The Thoroughbred is the fastest and most valuable of the world's breeds, and around it has grown a huge racing and breeding industry. It evolved in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a result of the crossing of imported Arabian stallions with a native stock of "running horses".
Successive monarchs from Henry VIII onward founded Royal studs where the "running horses" were created by mixing Spanish and Italian imports with the Irish Hobby and the Scottish Galloway, subsequently reinforcing with oriental blood. Further impetus was given by Charles II following his restoration in 1660, after which the town of Newmarket became the headquarters of racing.
The breed has three foundation stallions - the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian. The Byerley Turk was captured by Robert Byerley at the Battle of Buda and ridden by him at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. He is responsible for the first of the four great Thoroughbred lines: Herod, Eclipse, Matchem and Highflyer, who was Herod's son. The Darley Arabian came from Aleppo in 1704 and stood in Yorkshire. He was the sire of the first great racehorse, Flying Childers, and the founder of the Eclipse line. The Matchem line is the responsibility of the Godolphin Arabian brought to England in 1728.
The head of the Thoroughbred is clean-cut, lean and very fine with a covering of skin thin enough for the veins to be seen beneath. The profile, unlike that of the breed's Arabian ancestors, is straight. The eyes are big and alert and the nostrils are large. There is no thickness through the jowl, and the ears are alert and mobile. A long, graceful neck running into well-defined withers and a long, sloping shoulder is typical of the Thoroughbred. Depth through the girth allows for maximum expansion of the lungs, essential in a racehorse. Length of proportion characterizes the Thoroughbred and is indicative of speed. However, there must be strength in the back, loins and quarters. The Thoroughbred refinement extends to the body and the coat. They are both fine, and the coat is thin and silky. The action of the breed is long, low and economical. The length of the hind leg from the hip to the hock is long so that the hind legs attain the maximum possible thrust when galloping. Principal colors are brown, bay, chestnut, black and gray, the last a color attributed to the seventeenth century Alcock Arabian. The average Thoroughbred racehorse is 16-16.2hh, but the horses above and below that height are frequently found.
Reference: The Ultimate Horse Book; Elwyn Hartley Edwards; 1991
The Texas Thoroughbred Association
National Thoroughbred Racing Association
Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association
Kentucky Derby - Churchill Downs
Preakness - Pimlico
Belmont Stakes - Belmont
The Breeder's Cup
The Back Stretch
The Performance Horse Registry
The Jockey Club
How to Identify a Thoroughbred
Background picture courtesy of Thoroughbred Gallery
Reference picture courtesy of McDermott Ranch