Starting with the importation of Turk, Barb, and Arab, also known as Oriental stallions in the mid 17th century, we can begin to track the origins of the modern Thoroughbred racehorse. English nobles wished to increase the endurance of their swift Hobby, known to be very fast upwards of 600 yards. Cross breeding some 100 Oriental stallions to Hobby mares produced horses that could carry unusually high amounts of speed over long distances. The desire for such a horse can be rooted to Charles II who created the King’s Plate, a 4-mile race restricted to 6 year old horses, in the year 1665.
This new cross of Oriental stallion and Hobby mare created
the first known thoroughbreds. The best performing
of these offspring were then inbred to each other creating its own distinct
breed, or as we know it, the Thoroughbred.
To track this new breed and the success of the bloodlines the General
Stub Book (1791) was created.
Thoroughbred. Thorough bred.
Thoroughly bred. The sheer name
of the breed suggests nobility. The sons
and daughters were planned with the intent to carry on a lineage that will
better the breed. This morning, I landed
from a business trip to find that I’ll Have Another, the winner of this year’s
Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, was sold to a Japanese stud. Like some of his predecessors, Sunday Silence, Charismatic, and Empire Maker, the Japanese breeders had a larger
desire to carry their bloodlines than those of the champions’ birthplace.
As disappointing as this is to a US racing fan, it is
something that we have been doing with this breed for hundreds of years. Now Japan is just trying to find new Stallions
to mix with their mares, just like their English counterparts did nearly 400
years ago. But in today’s racing age, does
this put the Japanese ahead of, or behind the respective “breeding curve?”
Some people will say the USA lost a potential great
stallion. Some will say the Japanese
took a huge financial risk on an unproven stallion. I will say that the Japanese are just
looking to create a “new breed.” How
often do international horse racing debates begin with “the US Thoroughbred” is
not designed to compete in the types of races run in Europe? Or we could equally argue the inverse in that
“the European Thoroughbred” cannot compete well in US style races (I’m referring
to dirt). I look at both of these
arguments and say they are both right, and both wrong. Thinking on it, we have just created 2
different breeds of horse. One is bred
for breathtaking speed on dirt and to excel as a juvenile. The other desires to have greater endurance, an
explosive turn of foot, and a love for deep, heavy turf.
So where do the Japanese fit into this? They import classy European mares, and swift
US stallions. The result, aside from a grumpy population of racing fans confused why owners
are “selling out” their superstars for top dollar, are fantastic Japanese racehorses. I believe the Japanese are either inadvertently or intentionally doing what the whole world should be doing.
They are looking ahead, trying to better the breed, and create a horse
worthy of their ancestors that are, in fact, thoroughly bred.