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The Godolphin Arabian (c. 1724 – 1753), also known as the Godolphin Barb, was an Arabian horse who was one of three stallions that were the founders of the modern Thoroughbred horse racing bloodstock (the other two are the Darley Arabian and the Byerley Turk). He was given his name for his best-known owner, Francis Godolphin, 2nd Earl of Godolphin.
The Godolphin Arabian was foaled about 1724 in Yemen, but moved on several times before reaching England. At some time in his early years, he was exported, probably via Syria, to the stud of the Bey of Tunis. From there he was given to Louis XV of France in 1730. It is believed he was a present from monarch to monarch. Even so, he was not valued by his new French owner, and it is believed he was used as a carthorse.
He was bequeathed to Roger Williams, "proprietor of the St. James's Coffee House", who inherited Coke's stallions. He was bought by the 2nd Earl of Godolphin, and placed at his stud at Babraham, Cambridgeshire until his death on Christmas Day 1753.
The Godolphin Arabian is described as being of a brown bay colour with some white on the off heel behind. He stood at 15 hands (60 inches, 152 cm) and was distinguished by an unnaturally high crest which is noticeable from portraits of the horse. Most of his immediate offspring were also bay.
Controversy exists over the ancestry of the Godolphin Arabian; some writers referred to him as a Barb, because of his believed country of origin, Tunisia, on the Barbary Coast. Whyte in the 1840 History of the British Turf, refers to the horse as "The Godolphin Barb, or as he has been improperly called, the Godolphin Arabian" (emphasis added) before further clarifying, "He was long considered an Arabian, although his points resembled more those of the highest breed of Barbs." However, portraits, showing a horse with a high-carried tail and dished profile, features that differentiate Arabians from Barbs, lead modern experts to believe he was more likely an Arabian. The confusion is understandable, but while the breeds have some characteristics in common and are distantly related, their phenotypes are quite distinct. There was also an argument raised that he was actually a Turkoman horse, merely called an Arabian in order to raise the stud fee. However, it is most widely believed that he was an Arabian or had primarily Arabian lineage.
The Earl of Godolphin referred to the horse as an Arabian, and he was described as such by the painter George Stubbs. Lord Godolphin later bought a second stallion in 1750. This one he clearly called a "barb". Both were of a similar bay colour but the Barb had a star. Godolphin later bought a grey Barb which has also caused some confusion over the years.
Originally, this small stallion was considered inferior to the larger European horses of the time and not meant to be put to stud. Instead he was used as 'teaser', a stallion used to gauge the mare's receptiveness. This changed when Lady Roxana, a mare brought to the stud specifically to be bred to a stallion called Hobgoblin, rejected her intended mate, and so the Godolphin Arabian was allowed to cover her instead. The result of this mating was Lath, the first of his offspring, who went on to win the Queen's Plate nine times out of nine at the Newmarket races. The second colt from this pair was Cade, and the third was Regulus. All three were the same gold-touched bay as their sire, with the same small build and high crested conformation. All were exceptionally fast on the track, and went on to sire many foals themselves. This was the start of the Godolphin Arabian's prowess as a racing stud, and he spent the rest of his days as the Earl of Godolphin's prize stallion, bred to England's finest mares.
The major Thoroughbred sire Eclipse traces in his sire line to the Darley Arabian, but his dam was a daughter of Regulus and thus also traces to the Godolphin Arabian. This pattern continues to be seen today, with the Godolphin Arabian more heavily represented in dam lines and in the "middle" of pedigrees as opposed to direct sire lines.
The American connection began with the filly Selima (born in 1745 out of Shireborn). She was purchased by Benjamin Tasker, Jr. of the Province of Maryland in Colonial America, carried to the new world, and raced between 1750 and 1753. She won the biggest prize of the era, 2,500 pistoles at Gloucester, Virginia which marked "the beginning of the remarkable racing contests between the rival colonies of Maryland and Virginia." After this, she became a successful broodmare at the Belair Stud in Collington, Maryland.
The veterinary surgeon Osmer, as quoted by Prior, described him in the following manner:
There never was a horse (at least, that I have seen) so well entitled to get racers as the Godolphin Arabian; for, whoever has seen this horse must remember that his shoulders were deeper, and lay farther into his back, than those of any horse ever yet seen. Behind the shoulders, there was but a very small space ere the muscles of his loins rose exceedingly high, broad, and expanded, which were inserted into his hindquarters with greater strength and power than in any horse I believe ever yet seen of his dimensions, viz fifteen hands high.
The Godolphin Arabian died at Hog-Magog, Cambridgeshire in 1753, aged around 29. The horse's grave in the stable block of Wandlebury House can be visited. When he was interred, the occasion was marked with ale and cake.
Although today the majority of Thoroughbred horses’ sire lines trace to the Darley Arabian, many famous American horses of the past trace their sire line back to the Godolphin Arabian. These include Seabiscuit, Man o' War, War Admiral, and Silky Sullivan. Today, dual Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow represents his line.
In Europe, his influence survives mainly through the 2,000 Guineas winner Known Fact, and his son, the champion miler Warning. This line has produced outstanding sprinters such as Diktat (Haydock Sprint Cup), Avonbridge (Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp) and Dream Ahead (July Cup). The Derby has not been won by a sire line descendant of the Godolphin Arabian since Santa Claus in 1964 and is nowadays dominated by descendants of the Darley Arabian.
In the novel, the Godolphin Arabian was foaled in Morocco and was called Sham. He came to Europe as a diplomatic gift to King Louis XV of France, but due to his poor condition on arrival and relatively small size, was given to the cook as a cart horse and was soon sold to a woodcarter where he was poorly treated; he was then subsequently purchased in Paris by the Quaker Edward Coke of Holkham Hall, older brother of the 1st Earl of Leicester 5th Creation, then sold to Francis, Earl of Godolphin, who maintained a stud in Suffolk, near the racing town of Newmarket.