Race of the Week 2017

The Death of the Thoroughbred Triumvirate

Matchem 1

The Thoroughbred Horse was established on the basis that it contained the blood of one of the three original foundation sires (the Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian). These three oriental stallions, when crossed with native English stock, gave birth to the ancestors of the racehorse we know and love today. All three were extremely popular stallions who lived around the same time and had a profound impact on the world of racing.

After this original triumvirate came the second round of foundation stallions, horses who were examples of what the modern racehorse actually looked like. These three stallions were Matchem ( representing the Godolphin Arabian sire line) and the Duke of Cumberland’s duo, King Herod (representing the Byerly Turk sire line) and the undefeated Eclipse (representing the Darley Arabian sire line). Since 1804, England’s most prestigious race, the Epsom Derby, has been won by a horse who descended from one of these three. I, however, was not content to leave it there and my findings have been both troubling and insightful. In the process, I have developed a modern triumvirate.

The criteria for a foundation sire was that he be the most popular descendant of his branch, and that he stamp his descendants in the major modern races. Below are the three stallions who I found best  represented the lines of Godolphin, Darley, and Byerley.

Man O’ War (1917 | Fair Play - Mahubah by Rock Sand)

Man O’ War, one of the most highly regarded horses of the past century, best represents the line of the Godolphin Arabian by way, of course, of Matchem. Through his son War Relic, he has passed along his sire line to top stallions Tiznow, Honour and Glory, and Bertrando.

Phalaris (1913 | Polymelus - Bromus by Sainfoin)

Phalaris is by far the most popular stallion worldwide. Through his descendants Native Dancer, Northern Dancer, and Nearco, he represents the Darley Arabian in being the sire of a good majority of the leading stallions of modern times. He traces, like many horses do, to the great Eclipse.

The Flying Dutchman (1845 | Grey Eagle - Blinkey by Muckle John)

A more obscure stallion, The Flying Dutchman is the ancestor of modern Australian star Dunaden, by way of King Herod to the Byerley Turk.

These three stallions dominate racing internationally today. Almost every American Classic Winner from the past forty years has descended through his sire line to one of these stallions, and every single one has descended in some way to this modern triumvirate. Below are the sire lines of the first three finishers of the Triple Crown since 1995.


Orb (Phalaris)

Oxbow (Phalaris)

Palace Malice (Phalaris)


I’ll Have Another (Phalaris)

I’ll Have Another (Phalaris)

Union Rags (Phalaris)


Animal Kingdom (Phalaris)

Shackleford (Phalaris)

Ruler on Ice (Phalaris)


Super Saver (Phalaris)

Lookin at Lucky (Phalaris)

Drosselmeyer (Phalaris)


Mine That Bird (Phalaris)

Rachel Alexandra (Phalaris)

Summer Bird (Phalaris)


Big Brown (Phalaris)

Big Brown (Phalaris)

Da Tara (Man O’ War)


Street Sense (Phalaris)

Curlin (Phalaris)

Rags to Riches (Phalaris)


Barbaro (Phalaris)

Bernardini (Phalaris)

Jazil (Phalaris)


Giacomo (Himyar>Eclipse)

Afleet Alex (Phalaris)

Afleet Alex (Phalaris)


Smarty Jones (Phalaris)

Smarty Jones (Phalaris)

Birdstone (Phalaris)


Funny Cide (Phalaris)

Funny Cide (Phalaris)

Empire Maker (Phalaris)


War Emblem (Phalaris)

War Emblem (Phalaris)

Sarava (Phalaris)


Monarchos (Phalaris)

Point Given (Phalaris)

Point Given (Phalaris)


Fusaichi Pegasus (Phalaris)

Red Bullet (Phalaris)

Commendable (Phalaris)


Charismatic (Phalaris)

Charismatic (Phalaris)

Lemon Drop Kid (Phalaris)


Real Quiet (Phalaris)

Real Quiet (Phalaris)

Victory Gallop (Phalaris)


Silver Charm (Phalaris)

Silver Charm (Phalaris)

Touch Gold (Phalaris)


Grindstone (Phalaris)

Louis Quatorze (Phalaris)

Editor’s Note (Phalaris)


Thunder Gulch (Phalaris)

Timber Country (Phalaris)

Thunder Gulch (Phalaris)

Yes, you just read that right. 96% of our past Triple Crown races have been won by horses descending from Phalaris (Darley Arabian). Only a longshot winner could provide Man O’ War with a Belmont Stakes victory (2008), while The Flying Dutchman and the Byerley Turk didn’t show up here a single time.

And perhaps, if you were careful you also noticed another name: Himyar. Himyar is the American strain of the Eclipse > Darley Arabian line. He descends from the great American horses Lexington, Sir Charles, Boston, and Sir Archy. His descendants include the mighty Domino, Holy Bull, Broad Brush, Ack Ack, Alsab, undefeated Colin, and a living descendant, Include.

This information shows us the drastic superiority of the Phalaris line through its branches by way of Ribot, Native Dancer, and Northern Dancer. It shows us how inbred our horses are (to the Darley Arabian sire line) and how, though they are spread throughout the world, they are all essentially cousins.

But the information also has some damaging effects. Its superiority is so extreme that it could easily over take Man O’ War’s (Godolphin Arabian) line and it already has taken over The Flying Dutchman’s  (Byerley Turk) line. Dunaden (standing in France) is virtually the only hope for the Byerley Turk's sire line to continue to exist, while Himyar’s hopes rest on the shoulders of Include (standing at Airdrie) and Giacomo (stood formerly Adena Springs). It’s scary to think we could lose all this outcrossing and the soundness and history it brings with the loss of a single horse.

Written by Colin K.


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Older Comments about The Death of the Thoroughbred Triumvirate...

Of course OH one who NEVER READS (I can tell because I wrote the article) anything of the realities of the racing game. In your world anything you create is gospel, should it be sartin pace laws or the word great. FIND the book read where you missed the boat YET AGAIN> (nice amino touch there)
this was a great read. nice job Colin. 96% of basically descending from the same line is pretty scary. lots of inbreeding...
Of course OH one who NEVER READS anything of the realities of the racing game. In your world anything you create is gospel. FIND the book read where you missed the boat YET AGAIN>
What Sysonby has explained is irrelevant to what I discuss here. There were numerous arab and native english influences who play a far smaller part than the Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian, or even Byerley Turk. There significance in a sire line perspective is little to none.
READ the history of the Whetherby family and their stud book and you will find evidence of EXACTLY what Synsoby has explained.
There were a lot more than three arabian or barb stallions that gave rise to the thoroubred breed, so we've most likely lost founding stallion lines, as stallion lines, a number of times in the past. As well, arabians and barbs were being imported to England probably before the 11th century, which is the first documented importation. The top imported stallions would have bred to mares from those sire lines, so again the barb and arab influence foes well beyond those founding sires. It would be interesting to see how much of that genepool remained available through the distaff side. Interesting article.
Kay. Some would say we lost a lot of the American bloodlines, like Ben Brush, Hanover etc. etc. because of the propensity in the 1920's and on for bringing in all the European horses. Bradley and others helped keep the Sweep line alive by continuing to breed into those lines. Other breeders didn't.
I was reading a book about the Great Match Race between American Eclipse and Henry. American Eclipse sounds like he was a truly great champion. He ran in the four mile heats and was only defeated in one heat over his career (and under extenuating circumstances). He was tough, talented, healthy (lived to be 33), and was a very good sire. Why am I bringing him up here? He was from the Byerly Turk line. Did we lose some of the stamina and toughness in the breed when the breeders turned away from this stallion line? (His broodmare sire, incidentally, was Messenger - the foundation father of standardbreds - also known for their toughness. Messenger carried a LOT of blood from the Godolphin Arabian. Again - have we lost toughness and stamina with the lessening of that stallion line as well)?
I used to follow horse racing alot; however, my life long love has been Man O War. I still have my childhood book, King of the Wind. He definately would have won the Triple Crown.
Nice article, Colin! Dunaden isn't retired yet, but I hope he gets some attention when he does. He's about as durable as they come.
we have that great chart of sire lines up in the press box and it is dominated by one line and the Byerly Turk is just about gone.
Very nice work, cocoa. As always, you demonstrate passion and ability exceptional for someone so young.
Nice job cocoa.
Cirrus des Aigles descends from the Byerley Turk (he is actually inbred to him!) by way of the Flying Dutchman
And duh - the horse whose name I was trying to remember was Nicobar - the sire of Dunaden. Also, I believe Cirrus de Aigles (sadly a gelding) is by a Bylerly line stallion? I do not know if his sire has any sons to follow him at stud?
Hope for the future: a lovely colt born this year sired by Legal Jousting (let us hope he can help keep the Bylerly line alive) http://www.pedigreequery.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=34637
There are still a few Byerly line stallions at stud. One is Legal Jousting over in Ontario. There is one on France whose name escapes me at the moment (it is in the middle of the night and I just got home from work so my brain is mushy) but he sired a recent Melbourne Cup winner. I want to say a horse who won a race in Dubai in the last year or two also was sired by a Byerly line stallion????
the breed is desparately in need of new stamina and genes that will give bone to the legs. They need to re-introduce the Arabian blood
The Byerely line is almost extinct is it not?
IF you went to the family that owned and owns the English Stud book, you will find that they have put out two publications as to the hsitory of the breed and they debink this nice story by telling you or all the early stallion blood that either died our or was nor recorded. Kind of like the fallacy that baseball was "invented" in Cooperstown NY, there were many more early inputs to the breed that just those three.

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