If you have even the most basic knowledge of Thoroughbreds, you’ll know that all contemporary representatives of the breed descend from three foundation stallions. These animals, primarily of Arabian origin, are responsible for the beauty, stamina, and incredible turn of speed of almost all modern-day event and racehorses.  

Their names have gone down in history: the Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian. Each prized for their exceptional conformation and good looks, the three were crossed many times over with native mares to create the most influential horse breed of the last four centuries: the inimitable Thoroughbred.

But which of them made the biggest mark on the modern-day animal? We’ve looked through the annals of history to find some answers.    

The Byerley Turk

Today, Thoroughbred horse racing is more popular than ever. So extensive is its following that entire sites are dedicated to finding the best offers out there, with these organized by everything from state to specific characteristics. This means that if you wanted to find a PA casino bonus, for example, you’d be met with an entire page of them. 

But, here’s an interesting fact for you. If you decided to use said bonus to bet on an upcoming race, every single animal in the running would trace its pedigree back to these three foundation stallions. It also leads to an obvious question: which of these super sires was the most influential?

According to some experts, the answer lies with the Byerley Turk, the first of the three to be imported into England. Logged in a mid-17th century edition of the General Stud Book, he was described as belonging to one Captain Byerley.

When referring to the horse’s appearance and characteristics, the archaic entry references the stallion’s exceptional speed, impressive size, and handsome color (‘dark brown, nearly black’). It was this incredible fleetness of foot that saved his rider from capture at the Battle of Boyne.  

So why is the Byerley Turk considered by some to be the most important of the foundation sires? It’s due in part to the caliber of his direct descendants, who trace down from Jigg to Partner, Tartar, and finally Herod – a stallion who needs no introduction.

While many branches of the Byerley Turk’s line are now extinct, at least one major sire is still produced every two to three generations.   

The Darley Arabian

The Darley Arabian may also have a claim to the title of ‘most influential Thoroughbred foundation sire’. The second of the three to be imported, he was, without a doubt, the most prolific and his life the best documented.   

Born in Aleppo in 1700, the Darley Arabian arrived in England as a four-year-old. Imported by Thomas Darley, he was carefully selected because he represented the stud owner’s vision of the perfect Arab stallion.   

Darley described the horse as being ‘immediately striking, owing to his handsome appearance and exceedingly elegant carriage’. Bay in color and standing at around 15hh, the stallion was purchased for the sum of 300 gold sovereigns and a shipment of rifles.

Today, he has an exceptional number of descendants, with 95 percent of modern Thoroughbreds tracing their Y chromosome DNA back to the Darley Arabian. In addition, many of the greatest racehorses of all time descend from his line, including Eclipse, Nearco, Northern Dancer, and Secretariat.   

The Godolphin Arabian

Last but not least came the Godolphin Arabian. Foaled in Yemen around 1724, the diminutive bay was first given to King Louis XV of France as a gift from the Emperor of Morocco. Not appreciating the stallion’s worth, he’s said to have sold him on, until he eventually ended up in the hands of Englishman Edward Coke.  

Described as having beautiful conformation, exquisite proportions, and incomparable beauty, the horse would later wind up at the Earl of Godolphin’s stud in Cambridgeshire, where he used him over a number of his mares.

This included a mare named Roxana, who soon foaled the incomparable Lath. Another of the stallion’s get was Regulus, who produced Spiletta, dam to Eclipse. What the Godolphin Arabian contributed to the breed, above all, was an incredible turn of speed and fierce competitiveness – traits seen in many of his later descendants, including Seabiscuit and War Admiral.

When it comes to comparing these three incomparable stallions, it’s an impossible call to make. Each bestowed something very special, with the three lines finally coming together to create the greatest athlete of them all: the modern Thoroughbred. There is no greater legacy than that.