The American Horse Racing Triple Crown has a background as long and complex as the country itself. Since the first American racetrack was laid in Long Island, N.Y., circa 1665, America’s racing culture has been influenced by, but developed independently of, English Thoroughbred racing.
The English Triple Crown
Modern horse racing originated in the British Isles in the 12th century, when knights brought fleet Arabian horses home following the crusades. Horse owners began matching two Arabians against one another in road or cross-country races, a tradition that blossomed during Queen Anne’s reign (AD 1702-1714) into the operation of larger races at organized racetracks.
By 1814, five English staked races for 3-year-olds were designated as “classics” – the best of the best. In 1853, West Australian walked away with wins in three of those races – the first horse ever to claim such a feat – and the horse racing Triple Crown award was born. From that day to this, the three races in the English Triple Crown have been the “The Derby,” also known as the 2000 Guineas Stakes, the Epsom Stakes, and the St. Leger Stakes. The Triple Crown is also awarded, less commonly, to fillies who win the Derby, the St. Leger, and the 1000 Guineas (the latter is for fillies only).
Thoroughbred Racing Pedigrees
Thoroughbred lineage can be traced back to one of three sires, imported to England by noblemen of the 1600s and 1700s. The first of these was the Byerly Turk, imported by a “Captain Byerly” in 1689. The second, imported by Thomas Darley from Syria in 1704, was known as the Darley Arabian. The third, the Godolfin Arabian, was foaled in Yemen in 1724 and, through a series of murky events that survive only as legend, found his way through France and into the hands of Edward Coke, who brought him home to his stables at Longford Hall in Derbyshire.
Some think these three sires were bred to “native sprinting mares – most probably Scottish Galloways.” However, according to James Penn Boucaut in his 1905 book The Arab, The Byerly Turk was bred to The Royal Mares, Arabian stock imported by King Charles. It’s probable that crosses were attempted with both local and imported stock; it’s impossible to know for sure since the first Stud Book wasn’t published until 1891.
In any case, the Darley Arabian and the Godolfin Arabian were both bred to Royal Mares, daughters of the original Royal Mares and the Byerly Turk. Thus began the three lines of breeding stock to which all modern Thoroughbreds can be traced.
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