This is the first edition of a five part series I am doing to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Flying Childers, who many consider to be one of the greatest racehorses of all time. Certainly, he was the best of his generation, staying undefeated in just six starts, as no one wanted to line up against the magnificent creature.
The creation of a champion racehorse is an intricate, drawn-out process. Even when all the boxes are checked, the pampered, well-conditioned million dollar horse could still flop on the track, failing to win a single race. Despite all this, breeders, owners, and trainers all try to build their horses up to be the very best, and spend a lot of time and money in the process.
The first building blocks of a star equine are bloodlines.
As is commonly understood, the Thoroughbred is the product of hardy running mares from England and imported stallions from the Middle East and North Africa. There are many stallions who served to create the Thoroughbred, but only three are found in tail-male lines today: the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerley Turk.
It is the Darley Arabian that needs to be discussed first; through the great Eclipse, he is the tail-male ancestor of nearly every Thoroughbred today.
Born around the beginning of the 18th century – many sources say 1700 – the Darley Arabian was originally owned by Sheikh Mirza II of the Fedan Bedouins, who resided near Aleppo in Syria. Thomas Darley, the British Consul in Syria at the time, was quite fond of the fine bay colt. As legend as it, he offered 300 golden sovereigns for the colt, but the Sheikh was loath to part with his prized possession. Determined to have the horse for his own, Darley arranged for sailors to smuggle the colt out of Syria and into England.
The young stallion arrived in England in 1704 and was moved to Aldby Hall in Yorkshire, the home of Darley’s brother, Richard. There he stood at stud until his death in 1730, appreciated and praised by the horsemen around the area.
For the most part, the Darley Arabian covered Darley’s own mares, mares of which, the General Stud Book (GSB) remarks, “were very few well bred, besides Almanzor’s dam.” Yet in spite of that, the stallion was successful, getting a great deal of runners. His greatest racing son, however, would come from a mare outside the Darley stud.
Pedigrees and bloodlines don’t end with the sire, though the stallion is lauded often to a greater extent than the mare. Dams play a vital role in the formation of a champion, and, certainly, the mare sent to the Darley Arabian was no exception.
Betty Leedes was a daughter of (Old) Careless, a stallion known as one of the best racehorses of his day. She was out of a mare named Cream Cheeks, and this female line, like many in the depths of the Thoroughbred stud books, has some question marks.
According to the GSB, Cream Cheeks was a daughter of an unnamed daughter of Spanker, whose unconventional breeding still raises eyebrows today. That Spanker Mare is out of the Old Morocco Mare – the dam of Spanker himself. Combined with Careless, who was sired by Spanker, this makes Betty Leedes inbred 2 x 3 to the great 17th century racehorse, and 3 x 3 x 4 to the Old Morocco Mare. Not uncommon to see this much inbreeding in older pedigrees, but it is unheard of today.
But was she really? An entry in the diary of Lord Hervey, who visited the Leedes Stud where many of these horses in question resided, states that a horse named Young Spanker was the sire of that Spanker Mare, not Spanker himself.
In addition, in a book entitled Early Records of the Thoroughbred Horse by C.M. Prior, there is evidence that Cream Cheeks may not be of the breeding that the GSB says she was. According to Prior, while researching the papers of Cuthbert Routh, a Yorkshire breeder, he found a statement that said that Cream Cheeks was by the Leedes Arabian – her sire on record – but out of “a famous roan mare of Sr [Sir] Mar.[Marmaduke] Wyvill’s.”
If Cream Cheeks is out of Sir Wyvill’s mare, and not out of the Spanker Mare, this would remove herself and the rest of her descendants from Female Family No. 6.
No matter from whom or where they originated from, it is almost certain that the Darley Arabian covered Betty Leedes, and she gave birth to a colt in 1714 (a few sources say 1715, but the majority of opinion believes 1714). The colt was already a treasure, by a coveted Arabian stallion out of a well-bred mare, but little did anyone know that he would become an icon in Thoroughbred racing.
The bloodlines are just the first step in the creation of a champion. The people involved are just as important. In the next part of this series, I will discuss the people involved with the ownership and handling of Flying Childers.
Early Records of the Thoroughbred Horse – C.M. Prior (information obtained through citations on Thoroughbred Heritage)
General Stud Book (information obtained through citations on Thoroughbred Heritage)