Eclipse,the Galloways and the history of horse racing

All horses descended from 'Eclipse' are descendants of the Galloways.

Dates of interest:

Alexander I (c. 1078 – 1124), called "The Fierce", King of Scotland, was reported to have imported a pure bred Arabian horse and gifted it to the church at St Andrews in 1103.

1662 - regular sailing service between Ireland and Port Patrick (Galloway) Scotland.

Horseracing has been in existence for many centuries. Indeed, in Homer attributed versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey we read of their great chariot races, so competitiveness in speed and stamina of horses has been around for much longer than time is able to adequately record. As well as this, we read of the 'immortal' horses, Xanthus and Balius, and in many cave drawings we see hunters on horses, albeit small horses.

The Bible records King Solomon as an avid horse breeder, with grand stables and hundreds of mares, many brought to him from Egypt. These animals have been revered since mankind evolved. But how often do we hear mention of Scotland's rich past in such conversations?

When we refer to horseracing in modern times, we automatically think of Thoroughbreds, Arabs or Standardbreds (trotters or pacers) depending on where our allegiance lies, racing over distances of anything from 5 furlongs (sprint) to 4.5 miles, in the case of the Grand National.

Across the Atlantic, we hear of the American Quarter Horses, so-named for their incredible speed over the quarter mile, a mere 2 furlongs by today's track measures. But these distances pale into insignificance when compared to the traditional match races run on our racecourses of old. Twenty miles was not unheard off at that time. On further investigation, we discover a plethora of local and regional racetracks, many nothing more than the flat sands of the coasts staked out at low tide.

Probably the first racecourse, as we recognise them today, was right here in Scotland, in the market town of Lanark.


The 'Silver Bell' is reputedly the most ancient Racing Trophy in Britain, possibly in the world, yet its origins are disputed. The 'Bell' disappeared without trace for many years, reappearing in 1836. It was discovered in Lanark Town Council's vaults whilst they were in the process of moving to their new offices in Hope Street. Many believed 'the Bell' to have been gifted from King William 'The Lion' of Scotland in approximately 1165. If this were the case, the trophy really would be the oldest in the world. But it is, indeed, recorded that King William stayed at Lanark Castle on numerous occasions to participate in the local hunt and to watch the racing on the moors.

Studies of the various hallmarks on the re-discovered 'Bell' linked them to silversmiths dating to the years 1587 and 1599. These, however, do not automatically reflect the date of actual creation as they could simply reflect on dates of inscription work. This leads us to the possibility that the traditional belief may not be unfounded. To my knowledge, it has never been disproved.

The Silver Bell Stakes was a highly acclaimed race competed for annually at Lanark Racecourse. The old inscriptions on the trophy suggest that Sir Johne Hamilton of Trabovn was one of the first winners, in 1628, to have their name engraved on such a prestigious prize. Where the trophy was prior to this date, I cannot say. Each year, the winner of the race would be awarded a replica of the original 'Bell'. On the occasion of, for example, the winner being a noted dignitary, the authentic trophy would be awarded for the period of that year.

The opening meeting at the 'new' Lanark racecourse in 1909 once again ran 'The Silver Bell', which was duly won by Lord Rosebery's 'Dandyprat', a horse trained by Sam Darling and ridden by Freddy Fox. The last ever running of the 'Lanark Silver Bell Stakes' was in 1977. The winner, 'Border River', was owned and trained by Clifford Watts and ridden by David Nicholls. Mr Nicholls was also the last jockey to ride a double on Lanark racecourse after beating the field in the final race on board 'Mrs Bee' for Eric Collingwood.

Over the years, discussions have taken place about the feasibility of re-introducing this near 'Classic' event into the Scottish Racing Calendar. Private debates continued on the subject about whether or not the race, if re-introduced, be run at Hamilton Park. Many traditionalists voiced their opinions in favour of investing in the re-opening of the old Lanark Racecourse whilst others agree that the first recognised winner, Sir Johne, would be honoured should Hamilton Park be chosen.

On various other occasions, the suggestion has been put forward for the re-opening of Lanark racecourse after conversion to Scotland's first all-weather track. In 1994, RAM Racecourses, which ran Southwell and Wolverhampton tracks, considered the feasibility of a fibresand track. Unfortunately, the economic climate of racing at that time dictated otherwise.

In the summer of 1978, harness racing began at Lanark. Eight fixtures were secured for the course when a new company was formed, headed by Sir Hugh Fraser and a group of Scottish businessmen. There were high hopes of hosting a feature race, 'The Silver Bell', which would be, "the biggest trotting race in Scotland", however, the local council would not allow the historic 'Bell' to slip from their grasp. At this present moment in time Lanark Racecourse, to me, looks well and truly past its glory days. The future of Lanark as a Flat track looks bleak. The Point-to-Point meetings, previously held there in February and March, have since been relocated to Overton Farm in the Crossford area of the Clyde Valley, where owner Willie Young also trains a handful of National Hunt horses under permit.

There are many enthusiasts within the sport who would be only too willing to support the total refurbishment of Lanark as a racecourse. Whether the surface is turf or all weather, or even redeveloped into a training facility, racing in Scotland could benefit greatly from any such project. However, one salient question posed relates to the physical reality of the potential to develop.

More encouraging news was again received in August 1995 when it was disclosed that Stan Clarke, then Chairman for Uttoxeter and Newcastle racecourses, had discussions with Lanark Council with views to a feasibility study being carried out by his company, Northern Racing Ltd. The future plans would include a hotel and chalets. But following this wild goose chase were further suggestions to develop a fibre sand track at Newcastle. Neither materialised.

Adjacent to Lanark racecourse stood the old Winston Cavalry Barracks - Ministry of Defence property. The possibility exists that there is a less than simple explanation for why no redevelopment work has ever taken place. The original track had a notoriously 'bad' camber, yet even this was never excavated for correction. This may pose the question - what really lies beneath old Lanark Racecourse?

Several years ago, proposals were afoot for surface works to be carried out enabling the location to be used for light aircraft - some sort of flying club, I believe. Again, this failed to realise full potential. It leaves us with the conclusion that, although Lanark and the 'Silver Bell' may be down for now, they are not necessarily out of the picture. The site is still intact, only the reminders of its former glory have gone.


From the earliest possible origins of the Lanark Silver Bell, I would like to take you back several centuries, right back to AD 79 to be precise, and the Roman conquest of Northern Britain. In AD 84, the Romans defeated the Caledonians at the Battle of Mons Graupius. It wasn't long after this that Agricola constructed a line of forts all the way from the Forth to the Clyde. Right back from these times, Scotland's equine population has been influenced by foreign blood. But the Pictish north was a mountainous and hazardous region where animals had to labour over rocks and through steep glens, often carrying or pulling great weights. For these purposes, the heavier boned, hairy-legged animals were far superior, their sturdy frames able to carry and pull more, their hairy legs less susceptible to damage by rocky terrain, heather and gorse. Gradually, the Romans and their horses were forced southwards and into the border regions and the Galloways, then further still until, in AD 105, they were forced out of Scotland completely. But that is not to say that all their horses went with them, not by a long chalk. These Roman bloodlines mixed with the rough, hairy little ponies of the north had developed into medium-sized, clean-legged horses, fast, agile and extremely adaptable, but still bearing the colours of their dappled and dun relatives.

Hadrian built his wall, tribes fought and won, they fought and lost and, despite the wall's undulating falls and rises, ponies bred. Around about the year 350 AD, St. Ninian was born. It was he who built the church at Whithorn, in the south of Galloway. It was also to here, over the years, that many have flocked, commoner and Royalty alike. These lands were crossed frequently by those making their pilgrimages to the church of St. Ninian. It is amazing to think that so many horses (and people) once wandered these lands, and it can only make one wonder what secrets the Lowther Hills and surrounding Galloway areas would give up on closer investigation. Our pilgrims' way to the 'Cradle of Christianity' may well offer up proof positive, one day, of Galloway's claims to the birthright of modern day Thoroughbreds.

795 AD saw more invasions, with the arrival of the Vikings. Here, though, I suspect that more of our native stock was taken than was added to, and many highland and island dwelling ponies would have headed for Scandinavia. The battles with the Vikings and Norsemen raged for years. Scotland was continually being raided or plundered and with all these raiders and plunderers there came fresh breeding stock to add to the intensely diverse genetic pool that was infiltrating our country.

In 1165, William 1 'the Lion' succeeded Malcolm IV and, as previously suggested, King William enjoyed his trips to Lanark Castle to absorb the thrill of the hunt and to watch the horse races on Lanark moors.

By the year 1500, records begin to show the existence of organised races. By 1575, evidence exists of horse races being run on the Solway Sands of Dumfries. Of course, the races of these times were not between pedigree Thoroughbreds; they were between the working horses and ponies of the day, known to many as the Scottish (or Scotch) Galloways. Many owners would travel the country with their speedy mounts, running them in races that could total as many as 12 miles, each race divided into three heats of about four miles with only a half hour gap between them. There are even reports of claiming and selling races, and of organised gambling.

A predecessor to betting tax was in existence in some areas governing how much could be won within a 24-hour period, with any surplus being turned over to the local Kirk. The following, although not complete, lists some of the locations in Scotland where races have been recorded. However, horseracing in one form or another started many centuries previous to this:

Aberdeen (the links) - 1661

Ayr - 1576

Coupar, Fife - 1621

Dumfries (Solway Sands) - 1575

Glasgow - 1625

Jedburgh - 1625

Leith Sands - 1504

Paisley - 1620

Peebles - 1608

Perth - 1613

Selkirk - 1610

Stirling - 1598

Airdrie (Lanarkshire) - 1853

Ardrossan - 1808

Dunbar - 1871

Kilmarnock - 1866

Stranraer (Wigtown) - 1819-22

The above list is far from exhaustive, with many documented events having been excluded. So, too, have the trotting tracks such as was found in Motherwell. Nor do the dates included depict actual start dates for horseracing in these areas; they are merely dates of events that were recorded or documented in the publications of their time.

A particular case to note is that of Stirling, where racing is recorded for 1598. But in 1566, stables in this area would already have been full of foreign horses, some of which would, undoubtedly, have been used to improve the quality of local stock. Many were brought by visitors arriving to witness the christening of Prince James, son of Mary, Queen of Scots. In a few years time, when the young Prince had ascended to the throne as King James VI (King James I of England), he took to seriously improving the horses for racing purposes. And let us not forget the tales of the Arabian horse gifted by King Alexander I to St Andrews Church centuries before this in 1103 and the later accounts of visitations to Lanark by King William I, who watched the racing on Lanark moors during the Twelfth Century.

In 1588, the Spanish Armada met stormy weather off the northern coast of Scotland. Numerous ships ran aground; many of these would have carried horses. Andalusian / Lusitano and Barb blood would have added greatly to the quality and speed of native Scottish racehorses. With the introduction of the inland postal service between Edinburgh and London in 1635, it was soon no secret that Scotland was breeding some very fast equines - the Galloways.

The late 17th and early 18th centuries saw the first recorded details of horse breeding, what we would now refer to as the beginnings of modern day bloodstock, by Weatherbys and, in 1777, the Racing Calendar recorded a five-day race meeting at Ayr.

By 1795, regular race meetings were being organised and publicised nationally for places such as Dumfries, Ayr, Edinburgh, Hamilton and Lanark. The Galloways had well and truly made their mark.


Long before the arrival of gleaming leggy Thoroughbreds, and before John Buchan put the Galloway Hills on the literary map in his 'Thirty Nine Steps', the Scots had been breeding Galloways - the little racing horses of our past. The Galloway is famous the world over, even down to its claim to have bred the speed into the Quarter Horses of America.

The age-old 'Sport of Kings', Harness Racing and Polo all owe more than just their passing 'thanks' to the Galloways. Even in pre-Christian times, native British ponies were known for their speed and Julius Caesar commented on this very fact in his recount of the Gallic Wars.

Since the demise of the Galloways, it is thought that the name, for a time, became synonymous with any fast horse of a certain stature, and it is still referred to in some parts of the world such as Australia. To use the name in everyday language, I would say that any Thoroughbred of 15hh or less is a well bred, or thorough bred Galloway. Instantly recognisable names within racing spring to mind, such as Gimcrack, after whom the Gimcrack Stakes at York is named.

Digging deeper into the existence of this little horse provides us with the fact that he stood not much more than 14 hands high! The native Galloway Horses were tough little creatures and probably the fastest in Britain. They can, in addition, lay claim to being the foundation breeding stock of the Polo Ponies.

Names such as 'Bald Galloway', the 'Warlock Galloway', the 'Shield Galloway' and the 'Mixbury Galloway' are all mentioned at some point by the Polo Pony Stud Book, as well as the General Stud Book. The clean-legged, fleet footedness must surely have come from the influx of Turk and Barb horses that had arrived here from Europe and beyond.

The Bald Galloway is recorded as a grey horse, a mixture of native and Barb blood, going back to the Fenwick Barb. However, his ability to produce some rather oddly marked offspring suggests that the 'bald' was more relevant to piebald, as in a mixture of black and white, than to grey. History and genetics dictate that he certainly had more than just a white face and, on closer inspection of the actual word 'bald', its root meaning all the way back to Homeric times is 'white headed'. Regardless of his colour or short stature, Bald Galloway became, in racing terms, Champion Sire in 1725.

The Warlock Galloway, registered as a chestnut mare, was foaled around 1728. But my train of thought reveals a possible error at registration - someone misspelled the filly's name. It should actually have been the Wanlock Galloway. Her dam, known simply as the 'Old Lady', was by Bald Galloway, out of a Carlisle Turk mare, and her sire was a descendant of Darcy's White Turk. The change of this one single letter in the naming of this horse was a serious mistake, in my opinion.

The Lowther Hills lie between South Lanarkshire (where Lanark racecourse is situated) and Dumfries & Galloway (where racing was on Dumfries Sands). These hills are amongst the highest in the land and home to Scotland's highest village, Wanlockhead. This was lead-mining country, so many of the native ponies would have been in work. Lowther, Wanlock and Queensbury areas would all have been home to native Galloway horses.

Henry Curwen bred the Mixbury Galloway. Mixbury, as the name suggests, was a mixture of native, Barb and Turk blood. This was a tiny bay coloured colt, standing no more than 13.2hh, suggesting that his father was not much more. My suspicions are that he had more than just a few white hairs through his brown coat. As a stallion, he sired a colt named Harlequin, again a mixed colour sounding name and again this horse was under 14hh.

The Curwen family took their name from the Galloway name of Culwen. The family home was Workington Hall, which is across the water in Cumbria. This was also mining country and the port of Workington regularly shipped coal to Ireland and limestone between there and Galloway. With the Curwen family name playing such an important part in the history of Thoroughbreds, it is small wonder that we discover its many connections with Galloway.

It was Workington Hall that Mary, Queen of Scots, visited after leaving Dundrennon Abbey in Galloway, on her way to Carlisle. Many of those horses that had stood in the stables of Stirling and Fife would have gone with her, with more than a slight possibility of certain of their numbers being gifted along the way to the hosting families, Henry Curwen included. At a time when Catholics were not allowed to own horses of a particular value, much of the Workington stock was shipped further south, to Nottinghamshire and beyond.

It is becoming easier to see how racing was firmly established in Chester before it ventured forth into Newmarket. The Thoroughbreds of today are nothing less than a direct result of the northern mining communities - the modern day Thoroughbred is an offshoot of the Galloway pit, pack and plough horses who could gallop miles over rough terrain and went racing on make-shift tracks.

My suspicion is that the stallion originally registered as Spanker in 1670 was from the Sanquhar horses, just like the Warlock was Wanlock. Queensbury is another of the peaks in the nearby Lowther Hills but, owing to the name, I would suggest that many of these horses would simply have been known as 'Royals'.

As for the colour of Ringtail Galloway, this probably means that the mare was of true wild dun colouration complete with black dorsal stripe, tail markings and possibly even the dark ring markings on her legs as well. Spanker (or Sanquhar) was registered as buckskin, which also resembles dun. These markings can still be seen on our Highland Ponies of today.

Ringtail Galloway was born in 1727 and later bred several foals crossed to Arab blood. One particular filly, born in 1737, was named simply as 'Miss Patch'. I'll leave the true colour of her to your imagination. The progeny of this particular bloodline also went to Ireland.

As far back as 1680, we can find references to specific Galloway racing. A fine example is a match race between the Hon. Bernard Howard's gelding 'Sweet Lips' and Mr Bellingham's Scotch Galloway, in a four-mile race at Newmarket on the 18th April. Scotch Galloway is also listed as having raced against a horse named Tapster at Newmarket in 1681. From 1686 there are reports of a £5 plate for Galloways at Ormskirk in Lancashire and by April 1688 a race known as the Town Plate for Galloways was in existence, possibly as a result of the development of the previously listed event.

In 1696, The Company of Scotland Trading with Africa and the Indies was founded, further opening the channels for the import of the Barbs. The African Barbs were clean-legged horses, predominantly grey, and averaged about 15hh - about the maximum height attained by the Galloways. Many of these horses would have been used at stud.

1715 saw the introduction of horse-borne post between Edinburgh and Glasgow, with the service being extended northwards by 1717. News could travel much faster, which meant news of exceptionally fast horses and competitive racing spread equally fast.

There is absolutely no disputing the fact that Galloway horses existed, nor is there any dispute in the fact that they were the predecessors of modern racehorses in the UK, but what became of the Galloways?

Over hundreds of years, cross-bred with the foreign arrivals, many metamorphosed into what we now call Thoroughbreds. Many others were encapsulated within the development of the Chapman's horses, or Cleveland Bays, whilst others found their way into Iceland or were scattered throughout Britain as part of specific breeding programmes. To improve on the size and speed of our diminutive native Galloways, breeders in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries began importing stallions for this exact purpose. Horses included the Byerley Turk, the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian, although some reports state that the Godolphin Arabian was, in actual fact, a Barb. These three bloodlines, which were undoubtedly bred to Galloway mares, remain to this day.

Where does that place the Derby winners and Grand National heroes of our time? What of horses like Shergar and Mill Reef, Desert Orchid and Red Rum? The truth is that if they are descended from that famous chestnut stallion named 'Eclipse', then they are descendants of the Galloways. As most true racehorse enthusiasts will know, modern day racing and the bloodstock industry wouldn't exist in it's current form without the world famous 'Eclipse'. As the saying goes, "Eclipse first and the rest nowhere".

A brief study of the pedigree of the great 'Eclipse' shows that The Godolphin Arabian/Barb was bred to a grey mare named as Grey Robinson in 1723. This grey mare was by Bald Galloway, thought to be the exact same stallion mentioned in the Polo Pony Stud Book, whose great grand sire on his dam's side is given as the Fenwick Barb. (Fenwick is located in the south west of Scotland, convenient for Galloway, Ayrshire and Glasgow).

Hambletonian is cited as the foundation sire of most, if not all, of today's harness racing Standardbreds. He was a direct descendent of 'Messenger', the British Thoroughbred horse exported to America around 1788. But from what does 'Messenger' descend?

Again, history dictates that the Galloways played a major part. What I find particularly interesting in this almost 'swept-under-the-carpet' historic scenario is the coat patterns of these original animals. The native mares, going back to those very first Galloways to be registered in the General Stud Book, were mainly grey, chestnut, palomino, and buckskin - similar to the dun colours found in our native Highland Ponies, and many wild ponies. It is also interesting to note that the majority of these animals were small, in comparison to most of today's racehorses. The Galloways, by definition, were no more than 15hh, with many much smaller animals being raced. Arabs average around 14.2hh and the Barbs around 15hh. The only explanation for the increased size in modern day Thoroughbreds must, therefore, provide evidence to the fact that somewhere along the line, the great work horses or war-horses played their part. This, in my opinion, would further contribute to the genetic cocktail that makes up the modern day Thoroughbred.

Others speculate that the vastly improved conditions under which the animals were kept plays the contributory role. Either way, if current breeding trends continue, it must surely equate to original traits reappearing. I, for one, can think of several small, yet phenomenally successful, Thoroughbreds.

The famous Northern Dancer was only about 15.2hh, but many of his relatives, such as In The Wings or the diminutive mare, appropriately named Inchmurrin, never made it to these heights.

Will history repeat itself and reveal an odd array of multi-coloured and/or, pony-sized Thoroughbreds?

Will the coat-colours of the past come seeping back through?

It may already have done so, but here in the UK the governing body accepts only the basic solid colours for registration into The General Stud Book, where the occasional 'Roan' appears.

Without an entry in the 'big book', no horse in the UK can race under the rules of flat racing. At best, it may eventually fight its way onto the track via the rules of National Hunt Racing. Indeed, on 1st April 2000, a skewbald Thoroughbred named Honeypot Shyenne went hurdling at Towcester.Anyone familiar with coloured horses and bloodlines will be familiar with her sire, Stetsen, who was by the stallion Ayyabaan, but I suspect that both she and her sire would be registered through the Non-Thoroughbred department of Weatherbys - the keepers of the 'big book'.

At this time, the tri-coloured, 16hh Stetsen stands at stud in Somerset. The nick in his pedigree appears to be The Tetrarch. It could be a while yet before we see pure white, spotted, palomino or coloured Thoroughbreds running on our courses here in Britain, but one only has to look to the USA for proof that the various coat colours have not been bred out of our racehorses. It is a fact that now, in New York, The Jockey Club is paying attention to these colour permutations.

Patchen Beauty was foaled in 1995. This white filly was sired by Hatchet Man, and raced from 1997 to 2000.

On 13th December 2002, a 3 year-old chestnut filly with white patches (skewbald) named Painted La Riva, won its first race at Portland Meadows - on the flat.

2001 saw the arrival of Allamystique, a colt described as, 'white with black in mane and tail, dark eyes and red sparkles through his coat'. His bay dam, named Ms Dubious, was by the dark brown/bay Hawkster, who was recorded as the fastest ever racehorse over one and a half miles. His sire, Silver Hawk, was also the sire of the sadly departed English Derby winning, Benny The Dip.

Even more unusual is the fact that in May 2005, 'All Glory to God', a 2 year-old pure white Thoroughbred colt, went into training at San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall, California, where four previous Kentucky Derby winners have been trained. The colt, one of about thirty pure white horses to have been registered with the American Jockey Club, makes his debut later this year and carries with him the possibility of an entry in the 2006 Triple Crown races. A quick glance at his breeding leads to all sorts of speculation as his sire, the curiously marked chestnut, Airdrie Apache, is by Naevus, making him a grandson of Mr Prospector.

Once again, having briefly perused the pedigrees of all these colour 'deviations' from General Stud Book 'norm', certain names continually appear. What does this all mean for the future of British Racing?

As long as the powers that be continue to breed racehorses to specific bloodlines, then we will continue to see the quest for 'perfection', but perfection is elusive and progression comes in many guises. A specific combination of speed and stamina is still the main goal, but how many potential top class horses are being lost each year through no fault of their own other than being born into the wrong coat colour?

How long will it be before we see the average height of the great British Thoroughbred diminish in a step back to its ancient common ancestry?

To date, I can recall several incidents of strange colour 'anomalies' infiltrating the great British institution of flat racing, including Tribal Drum, The Flying Phantom and Al Muhalhal.

In the high accolades of flat racing and bloodstock development, the question of any unusual colour in Thoroughbreds, I fear, is not one that is open to public scrutiny.

(c) By Susan King (2005)

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