The Thoroughbred Cult

What is a Thoroughbred cult? In this examination it represents the excessive admiration of the Thoroughbred breed that arose in the mid-1700s in America, and grew to such an extent that it caused a very successful attempt, by it's promoters, to eradicate our native racehorse breed from racing, breeding and history.

Our main focus of study will be the Virginia colony, as it appears this is where the biased mindset began. I thought at first, maybe the erasing of our native racehorse breed was done innocently, a by-product of the passion for the English racer. But when I looked closer into the evidence it became evident that this Thoroughbred promotion as the source of all racing speed and prowess required an intentional disregarding of the facts. Gradually there became a movement to change the race rules so that horses full or part-Thoroughbred became favored over the native Running Horse, and certain sires were relocated because they failed to support the new cult beliefs, in addtion, there was wholesale fudging and erasing of lineages, so that the horses became more 'English' and lastly, by rewriting history.

Let's start by stating this piece is not a criticism of the Thoroughbred horse. During my researches tracing sport traits through time by both pedigree and historical accounts I kept finding fraudulent extensions in pedigrees, and a re-telling of our country's equine history that did not square up with the facts. I was deeply puzzled by this because I found it pervasive in our most respected scholar's volumes covering our breeds' origins and how they were developed and in assigning the advent of sport traits to certain breeds.

[The famous 1834 four-mile heat match race of Peytona and Fashion RH. Fashion RH carried the champion sprinter Polly Williams RH as her 6th dam.]

An example of an invented pedigree extension for a champion racer, and a broodmare of excellence is found in Polly Williams RH, whose daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters were dams of the best racers of their day. She is the 5th dam of the famous broodmare Bonnets O'Blue RH, who is the dam of the 4-mile racing champion Fashion RH. It is a shame, because these horses had been selectively bred for 200 hundred years, and their parentage was known, but Edgar's studbook (1833) made sure most of it never saw the light of day again,  by replacing the Running Horse damlines with his inventions. He thought he was doing the breeders a favor, making the breed more English. The idea was to produce lineages the General Stud Book would accept. In his work she is recorded as being by Janus, out of a Janus mare, out of a mare by Monkey, out of a mare by Silver Eye. But, Monkey died in 1754 and Silver Eye was imported in 1756...two years after Monkey how could a daughter of Silver Eye be bred to a stallion that was several years dead? We can verify she was by Janus out of a Janus mare but the rest of her ancestry was hidden intentionally. This is a blatant and undeniable pedigree fraud; the problem is most of the more plausible ones he added are frauds as well. Any of Edgars' dam line extensions must be verified independently or removed. Unfortunately, Edgar's studbook was accepted almost entirely by Bruce and incorporated into the new American Stud Book, the basis of the American Thoroughbred. Our 20th century scholar Alexander MacKay-Smith reported:

"It should be remembered that Edgar was engaged in compiling a 'thoroughbred' stud book. He called it 'a book...intended only to develop the full traced pedigrees of blood horses.' Furthermore, his definition of blood horses was limited to stallions and mares entered (or entitled to be entered) in the already published (by Messrs. Weatherby 1808, 1822, 1837) three volumes of the British [Thoroughbred] Stud Book. In addition to imported horses and mares Edgar's book listed "Horses, Mares and Geldings, which have distinguished themselves as Racers on the American Turf; this includes also the pedigrees of the quarter-racing stock so much admired formerly in this [North Carolina] and the adjacent States.' For this reason the pedigrees of the 63 Quarter Running Stallions and Mares list only Thoroughbred ancestors...He also had no interest whatsoever in tracing the pedigrees of the fast Quarter Running Mares to which these imported Thoroughbred stallions were bred--pedigrees developed over the previous 100 years during the 17th and early 18th centuries by the Colonial Quarter Race Horse breeders in which there was neither Thoroughbred nor Oriental (Arab, Barb. Turk) blood." (MacKay-Smith 1983 p. 100-101)

The result of course is that the Virginia racehorse, which by all accounts was the fastest and finest horse in the colonies, and which brought much higher prices, that its true ancestry was being falsified, ultimately hurting all future breeders by hiding the source of their excellence.

In Virginia from 1611 to 1772 (160+ years) the colony bred a first rate race-saddle-hunt breed, the Running Horse, a horse that in the early days was raced most commonly in 1/4 mile sprints--at a gallop (it could also race at the pace). The choice of race form was because the colonial coast was heavily forested, so it was impracticable  to lay out 2-mile racing courses as the plantation owners and governors (breeders of the racehorse) were used to in England. Instead they cleared 1/4 mile stretches of forest, made parallel straight racing paths to performance test their breed. The sprint race was the most enjoyed pasttime in the colonies.  (Selective breeding, in this case for sprint speed, would have the result of making that trait dominant--it does not mean the stamina factors were eliminated; only that the sprint speed was made homozygous). 

But by the mid-1700s considerable land clearing and settling had been achieved, and so 1 to 2-mile race courses began springing up (1737 in Virginia), and the breed that had been bred for sprint speed was being tested in stamina races and sprint. There is some documentation that 3-mile heat racing was being performed in Virginia as early as 1677, but not of race courses, perhaps they were there, or perhaps the races were run on colonial roads.

[colonial racers on a course or perhaps a racing ground, indicated by the starting post and that there were three participants (race paths had only two). Alexander Anderson wood engraving]

Now, this period of the mid to late 1600s seems to be where the most confusion rests in the histories I read.  We know the first Thoroughbred was not imported into Virginia until 1730, yet in many accounts the racers of the colonial paths are referred to as Thoroughbreds or blood horses. And when race courses started cropping up, the horses that ran on them were presumed also to be Thoroughbred, because the majority of turf historians assumed the colonial sprint racer could only run for short distances. For example, the 20th century American Thoroughbred authority, John Hervey, strongly promoted the Thoroughbred Cult, and actually went so far to support this notion that he presents a case for the Thoroughbred being imported into this country earlier than 1730.

"There has been much argument pro and con, among antiquarians, regarding the date when course racing was first introduced in the Old South, one school of thought holding that it was not until 1730, the first known bloodhorse in modern sense, Bulle Rock, was imported into Virginia; the other that it had begun long previous to that date.There is reason to believe that the latter is more correct." (1944, p. 24)

So, Hervey admits there was distance racing before 1730...that sounds historically accurate to me. But he doesn't leave it at that, his answer to this quandary of theory, of our native racehorse being sprint only, was that Thoroughbreds were imported before 1730...therefore distance racing was done with Thoroughbreds. He doesn't try to reconcile the inconvenient fact of the 2-mile course and heat racing on Long Island in 1665, which was before there even was a English Thoroughbred; instead he concentrates on  the mid-Atlantic area.

"As time passed and the 'bred' and then the thoroughbred types appeared in England and were immediately brought across the Atlantic, strains of blood which helped mould the proudest genealogies of modern Derby and Futurity winners were crossed in upon the original quarter-horse stock and became dominant in the production of type, while many of the most famous of its exponents in later times were of pure thoroughbred ancestry." (p. 24 Hervey 1944--emphasis mine).

Hervey continues to build on his thesis:

"Not only were some of the most redoubtable horses of the race-paths in early days of strict thoroughbred blood..." (p. 25, 1944--emphasis mine)

So John Hervey, our most respected equine historian of the 20th century is saying the fast quarter racers of the late 1600s were full thoroughbreds. He had to invent the import of the very first Thoroughbreds, of Spanker's day, before the Darley and Godolphin, to America in order to explain this outstanding racehorse performance. Why not just admit we had a excellent racehorse breed of our own? 

This belief, verging on a religion in intensity, that speed and racing prowess came only from the Thoroughbred, was what Hervey professed and not just in his Thoroughbred tomes of 1931 and 1944 (sponsored by the Jockey Club), but he also extended this dogma most strongly in his work on the American Trotter (1947).

"...the destinies of the breed of the American Standardbred trotter have been shaped by its male founders, just have been those of the still older Thoroughbred breed, of which it is really an off-shoot." (p. 29, 1947)

In addition he adds the concurrent common industry theory that sireline defines the phenotype of the breed. This belief, that only the sireline matters in determining the type or breed of horse, ruled the thinking of the earlier day as well, so that many other equine thought shapers would call our native Running Horses "thoroughbreds' because they had a Thoroughbred on the sireline. But of course entry into the Thoroughbred stud book prohibits hybrids...the very basis of the breed from 1808 on was that a horse descend on both sides of the pedigree from previous stud book entries and/or further back to Orientals. This caused wholesale pedigree inventions in the Old Country, and here it did the same thing, so that the stud book compilers erased all bloodlines that were of our native breed. 

Hervey was a highly intelligent and gifted man, there is no way he was not conscious of the doublethink he was proposing. He admits there was distance racing before the Thoroughbred arrived, he admits there were superior racehorses before the Thoroughbred arrived, but then invents a myth so that he can claim the speed and agility of our native horse for his pet breed--he did the same with the trotter--it was all Thoroughbred in Hervey's accounting when it came to sport ability. 

Hervey (although he actually knew better) and many others, presented our original racer, the Running Horse, as a mutt and limited to sprint speed, that it could not run at distance, he never mentions that the racers then were gaited either. 

Contrary to traditional assumptions, however, this horse breed was noted not just for speed, but for stamina, and was documented as being regularly ridden 60 to 100 miles per day, everyday, with no ill effects. And it was our Running Horse who ran in heat races before the Thoroughbred arrived and even after it did--winning against the Thoroughbred enough for the Tidewater breeders to promote erasing its presence both in history and in reality. (See American Running Horse series).

[woodcut of a pacer family, foal, mare and stallion, artist Alexander Anderson]

Our native racehorse was small--13.1 to 14.1 hands, gaited, and was noted for its gentle willing disposition, its sure-footedness, its jump and cross-country readiness, and its incredible speed and stamina. The breeders of these horses, especially in Virginia, were educated wealthy horsemen--plantation owners and English citizens of the upper class, educated men, who appreciated horse racing back in England. They knew how to selectively breed, and proudly kept records of their stock.Yet, in our later American studbooks their ancestry is not included. What happened?

Hervey's understanding was this colonial breed was a sprinter only, and he never mentions that it was a pacer as well as a galloper. In contrast, all the contemporary reports of our colonial horse that survive describe a breed of high quality "more beautiful and in form and more active in sport than the English animal" (1620, "Declaration of the State of Virginia"), and Thomas Glover reporting  50 years later says: the horses of Virginia are 'as good as anything found in England." In 1686 the French visitor Durand describes riding one of them on the road, and he marveled how he could travel 18 miles in 2 hours at a saddle gait. And of course, the Rev. McSparran reports the horse of Virginia in 1740 was expected to carry its owner 60 to 70 miles every day. All the early reports state the horse was gaited, that it paced and was fast, but that it also galloped. But Hervey makes the proposal that it is only when the cavaliers  (English subjects loyal to ousted King Charles) arrived with their horses during the English Civil War (1650), that reports of excellence in racing appeared, and so implying that racehorses only arrived then. The Thoroughbred breed did not exist until 1690 at the earliest.

Obviously, there is a huge conflict with Hervey's versions of our early equine history and the actual eyewitness accounts of this breed and how it was portrayed in supposed accurate modern history. Maybe we can get some clearer vision by examining the facts anew.

Shortly after course racing appeared in the Virginia colony, 1677 and a track in 1737, the arrival of the new English Thoroughbred began (1730). Coincidentally, this invasion began at the same approximate time that a printing press was introduced. Newspapers then began appearing in the early 1700s--just as the Thoroughbred began arriving, and I think this set of events may have something to do with the conviction that no racing of consequence was carried out until the Thoroughbred arrived.

"with no newspaper published in Virginia prior to 1736, in New York prior to 1725 or in Maryland prior to 1720, why no printed records of early racing exists becomes not a matter of surprise, but inevitable." (Hervey 1931, p.6)

But John Wallace, our great 19th century equine historian, came to a different conclusion then Hervey.

"We have here a stock of horses that the people of Virginia have bred and ridden and raced for a hundred years, and we know comparatively nothing about them. They seem to have been especially adapted to the saddle, but could run four miles, or they could run a quarter of a mile. like an arrow from a bow...but the truth should not be concealed that this old stock furnished half the foundation, in a vast majority of cases, for the triumphs of future generations of Virginia racehorse, and the same could be said of the old English stock upon which the blood was grafted." (p. 114, 1897,Wallace)

So, Wallace was not fooled by the improved racehorse lineages coming out of Virginia. And he states he could not find a real Thoroughbred racing in our country until Mortons Traveller in 1751, so even the heat racing on the new course of 1737 was run by our Running Horses, not the Thoroughbred.

The new Thoroughbred was taller and a heat racing specialist, and of course it was "English", and so our aristocrats, who were usually upper class English citizens themselves, rushed to import this new breed. Early stallions of note imported into the Virginia area were Bulle Rock 1730 (by Darley Arabian, dam unrecorded--probably an English Running Horse mare), Monkey 1737, Jolly Roger 1741, Fearnought 1755, Silver Eye 1756, Janus 1756 etc. Some mares were imported, but really not many, plus there were not more than 160 of the new English Thoroughbred imported before our Revolution,and that number includes the other racing areas: North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, New York etc. (Hervey 1944, Wallace 1897)

[The new Virginia hybrid racehorse, with its running horse ancestry erased from the records. Wood engraving ~1823]

My next thought is how this obviously erroneous theory got implanted so strongly in such important and influenctial equine scholars as presented here. We can see that by 1772 in the Tidewater breeding center, the breeders were totally enthralled with breeding "English"; we can see this vividly when they forced the incredibly successful imported sire Janus out of the area and banished him to the lower Roanoke and North Carolina areas where sprint breeding was the focus. Janus, although a heat racer himself (ran 4-mile heat racers here), produced sprint racers and gaited saddle horses. Evidently his genetics nicked with our native mares. And by 1794 the changeover was complete in the Tidewater: the Thoroughbred ruled.

"The extant advertisements for Janus show that in 1772, when he was 26 years old, he was withdrawn from Virginia  (Tidewater area) and sent to stand on the lower waters of the Roanoke in Northhampton and Halifax county North Carolina...already established reputation as a sire of swift quarter races was the motive for Janus' transfer from Virginia, where course racing was beginning to prevail." (p. 107, Harrison), and we find that "When Randolph came of age in 1794 the days of the historical anti-revolutionary studs were gone." (p. 24  Harrison 1931)

At the turn of the century (1800) Virginia was the acknowledged prime breeding area of racehorses and a Virginia horse would bring twice the price of other areas before the Revolution (Eggleston 1884). And the focus had swung not just to the distance specialist, but to the one with high English blood. The sprinter and the pacer was then disdained, considered a lesser type then the taller Thoroughbred crossed stock, and they moved west with the frontier. New England, New York and even Pennsylvania had by this time began to focus more on the trotter production, as they were more urban, with better roads. But the plantation way of the south prevailed there, and large plantations were the nurseries for the developing racer. This movement spread into the developing areas of Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri, with first the pacer and the saddle horse and quarter horse being bred there. Saddle horse production remained a prime industry until the Civil War, where it was almost destroyed.

By mid-century, many of the breeders in Kentucky had turned to Thoroughbred and then trotter breeding. At this juncture England had come out with its 'Stud Book' (1791, 1803, 1808) and to have your horse's ancestry be in that book was highly prestigious. So it was the movers and shakers in breeding in our country began to press for a studbook of their own. And all attempts at a stud book: 8, from 1815 to 1868 were aimed at proving lineages that the English Stud Book would accept.

We find that 5 people (or partners) attempted to compile a 'thoroughbred' studbook, but never finished their task: John Borem 1815, John Randolph 1826, Theophilus Field and J.J. Harrison 1827, J.S. Skinner 1835, Ogle Tayloe and Willy Shaton 1837, however, there were 4 others that did succeed in the difficult project: Peter Cottom 1830 & 1833, Patrick Nesbitt Edgar 1833, John H. Wallace 1867 and finally S.D, Bruce 1868. It was Bruce's book that was adopted by the new American Jockey Club, and became an essential component of the launching of the new American Thoroughbred. All these well-meaning compilers either took part in the fraud or accepted the previous work of others. Wallace and Bruce both tried to correct erroneous lineages but still were aimed at the prize of inclusion in the General Stud Book of England. There is tremendous fallout from all this and to this day we are uncovering errors and outright inventions in our pedigrees and it should be noted this inaccuracy in recordings is not just a Thoroughbred is found in every other horse breed records.

"Profound as is our gratitude to Bruce on this record [American Stud Book 1868] it may now be recognized that he was of the school of thought as his predecessors--the last of that school indeed, but of it, nevertheless; for he was convinced that the crescent of dignity of the American Turf demanded that our foundation stock should be identified in Weatherby's General Stud Book, and his philosophy of research was all to that end." (Harrison, 1929, p. 9-10--emphasis mine).

We can now turn to the writings of Henry William Herbert (Frank Forester's Horse and Horsemanship of the United States and British Provinces of North America,  volumes I&II, published in 1857). With Herbert we have an educated Englishman, and a writer of note, who was born in 1805, immigrated to the States in 1831, settled in New York, where he died in 1858. He also traveled from this base and wrote on the horse in all areas he visited. He was a man of the times, and he was born just as the English Thoroughbred was established, and was in England when the stud book went through several of its revisions (first published in 1791, revised in 1803, 1808, 1827, 1859 and 1891). He was a great believer in the supremacy of the English Thoroughbred, and our racehorse, which he deems an excellent blood horse, was so good, he says, because of its English Thoroughbred lines, rather than any contribution from our own breeds. :

"...the English blood-horse is the most perfect animal of its race, in the whole world, both for speed and endurance, and that the American blood horse directly traces without mixture, to the English..." (p. 74, vol. I)

"...the race-horse in America--the only country wherein he does not appear to have degenerated from its ancestry--is identified in breed qualities with the progenitor to whom he traces his pedigree" (p. 75, vol.I)

"The unlucky absence of properly kept stud-books has also rendered it impossible to prove the blood directly of many of our most celebrated race-horse and stallions, the dams of which have not been duly recorded." Here then, is the key jump of logic, Herbert never considering we might have our own racehorse breed, he is willing to declare our galloping racers full Thoroughbred status because of their excellence: "It cannot be said, however, that their lineage is doubtful, though it may be known as their own qualities of speed, stoutness, and the ability to stay a distance, go far to show their claim to pure blood, while their power of transmitting it to their progeny prove it a peradventure." (p. 110, vol. I)

"The Thoroughbred horse of America is the only family of horse, on this continent of pure and unmixed blood." (p. 9 vol.1).

So, Herbert, proclaims the American galloping racer, our Running Horse, must be descended completely from the English Thoroughbred because of its outstanding performance and its ability to pass on those sterling traits to its progeny. Even though his beloved Thoroughbred requires full descent from GSB registered stock and/or Oriental descent to become a "Thoroughbred', he is willing to overlook that rule to assign our unrecorded damlines as Thoroughbred nonetheless. He was duly impressed with our racers, as he should have been because he witnessing firsthand the greatest 4-mile heat racers there ever was, such as American Eclipse RH, Black Maria RH, Boston RH, Fashion RH, Sir Henry RH and many others. That he wants to claim them as 'English' is somewhat understandable, they were the pinnacle of distance racing.

Herbert's work is full of conflicts; and what he calls the American Horse [American Trotter] puzzles him. Its quality is unmistakable, but he spends quite a bit of space declaring the American Horse (other than the galloper) is a mutt. He witnessed the formidable racing trotter because he was at the then hub of trotter breeding (NY), and he even rode a Trotter to the hunt, and he wrote extensively on how they were the better or equal of the finest Hunter Horse of Britain or Ireland. But for all that, he would not recognize the Trotter or really any of our other  horse populations as breeds.

"...neither an original animal of a peculiar and distinct will appear that the trotting horse is, in no possible sense, a distinct race, breed, or family of horse..."(vol.II, p. 128-129)

And he attributes its way of travel, so different from the Norfolk Trotter of his home country, that it could only originate from the addition of much Thoroughbred blood.

"...the long reaching stride, the quick gather, and the comparatively low step of the thoroughbred." (p.129, vol. II) It never occurred to him that the American Trotter was a breed, or that it could travel that way because its non-Thoroughbred ancestors had that type of action.

[Champion American Trotter, Lady Suffolk AT, set records both under saddle and in harness. Currier & Ives print, born in 1833, Herbert may well have witnessed some of those landmark records, as she raced right there on Long Island.]

Herbert's theory being, I presume, is that without a studbook, a population of horse is not a breed. Yet he freely refers to the Barb, Arab and Turk as breeds. Somehow it never crossed his mind that he was witnessing the result of 200 years of selective breeding. He proceeded to write about the virtually extinct Narragansett Pacer, noting its characteristics are like a Galloway of old, but dismisses it as useless for all but saddle. On the Morgan, a breed already with its own studbook (1840), yet he doesn't believe it originated with a single pre-potent stallion (Figure RH) because he doesn't think that is possible. For all that, his work is extremely valuable, his observations worthy, but his interpretations are off some cases way off the beam. 

But we can see, the Thoroughbred Cult groundwork is already in place, and to him no other breed compared, or when our galloping racer proved its excellence, then it was because it had to be full Thoroughbred. He obviously had no knowledge of our colonial developed racehorse breed, nor did many others in our own country, and the sweeping in of the Thoroughbred Cult fostered by our most respected breeders and writers made sure our early history was forgotten. And when the pressure to be more English was applied, our writers and breeders shared in the confusion. Our native horses, who were the same exact stock that made up the English pre-Thoroughbred studs, obviously they too were carriers of immense speed and stamina, but they too were expunged from the records in England, and from the people's memory, and as it was here, their lineages were replaced with Oriental frauds.

John Wallace, however, who was just coming on the scene as Herbert was passing, eventually figured most of the puzzle out. His research into the American Horse and the conclusions he drew put him on a collision course with the kings of turf and harness. Through his extensive and thorough research he determined for instance, that the trot and pace were connected hereditary, which in our day we know now there is indeed a "gait-keeper gene", and he knew from his historical studies that the early speed of the mid-gait racer came from the colonial Running Horse roots, not the Thoroughbred that was crossed in later. By his day, the mid-1800s, the Kentucky breeders were exceedingly powerful, and the breeders there of the Thoroughbred became breeders of Trotters as well. The Kentucky breeders had a vested interest in promoting the Thoroughbred Cult and their dogma was that the Trotter needed the speed of the Thoroughbred. Time has proven Wallace was right, but his position on this and insisting on pedigree accuracy, cost him control of the breed he created: the Standardbred. He was basically forced out in 1890 by a coalition of Kentucky breeders and their allies. He sold his publishing empire to the Trotting Association and retired. Fortunately, he was not finished, and in  1897 he published his masterwork: The Horse of America, its History and Derivation. 

In Wallace's Monthly, October 1875, Wallace explains about the pedigree frauds: "We fear we may be considered somewhat disloyal to the turf when we say there are many capital race horses that are not thoroughbred. But whether disloyal or not, it is nevertheless true. The records of the turf in this country for generations back are full of these exceptional animals. The trouble has been, and still is, that is as soon as an animal of this class come prominently to the front, we go to work and manufacture a pedigree for him. After we have concentrated  a sufficient number of fashionable old crosses to please the most fastidious tastes for the hard-bottomed, four-mile sort, we then prove it by his performance...the sooner we get rid of this very general habit of thought that if a horse runs well he is, therefore, a thoroughbred, the better."

Across the pond, our cousins in England had much the same twisted view of our horses. In reading a piece by The London Field from 1882, I could see the wrong assumptions. The article was discussing the amazing performance of the American racer Foxhall, and declaring him even better than the American racer Iroquois, who won the English Derby, suggesting that Foxhall might be just the stallion to invigorate the lagging stamina ability in the English racer. In explaining how this very American horse (3/4 RH) as compared to Iroquois (1/4 RH) could beat the English and French cracks the author reveals the same historical confusion, apparently accepted in England also. In explaining when the English Thoroughbred arrived in America and was bred to our stock he says:

"The United States is justly entitled to credit for having at last produced a great racehorse, seeing that in some States they have engaged in raising thoroughbreds for the last two centuries. In speaking of Virginia and South Carolina as though they had been states for two hundred years, it will of course be understood that long before the War of Independence it was the fashion for Southern planters to import thoroughbred sires and brood mares from England." The writer goes on to say " accepted as incontrovertible fact that blood horses were extensively used during the last century by the planters of Virginia and the Carolinas who found them preferable as riding horses to the mustang ponies which abounded in the South.."

We can see he has a number of misconceptions, first of course, we didn't 'at last produce a great horse', this piece was written in 1882, long after our superstars of heat racing set their world records, for instance, Boston RH 1833, was called the greatest racehorse of the 1800s, his son Lexington RH made the world record for 4-mile heats, and also for sires, as he led the sires list for 16 years--that record still stands today. And there was Black Maria RH, American Eclipse RH, Fashion RH etc. And the writer thinks we have been breeding Thoroughbreds for two hundred years...that would be 1682, before there even was a English Thoroughbred breed. And he suggests that Virginia and South Carolina were importing  Thoroughbreds 'long before' our Revolution. I bring this up, because it appears it is very similar in its confusion to ours, that anything that could gallop fast and long had to originate with the English Thoroughbred, and all reasoning was done with that premise in mind. Further, there were no 'mustang ponies' abounding in the south, Florida had the Cracker Horse, but in the racing areas the preferred riding horse was gaited, mustangs and Indian horses are not gaited. He takes the date of the South Carolina Jockey Club 1734, as an indication that Thoroughbreds were being raced there then. Not so. He explains racing began from planter's sons match races--also not accurate, as racing was a performance test instituted immediately in the Virginia colony by the first breeders of our racehorse. This is quasi-history that was commonly accepted, with all its vagueness and imprecise dating. And it has been repeated ever since, on both sides of the pond.

His contemporary here, John H. Wallace, was publishing the truth of our heritage, and in his wisdom he structured the new Standardbred to be a breed based on performance rather than pedigree, and truly saved the breed, which would have devolved into mediocrity if his contemporaries had their way. His comments on this strange phenomenon of claiming the Thoroughbred was the source of all speed and athleticism made him such strong enemies, that by 1890 they banded together to oust him from control of the breed he created: the Standardbred. Let's see what pissed them off so strongly:

In describing the mindset of the southern breeders he said:"They had runners and they had pacers, and as all excellence in the shape of a horse, at whatever gait, as they argued, must come from the running horse [Thoroughbred] or his progenitor, the Arabian, they had already the very best material in the world for the production of the fast trotter. The belief as expressed in their motto, 'Speed at the gallop was a guarantee of speed at any other gait required.', prevailed all minds and directed all action in matters of breeding. Thus they worked away for years trying to breed trotters from blood that never could and then never did trot, and, strange as it may seem, there are still some people in that region, at the close of the nineteenth century, trying to breed trotters from runners." (p. 515, 1897)

"This was the new gospel, and it threatened to annihilate the stupid Anglo-Arabian fetish that all that was good in horsedom must of necessity come from that source. For generations the belief had been universal that the only way to improve the horse for any purpose under the sun was to 'breed up' to the running horse [Thoroughbred] and thus get back to the blood of the pure Arabian." ( p. 51-511, 1897)

Even Wallace could not predict how after he died the Thoroughbred Cult would come out in force, trying their best to eradicate his research and work, and with that same zeal, the later John Hervey picked up the banner in the 20th century and attempted to make it the predominant narrative in the land.

To this day the common industry understanding is America had no racehorse breed before the Thoroughbred arrived. Instead the reality is that America had its own racehorse breed fifty years before there was a Thoroughbred and over 100 years before one got to our shores. Old lies die hard.


[ A shot of some of the references used in the research for this article, stacked on my truck flatbed before I returned them to their storage bins in my stock trailer.]

Eggleston, Edward "Husbandry in Colonial Times" 1884 Century Magazine

Harrison, Fairfax  The Equine F.F.Vs 1928, The John's Island Stud 1931, The Roanoke Stud 1930, Bel-Air Stud 1747-1761 1930

Herbert, Henry William  Frank Forester's Horse and Horsemanship of the United States and the British Provinces of North America 1857, vols. I & II

Hervey, John Racing and Breeding in America 1931, Racing in America 1665-1865, 1944, The American Trotter 1947

Kirsan, Kathleen Legacy of Lexington 2015, Standardbred Sport Horses 2017, "American Running Horse series" (

Livestock Record Hoofprints of the Century 1975

MacKay-Smith, Alexander Colonial Quarter Race Horse 1983, Speed and the Thoroughbred 2000

Wallace, John H The Horse in America, its History and Derivation 1897, Wallace's Monthly1875-1891

American Running Horse series

American Breed Development

The Thoroughbred

The Arabian Myth