that every such animal in the stud book of the present day, in this country or in any other, descends in tail male from one of three original Eastern sires, the Darley Arabian, the Byerly Turk, or the Godolphin Arabian, or, to earmark them more clearly by their respective and responsible representatives, from Eclipse, Herod, or Matchem. Of course, in the composition of the horses of that day, a vast number of strains of blood, Eastern and otherwise, was involved, but the prepotency of the strongest lines in tail male gradually asserted itself, till only three families, as above stated, remained. Whereas the Godolphin and Byerly Turk lines were in the late days of the last century and the earlier ones of the present most strongly sup-ported, the descendants of Eclipse have ever since been swamping the, others, not only in this country, but all over the world. The extra-ordinary character of this phenomenon may be proved from the winning statistics of any recent year. Taking at random the season of 1893, we find there were in this country 709 tail male descendants of Eclipse who won 1,298 races, value £384,197, whereas there were but 41 winners claiming descent from the Godolphin Arabian, with 78 races, worth, in all, L19,116 to their credit ; and, from the Byerly Turk, 85 winners of 146 races, worth L33,280. Such a result as this cannot be explained away by the doctrine of mere chance, more especially when it is found that such Godolphin or Byerly Turk winners as exist are built up in almost every line of their pedigrees except the top one by the Darley Arabian.

Original Mares—Rightly to understand, this remarkable situation, we have also to analyse descent in tail female, and here the eminent Australian authority, the late Mr. Bruce Lowe, whose Breeding Racehorses by the Figure System has already become a classic, renders in-valuable assistance. He carries us back, not to the original sires, but to the original mares, and though these are more numerously represented in tail female at the present day than are the original sires in tail male, we none the less find an almost similar phenomenon—that a very few of them monopolise all the important winners of the past and present. Mr. Bruce Lowe based his figure system on the plain common-sense idea of judgment by results, and placed the original mares in order, 1, 2, 3, &c., in accordance with the number of classic winners (counting only Derby, Oaks, and Leger) which had descended in the female line from each of them. He also dealt with the further attribute of sire potency, inherent in certain of these families and due to robust native blood. These families he classed as "sire families," and attached to them an importance altogether apart from the order of merit by winning results, though number 3 family comes out successful under either test. and is, by consequence, perhaps the best family of all.

It would be absurd to produce here any mere theories, but results render the figure system in-controvertible. To put it in a nutshell, there have been 358 winners of the Derby, Oaks, and Leger, and the original mares still represented number 43, or rather more ; but of the 358 winners no fewer than 202 trace in tail female to those five original mares whom Mr. Bruce Lowe numbered as the "running families."

A remarkable confirmation of this position has been furnished by the eminent German authority, Mr. Hermann Goos, who for some years past has published pedigree tables tracing all horses that are or have been of note in England or on the Continent to their original female sources. He has in his last edition adopted Mr. Bruce Lowe's figures, which, as already explained, are based only on the results of the English Derby, Oaks, and Leger, but the record of these original mares based on all the other big races in England and on the Continent comes out substantially the same ; and of the 5o original mares from which Mr. Goos traces descendants of some note, there are no fewer than 11,618 representatives indexed and accounted for in his tables. These are animals that have won in France, Germany, Austria, and elsewhere, besides England, from the last century until now, and of these no fewer than 4,622—a really amazing proportion, all things considered —descend from the first five mares out of the fifty; in other words, from the " running " families.

It follows almost as a necessary consequence of the above facts that a prudent breeder of bloodstock will, so far as tail male representation goes, secure as much of the Darley Arabian as possible in any proposed pedigree, and in the tail female line at all points will follow without hesitation Mr. Bruce Lowe's figures, which simply show "form at a glance," and are no matter of mere scientific theory. To make the application of the figure system perfectly plain, a brief statement of a pedigree is here given, viz., St. Simon (ii) by Galopin (3) out of St. Angela by King Tom (3). The figures indicate that St. Simon himself belongs to the No. 11 family (The Sedbury Royal Mare), and the same figure would of course attach to his dam and every other ancestress in tail female up to the original. Galopin, the sire of St. Simon, is of the No. 3 family (the dam of the two True Blues), as also is King Tom, the sire of St. Angela ; and so the pedigree may be extended, the figure being added to each fresh horse in the combination, and showing at once how much of the most successful blood is represented.

The Stud Book—The first edition of the first volume of the General Stud Book was published in 1793, and the eighteenth volume has recently been issued by Messrs. Weatherby, whose firm has throughout maintained a high standard of accuracy in the work. No animal can be unconditionally admitted to the book whose pedigree cannot be traced at all points of it to the first volume; but as a question has arisen over the admission of Australasian and American bred race horses, which in some cases take in strains native to their own countries, their inclusion in the English stud book is subject in each instance to a note of reference to the Australian or American stud book, as the case may be. In France, Germany, and throughout the Continent, the race horses are purely English in blood.

The result of the last hundred years of careful breeding and development has been a distinct and continuous improvement of the breed both in size, power, and quality. It is thought by many that the prevalence of short distance racing and the early forcing of yearlings for sale and two-year-olds for racing has to some extent impaired constitution, soundness and stamina, and there may be a certain amount of truth in this view, more especially as the Irish bred horses, reared under more natural conditions, have of late been carrying all before them on the English turf; but there can be no real doubt that such horses as Isinglass, Persimmon and Galtee More—to mention only three of the best of recent years—can challenge comparison with any that have gone before them, both as commanding specimens of the horse in his highest development, and for first-class racing capacity over any distance.

Eclipse, Matchem, Herod—At the pre-sent day the descendants of Eclipse enormously outnumber the other two lines. Of Eclipse's three grandsons that survive in their descendants, Waxy is far the most numerously represented, as from his sons, Whalebone and Whisker, we get the great houses of Birdcatcher, Touchstone and Harkaway. Of these, Birdcatcher has asserted and is asserting supremacy, mainly through Stockwell, the most extraordinary sire of all time, whose blood is coming more than ever to the front this year through Kendal and others of his tail male descendants. The advent of Galopin, however, revived the Blacklock or King Fergus branch of Eclipse ; and the Joe Andrews branch still lives pretty vigorously through the sons and grandsons of Beadsman. All these various branches of Eclipse, as now represented, differ widely in character, the Stockwells being remarkable for size, power and bone, the Galopins for light, wiry, bloodlike frames and fiery, excitable courage, the Beads-mans for truth of symmetry in a medium scale of size.

Matchem lives today only through Mel-bourne, and he again would all but have died out but for Solon. The characteristics of the family are well known. A typical member of it is heavy, very lengthy, lop-eared and short of quality ; yet there have been brilliant horses among them, such as West Australian and Barcaldine. These however were very strongly fortified with Eclipse blood. Mares of Melbourne blood have been very successful, and Persimmon, no doubt, owes his size, bone and power to his dam having two Melbourne crosses.

The Herod line is but feebly represented to-day through descendants of Sweetmeat, Ion, Thormanby, the Flying Dutchman, and Lexington, the last-named of whom had three native American crosses. The characteristics of the family (not including Lexington) are neatness and quality rather than size or bone, though this cannot be said of the Wild Dayrells. Here again the blood has proved valuable in the making of brood mares, those by Macaroni at the present day being remarkably successful, while it was a Flying Dutchman mare that produced Galopin.

Breeders and Sales—In the last volume of the Stud Book 5,239 brood mares are ac-counted for in the year 1896. It is therefore apparent that the breeding of bloodstock is conducted on a very large scale in this country. The age of the thoroughbred horse dates in England and on the Continent from the 1st of January; in Australia it dates from the 1st of August, and this fact alone renders any weight for age comparison between English and Australian horses almost impossible. In England thoroughbred stock is largely bred for sale as yearlings, but a number of the leading supporters of the Turf; such as the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Portland, the Marquis of Zetland, the Earl of Durham, Sir J. Blundell Maple, Bart., the Earl of Rosebery, Mr. Leopold de Rothschild, Mr. Douglas Baird, &c., breed their own racing stock, and have this advantage over public breeders that they have not to make up their yearlings for sale, and are also able to place them all in the charge of first-rate trainers, so that each one gets a fair chance of showing any merit it may possess.

The principal sales of yearlings are held at Ascot, the Cobham Stud, the Newmarket July Meetings, and at Doncaster, when very high prices are often realised, 6,000 guineas pad by Sir J. Blundell Maple for Childwick being the highest up to date. The December sales at Newmarket consist mostly of brood mares, foals, horses in training, and stallions. The] e is scarcely any limit to the value of the thorough-bred horse now that the stakes to be won are of such immense value, and a stallion like St. Simon can command a 500 guineas fee. Or-monde was actually sold for 30,000 guineas, and a similar sum was refused for Galtee More. Offers of 20,000 guineas each made by the late Colonel W. P. Thompson, of Brookdale, U. S. A., for Orme and Ladas were also refused, and Mr. J. E. Platt gave the equivalent of 20,000 guineas for Kendal. Sir J. Blundell Maple paid 15,00o guineas for Common.

Yearlings, according to their growth and development, go into the trainer's charge at an early or late period of the second half of the year, and they are very commonly tried before the season is out. The merits of Bend Or were ascertained by Mr. Robert Peck in the September of that great horse's yearling days.

General Character of the Thoroughbred—Thoroughbred horses are mostly l ay, brown or chestnut in colour. There are also greys, roans, and blacks, but never piebalds or (in these days) duns. Bred primarily for racing purposes, they have long since been found to be of almost inestimable value for the improvement of the breed of horses at large, excepting of course those devoted to heavy draught work. The severe test of training and racing proves better than anything else could do what really are the soundest and best constitutioned animals to breed from. The blood horse is infinitely superior to all half-breeds and commoners in the matter of courage and endurance. Even when degraded to the shafts of a hansom he thoroughly vindicates his class. The distinction was never more clearly marked than when the R.H.A. horses were returning from Egypt after Tel El Kebir, and some came in for shocking weather. On one transport they were over-balanced by the rolling of the vessel, and some-thing over seventy of them simply lay and died. These were the commoners. But a thorough-bred Rosicrucian mare, though she was down at least a dozen times one night, always struggled up again and reached England fit and well. The value of a troop horse or hunter depends almost entirely on the number of crosses of blood that he has in him, no matter how good-looking he may be ; and an actually thoroughbred hunter or charger is far away the best of all, but when up to weight is too valuable to suit average purses.

If it be asked wherein consists the individual character of the British thoroughbred, the answer is by no means a ready one; but it may be stated with confidence that the general conformation is one tending alike to speed and en-durance — lengthy, oblique shoulders, deep brisket without width of chest, and yet plenty of heart room through the fore-ribs; greater length than in any other breed from hip to stifle and from stifle to hock, so that the hind stroke may resemble that of a greyhound ; and that whether the horse stands high behind on a straight hock like Persimmon, or has the more regular type, or has " sickle" hocks, or hocks right away from him. One way or another he must have length, and compensating balances of action will often enable the most oddly shaped animal to defeat what seems a more level built one. Conformation, however, is only-the outward show. The real value of the British thoroughbred is the vital essence which does not appear on the surface. In this connection it need only be observed that some lines of blood are inferior in gameness and constitution. The Hermit line is conspicuously at fault here so far as tail male descent goes, but curiously enough this breed has a great aptitude for jumping and is in its element at National Hunt Meetings.

Briefly, it may be stated in conclusion that the British thoroughbred is the most perfect animal of any sort yet produced in the world ; that his value in improving all other breeds of horses except those devoted to heavy draught work is simply inestimable ; that without racing, however, he would never have been produced, and without the continuance of racing his individual soundness, courage, and constitution could never be discovered. These are facts which it is hardly possible to question, and, as there is every reason to suppose that the sport of racing in this and other countries will continue to flourish, we may be pretty sure that the thoroughbred horse will go on from strength to strength, as he is more and more carefully bred.



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