Ocala is home to all breeds of horses, but the history of the thoroughbred in our area is uniquely deep. In fact, if you’re thinking of moving to Marion County, it’s probably a good idea to bone up on your equine knowledge in general, whether you’re a horse owner or not. The basics are always good to have handy, but we’ve put together a list of little-known facts and quirks about thoroughbreds and horseracing that will make you sound like a Horse Country native–even if you can’t tell a thoroughbred from a Shetland pony!
1. Although horseracing has been practiced in many different forms by many different cultures throughout history, modern horseracing owes its existence to 18th century Turkey and Arabia. All modern thoroughbreds can trace their lineage back to three stallions imported to England from the Middle East in the early 1700s: the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian.
2. Thoroughbreds are famous for having both impressive and ridiculous names, and owners often rack their brains trying to come up with a name that will make their horse stand out from the field. Arguably the most absurd name in the history of horseracing is Potoooooooo, or as it is more commonly abbreviated, Pot8o’s. The story about how poor Potoooooooo, the 18th century stallion sired by the legendary Eclipse, got his name varies. What’s certain is that his breeder intended to name him “Potatoes.” Some say his name came about due to a miscommunication between the breeder and the stable boy who wrote the name down, or that the stable boy was being intentionally mischievous, but whatever happened, the stable boy wrote down “Pot” literally followed by eight o’s. The breeder was so amused that the name stuck, and Potoooooooo was assured a place in horseracing history.
3. Speaking of strange names, a much more recent naming kerfuffle took place in the early 2000’s when a thoroughbred owner, fed up with the Jockey Club’s constant rejection of his name choices due to character restrictions, finally named his horse “Eighteencharacters” out of spite.
4. Secretariat, who was the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 25 years in 1973, was remarkable for more than his racing record. His heart weighed 22 pounds, nearly three times the weight of the average thoroughbred’s. His veterinarian theorized that such a huge heart gave him an edge on the track, and contributed to his record-smashing win at Belmont when he won the notoriously unforgiving 1.5 mile race by 31 lengths in two minutes and twenty-four seconds.
5. Much is made in the racing industry over illustrious pedigrees and miracle-working trainers, but sometimes all it takes is grit: the winner of the 1908 Grand National Steeplechase was a three-year old plow horse fresh out of the fields.
6. 25 years is considered a ripe old age for a horse, but thoroughbred Tango Duke hit that milestone and kept right on living to the unbelievable age of 42. He is the longest-lived thoroughbred known to the industry and died in 1978.
7. During the Civil War, thoroughbreds imported from England were in high demand as cavalry horses. Cavalrymen preferred their mounts fast and agile, and thoroughbreds definitely fit the bill.
8. 170,500 people attended the 2015 Kentucky Derby, the largest attendance in the race’s history since its inception in 1875.
9. Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States, was known for his hot temper and hard nature. Less known is that he enjoyed breeding thoroughbreds at his estate in Tennessee, and frequently raced them.
10. There is a racehorse buried in the infield at Belmont Park. During a much-anticipated match race with Foolish Pleasure, Ruffian broke down after she was injured and her jockey tried desperately in vain to pull her up. She was euthanized soon after the race, and was buried near a flagpole in the infield with her nose pointing toward the finish line.
11. Only three fillies have ever won the Kentucky Derby: Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988.
12. Thoroughbreds are famously excellent racehorses, but they are involved in other equine sports as well. They are highly sought after dressage horses, and even make excellent polo ponies.
13. Chariot races in ancient Rome are the earliest confirmed examples of organized race horses, but it’s likely that horseracing began as far back as 4,500 BC in Central Asia.
14. Thoroughbreds are known for being a slight and compact breed, but today’s thoroughbreds are giants compared to their ancestors. Modern thoroughbreds are thought to be over twice the size of the Arabians raced in the Middle East centuries ago.