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Thoroughbred Origins: The male bloodline of the Byerley Turk

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In the first of a new series, Timeform Pedigree Researcher Sally Wright explores the origins of the modern thoroughbred.

As we enter a new racing year, it seems opportune to reflect upon some of the early sources of influence on today's modern Thoroughbred racehorse. The imported Eastern foundation stallions; the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian, stand apart for their contributions to the breed and are among only a handful of original imports with male bloodlines surviving to the present day.

The earliest arrival, the brown Byerley Turk (c. 1680), was imported into England in the 17th century after reportedly being captured at the siege of Buda in Hungary in 1688 by Captain Robert Byerley of the Sixth Dragoon Guards and used as his ‘charger’. On Byerley’s retirement from the military the stallion was sent to stud in County Durham before ending his days in North Yorkshire. Through his great-great grandson, the good older racehorse Herod (1758), the Byerley Turk established a male bloodline that still exerts some influence today.

Herod’s son, Woodpecker (1773), thrice winner of the Craven Stakes, carried on the line in splendid fashion. From Woodpecker’s grandson, Castrel, descended the unbeaten 2-y-o, The Tetrarch (1911), later a champion sire himself. From another grandson, Selim, descended 2000 Guineas and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Djebel (1937) whose own line threw up plenty of excellent horses, among them the multiple champion Australian sire, Better Boy (1951) whose son Century also shone at stud there and later became grandsire of two-time Cox Plate winner, Fields of Omagh. Other notable descendants of Djebel include Epsom Derby winner and sire Blakeney (1966), Ascot Gold Cup and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe hero Levmoss (1965) and Japanese Triple Crown winner Symboli Rudolf (1981).

One genetic study has determined that the Byerley Turk's percentage contribution to the modern Thoroughbred totals a respectable 3.3 percent. Fate can also be cruel, for despite a US branch that thrived through such excellent runners and sires as the imported first Epsom Derby winner of 1780, Diomed, game stayers American Eclipse (1814) and Lexington (1850), the latter Leading Sire in that country an astonishing 16 times (14 times in succession), and latter-day Breeders' Cup winners, Precisionist (Sprint) and Arcangues (Classic), both from Djebel’s branch, the Turk’s male line is now commercially defunct in North America, with Europe and Australia being its main flag bearers.

 Woodpecker's male line survives primarily in Europe today through Steward's Cup and William Hill Sprint Championship winner Ahonoora (1975) who died prematurely whilst at stud in Australia. He got a couple of good sorts in the ‘splendidly genuine’ British/Irish 2000 Guineas winner Don't Forget Me and Epsom Derby winner Dr Devious, the latter currently at stud in Italy and sire of the Irish St Leger-winning globetrotter Collier Hill and Prix de l'Opera winner Kinnaird.

The Turk's best chance of paternal-line survival probably remains through two sons of Ahonoora; Inchinor (1990) and Indian Ridge (1985). The former flourished over 7f/1m and like his sire died prematurely but not before leaving several good runners, including Orientor, the sire of talented sprinting gelding Jack Dexter, who won a listed race at Doncaster on his most recent start in November. Inchinor’s best was Notnowcato, who won the Juddmonte International, Eclipse Stakes and Tattersalls Gold Cup, and who himself sired a fine 1m/9f performer in multiple Group 2 winner Custom Cut. Notnowcato is now showing promise as a National Hunt stallion, his best in that sphere being the Grade 2 International Hurdle winner Old Guard.

The excellent sprinter Indian Ridge, winner of the King's Stand Stakes, was a stallion able to get stock that stayed well beyond his own stamina limitations. He died at the Irish National Stud in 2006 but not before siring Irish 2000 Guineas winner Indian Haven, Breeders’ Cup Mile winners Domedriver and Ridgewood Pearl, Linngari, who won German events at 6f (Group 2) and 1 1/4m (Group 1), and Prix de l'Abbaye winner Namid, who himself got an Abbaye winner and runner-up, respectively, in Total Gallery (currently at stud in India) and Rangali, the latter going down by just a head. Two other notable sons of Indian Ridge, Relaxed Gesture and Definite Article, were proficient over middle-distances but had mixed results at stud. The former had fertility problems but the latter fared better, his best being four-time Irish St Leger and Melbourne Cup runner-up, Vinnie Roe, a currently Irish-based National Hunt stallion with a few Timeform-rated useful or above runners in that sphere.

Indian Ridge’s July Cup-winning son Compton Place got several classy sprinting types, among them dual Nunthorpe Stakes winner Borderlescott and British Champions Sprint Stakes winner Deacon Blues (both geldings) alongside the stallions, Boogie Street and Hunter Street, who have both had only limited impact at stud, as well as the entire, Temple Stakes winner Pearl Secret, most recently fourth in the Prix de l'Abbaye in October.

A much-needed commercial boost for the Turk’s male line may ultimately come in the shape of Dunaden (2006), a French-bred, cheaply-purchased ‘freak’ with a relatively humble pedigree who excelled over much further. A grandson of Indian Ridge from the small first crop of dual Group 2 1m winner Nicobar out of an unraced mare whose own pedigree boasted the grand total of no black type winners within its first five generations, Dunaden captured a haul of valuable races, including the Melbourne Cup and Hong Kong Vase. Retired to stud in Britain with over £5 million in prize money to his name, Dunaden has covered a healthy book of over 90 mares and awaits his first foals in 2016.

According to one internet story, a stable hand of Ahonoora’s trainer, Frankie Durr, was said to have described the horse as ‘a real freak’. Given that this so-called ‘freak’ was able to breakout as a commercial stallion, it seems a reasonable assumption that Dunaden may also be able to replicate that feat and continue the Byerley Turk bloodline into the future.

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