In 1791, The General Stud-Book (GSB) was published by James Weatherby Junior. In this, the very first studbook, are entered the pedigree and stud records of those sires and dams who formed the foundation of the English Thoroughbred. Published by Weatherbys every four years to this very day, the GSB collects breeding records in Britain and Ireland.
The evolution of the breed had started as an experiment. It was discovered that the fastest horses were not the pure Arabians, but the larger individuals resulting from the English-bred Arabians and home-bred mares of Oriental descent. The greatest contribution stemmed from three imported Arabian sires: the Byerley Turk (1690), the Darley Arabian (1700), and the Godolphin Arabian (1730). All Thoroughbreds in the world today trace their ancestry in direct male line through about thirty generations to these three sires.
First to arrive in England was the Byerley Turk. He got his name from his owner, Captain Robert Byerley who served in the 6th Dragoon Guards under William III of Orange. He had captured the horse in Hungary from the Turks at the Battle of Buda (1688). The stallion served as Byerley’s war horse when he was dispatched to Ireland in 1689. In 1690, public records show a race meeting was held at Down Royal in Northern Ireland, at which the top prize, the Silver Bell, was won by Captain Byerley’s charger. Later that same year, the stallion was used during the Battle of the Boyne versus the forces of King James II.
The Byerley Turk first entered stud at the family seat at Middridge Grange, County Durham, and later stood at Byerley’s Goldsborough Hall, near Knaresborough, in Yorkshire. The Byerley Turk sired few horses of note himself, but became the great-great grandsire of the immensely successful racehorse Herod. One of the principal forefathers of the Thoroughbred, Herod himself sired the winners of 1,042 races collectively worth over £200,000, an enormous sum in modern terms. One of his sons, Highflyer, was just as successful, producing the winners of 1,108 races valued at £170,000 and establishing the fortune of his owner, Richard Tattersall, the founder of the famous firm of bloodstock auctioneers at Newmarket.