FLYING CHILDERS AND WHISTLE JACKET
The Duke of Devonshire’s Flying Childers, foaled 1715, and his full brother born the next year, Bartlett’s Bleeding Childers, were the first horses to run away from all competition in King’s Plate racing. Thoroughbred historian Alexander MackaySmith refers to theirs as the “taproot pedigree," for the distaff side combines the best English speed bloodlines from the time of Henry VIII with just those strains of Turcoman capable of middle-distance speed. The noblemen and wealthy gentlemen who bred these horses knew what they were doing.
The pedigree as presented here is “researched”—in other words, direct record can't be found for some breedings so the identities of the horses must be deduced. Mackay-Smith brings all the available evidence for this together in his Speed and the Thoroughbred and The Colonial QuarterRunning Horse.
A very interesting fact emerges when we accept Mackay-Smith’s assumptions: 16th- and early 17th-century breeders were “conserving” Hobby blood, in other words endeavoring to keep the percentage of Hobby at about 25 percent in the foals they produced. The pedigree presented goes back six generations, and yet a century later the “Childers” stallions still carried about one-quarter Hobby blood.
Assuming that the Darley Arabian was 50 percent Asil, his sons were quarter-Arabians with 37 percent Turcoman, 23 percent Hobby, and 15 percent Barb. If the Darley horse was actually only one-fourth Asil, his sons were 50 percent Turcoman, which in the light of recent DNA studies seems more likely.
By the last quarter of the 18th century, British racehorse breeders were producing not only “strong and useful” horses that could “carry speed over a distance of ground,” but also some that were outstandingly beautiful to look at, as well. The Darley, an imported horse, was far more famous in his day for beauty than either for speed or for prepotency
at stud. British breeders also produced lovely horses at home, by covering English-bred Hobby-Barb mares with Turcoman-Arabian stallions.
The early Thoroughbred most famous today for sheer beauty is Whistlejacket, foaled in 1749. Stubbs painted this horse at least twice, once in 1762 “with Simon Cobb, the Groom” and again the same year, a monumental nine-foothigh canvas of the horse posed in an expressive galop à droite. I present the Simon Cobb image here in order to give an
idea of Whistlejacket’s standing conformation. To a degree this portrait succumbs to the 18thcentury fashion for rendering the horse’s head and neck smaller and finer than they really were. However, his life-sized portrait in motion renders these parts realistically (enlarged detail, right) and shows us a head so fine that it appears to have been carven of wax, bearing an expression of great intelligence and sensitivity.
Unlike the Darley, Whistlejacket was a winner at King’s Plate racing. A grandson of the Godolphin “Arabian,” analysis of Whistlejacket’s pedigree (below) reveals a balance of ancestry a little different than that of Flying Childers, particularly in carrying a higher percentage of Turcoman blood. A one-eighth contribution of Asil ancestry through Whistlejacket’s dam was evidently enough to produce a horse that not only had speed, “bottom” and quality but also outstanding beauty.