It is well documented that all modern thoroughbreds descend from the three foundation stallions, the so-called Fathers of the Turf. But the triumvirate of the Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian and Byerley Turk should rightly be joined by a fourth member - Curwen’s Bay Barb.
Such is the dominance of the Darley Arabian in the modern thoroughbred, (as shown on our prominent sire lines in Europe chart) thanks in no small part to the all-pervading presence of Phalaris in pedigree via his key descendants Northern Dancer and Raise A Native, that the bloodlines of both the Byerley Turk and the Godolphin Arabian hang by very slender threads. In the case of Curwen’s Bay Barb, the line has died out completely.
So who was this fourth member of the tribe and what is his claim to joining the Fathers of the Turf?
The stallion was reportedly foaled around 1690 in Morocco and was gifted to King Louis XIV of France by the King of Morocco, Muley Ishmael. Living in France at the same time was Henry Curwen, a Catholic who had fled from Workington in Cumbria to France when James II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
It is thought that Curwen purchased the Bay Barb through the offices of Count Byram, an illegitimate son of Louis who held the title of Master of the Horse for his reputed father.
On Curwen’s return to his native land with his new purchase, law prohibited Catholics from owning any horse worth more than £5. With the coveted blood of the Orient running through his veins, the Bay Barb’s value far exceeded the limit so to circumvent the law, Curwen sent the stallion to his close friend Charles Pelham at Brocklesby Park in Lincolnshire where he was, perhaps inevitably, often referred to as ‘Pelham’s Bay Barb’.
Whatever his moniker, the stallion was set to work covering the mares owned by both men. In keeping with the stock of the day, these were mainly Galloway mares, a term referring to the speedy, hardy mares of the day. They were generally much smaller than the modern thoroughbred and indeed one of the best offspring by Curwen’s Bay Barb was Mixbury who stood just 13.2h - a pony by the standards of today.
Curwen’s Bay Barb made an immediate impact on the turf with his runners including such as Brocklesby Betty, deemed one of the finest performers of her day who would go on to become a foundation mare in the Stud Book; Creping Molly, who won Royal Plates as a five-year-old at Hambleton and Newmarket and is the ancesstress of the hugely influential American sire Lexington; Hip, whose daughters produced a number of important runners including Allabaculia who won the first St Leger in 1776; Monkey, whose descendants include the Classic winners Tartar, Petronel, Vauban and Champaubert; and Alcock’s Arabian whose influence was such that he was Champion sire of 1728.
Curwen’s Bay Barb also features in the pedigree of Highflyer, one of the first to truly earn the title of Champion, both on the racecourse and at stud. Bred by Sir Charles Bunbury, he raced for Richard Tattersall, who named his home for the horse that won 12 times in an unbeaten career before going on to sire three Derby winners and be crowned Champion sire 14 times, a record that stood until Sadler’s Wells surpassed him in the new millennium.
Unfortunately it was the daughters of Curwen’s Bay Barb who proved better at stud than his stallion sons and as such the tail male line eventually died out.
Curwen’s Bay Barb is reported to have lived to the mighty age of 38, although record-keeping was not quite so scrupulous then and his various aliases could have blurred the story.
Whatever the facts and myths surrounding the horse, for a stretch in the 1700s he dominated the turf alongside his more famous contemporaries, and is fully deserving of his place in the history of the turf.
Blog by guest blogger Amy Bennett.