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Jersey Act

An early volume of the General Stud Book, Volume 6

The Jersey Act was a British regulation passed in 1913 to prevent the registration of most American-bred Thoroughbred horses in the British General Stud Book. It began with the desire of the British to prevent an influx of American-bred racehorses of possibly impure bloodlines in the early 1900s. Many American-bred horses were being imported to Europe because a number of the states in the United States (US) had banned gambling, which depressed Thoroughbred racing as well as breeding. American breeders were sending their surplus horses to Europe to race and retire to a breeding career. Because of the American Civil War and the late beginning of the registration of American Thoroughbreds, many British felt that American-bred horses were not purebred Thoroughbreds.

In 1913, the Jockey Club and the owners of the General Stud Book passed a regulation, named after its, Lord Jersey, that prohibited the registration of horses in the book unless all their ancestors had also been registered. Although American breeders protested against the act, it was not until 1949 that it was repealed. The main factors behind the repeal were the racing success of ineligible horses in Europe, the damage that the act was doing to British and Irish breeders, and the fact that by 1949 the impure ancestors had receded far back in most horses' ancestry.



Prior to the passage of the Jersey Act in 1913, Thoroughbred horses in the United Kingdom were registered in the General Stud Book, the stud book for British and Irish Thoroughbreds. The rules allowed a horse to be registered if all of the horse's ancestors were registered in the General Stud Book or if it had been bred outside of Britain or Ireland and was registered in the stud book of its country of origin.[1] Generally, the General Stud Book had the most stringent rules for registration of Thoroughbreds at the time, around 1900; other countries, including the Americans, the French, the Australians and the Russians, were considered by the British and Irish to be much laxer and to have allowed in some non-Thoroughbred horses into their national stud books.[2]

The outlawing of race-track betting in some of the United States between 1900 and 1913 led to a large influx of American-bred horses into Britain and Ireland, giving rise to fears among British breeders that they would be swamped by the American bloodlines and their own stock would become worthless.[3] The biggest state to outlaw betting was New York, which passed the Hart-Agnew Law in 1908.[4] By 1911, the average price for yearlings sold at auction were at a record low of $230 ($ in current dollars).[5] Before 1900, most horses that were imported into the British Isles came to race and rarely stayed for a breeding career. With the outlawing of gambling, however, there were large numbers of horses in the United States that could no longer be supported, and many began to be shipped to Europe for racing. Because of the downturn in the horse market in the US, it was assumed that most of the horses sent to Europe would stay there permanently and, after retirement from the racetrack, would enter their breeding careers outside the US.[1][2]

The problem involving the American bloodlines was that the American Stud Book, the registration book for American Thoroughbreds, was not founded until 1873, unlike the General Stud Book.[6] The rules for registration into the American Stud Book only required that a horse have five generations of thoroughbred breeding, unlike the General Stud Book rules.[7] Besides the lack of a central record keeping authority, another problem involved the destruction of records in the American Civil War, as fighting during that conflict took place in noted American Thoroughbred breeding centers. Because of these difficulties, most American Thoroughbreds in 1913 were unable to show an unblemished pedigree. Adding to the problem was the fact that American horses were beginning to win the big horse races in England, starting with Iroquois, who won the 1881 Epsom Derby.[6]

J. B. Haggin, an American breeder and owner of the historic Elmendorf Farm, had begun to ship large contingents of horses to England for sale, including the 1908 Grand National steeplechase winner Rubio, and the fear was that if other American breeders followed his lead, the English racing market would be overwhelmed. As a first step, the English racing authorities began to limit the number of training licenses at Newmarket Racecourse, turning away a number of American breeders.[8] The General Stud Book rules for registration were also amended in 1909 to restrict registration to horses whose ancestry entirely traced to horses already registered in the General Stud Book, but horses registered in other national stud books were still allowed to be imported and registered.[9]

Passage of the act

The owners of the General Stud Book, Weatherbys, consulted with the Jockey Club, the actual racing authority in the United Kingdom, and discussions were held about the problems in pedigrees recorded in the American Stud Book.[1] At a meeting of the Jockey Club in the spring of 1913, Victor Child Villiers, Lord Jersey, a steward of the club, proposed a resolution limiting the registration of American bloodlines.[6] It passed unanimously in May,[10] and a new regulation was placed in the General Stud Book, Volume 22:[3]

No horse or mare can, after this date, be considered as eligible for admission unless it can be traced without flaw on both sire's and dam's side of its pedigree to horses and mares themselves already accepted in the earlier volumes of this Book.[11][notes 1]

The Jersey Act did not have the force of law, as it was promulgated by the registration authorities of the Thoroughbred horse and not by the United Kingdom government.[3][6][7] Nor was it promulgated by the racing authorities in the British Isles, which is the Jockey Club, who do not have authority over registration, only over racing matters.[7] The act required that any horse registered in the General Stud Book trace in every line to a horse that had already been registered in the General Stud Book. This effectively excluded most American-bred Thoroughbreds.[12]


A 1857 engraving of Lexington, from Frank Forester's Horse and Horsemanship of the United States

The new rule was not applied retroactively, however, so any American-bred horse registered in the General Stud Book before 1913 remained registered, and its descendants were also eligible for registration.[3] It did have an immediate effect, though, as the winner of the 1914 Epsom Derby was a horse that was not eligible for the General Stud Book because of the newly passed Jersey Act. Durbar II's dam was Armenia, who was bred in the United States and was not herself eligible for the General Stud Book.[13]

The main problem for American breeders was the presence of the blood of Lexington in their breeding programs. Lexington's pedigree was suspect to the British racing authorities on his dam's side, and as he had been the leading sire of racehorses in the United States for sixteen years, his descendants were numerous. Most American-bred Thoroughbreds traced to Lexington at least once.[3][14] Nor was he the only horse registered in the American Stud Book who had suspect bloodlines.[7]

Most British breeders thought the regulation necessary and welcomed it. Most American breeders found it insulting and thought it was designed merely to protect the British racehorse market,[3] although at first there was little complaint because of domestic problems dealing with the gambling restrictions.[6] It did depress the American export market even further. Little organized opposition to the act happened at first, probably owing to the effects of the gambling bans in the United States on the domestic horse market.[10] The American Jockey Club did not even take notice of it in its official publication, with no notice of the changed registration rules for the General Stud Book appearing in the Jockey Club's meeting minutes for 1913.[15] Contributing to the lack of outcry was a legal ruling in New York that allowed oral betting at racetracks, which led to the growth of racing in the United States, and by 1920 the American breeding market had rebounded and entered a boom economy.[16]

The act did not even prevent the racing of horses containing the banned bloodlines, as a number of horses bred that way raced and won in England. They were just considered "half-bred". A number of American-bred horses carrying the lines of Lexington had already been imported into England, including Americus, Rhoda B, and Sibola, and because they were grandfathered in, they and their descendants were allowed to be registered in the General Stud Book.[3][notes 2] Neither did it prevent the racing of horses that were not registered in the General Stud Book; it just prevented registration in the General Stud Book.[6] American bloodlines, whether registered in the General Stud Book or not, dominated English racing in the 1920s and 30s.[3] Horses that were ineligibile for General Stud Book registration, but were allowed to race, were identified with a Maltese cross in programs and auction listings.[8]

A number of American breeders, including the then-chairman of the American Jockey Club, William Woodward, Sr., lobbied hard throughout the 1930s to have the act repealed.[18] Woodward, and other defenders of the American bloodlines, argued that the racing performance of the horses proved their purity, even if they could not produce papers that did so. Those arguing for keeping the Jersey Act in effect pointed out that the General Stud Book is a record of bloodlines, not a work recording racing ability.[19]

Ironically, the major effect was the opposite of that intended. Because the Act excluded most American-bred lines, the breeding programs of the British Isles did not use them. However, these bloodlines were some of the most successful racing lines in the world by the end of Second World War. By not allowing their use, British and Irish breeders effectively made their breeding programs second-rate.[20]


The rule was modified in June 1949,[6] after the racing careers of a number of horses, including Tourbillon and Djebel, forced the Jockey Club to reconsider.[17][notes 3] After the Second World War, a number of French-bred Thoroughbreds began to race in England, but because they carried American lines, they were considered half-breds. In 1948 two of England's five classic races were won by half-bred horses, My Babu and Black Tarquin, prompting the Jockey Club to modify the act.[3] The General Stud Book was amended to state that:
Any animal claiming admission from now onwards must be able to prove satisfactorily some eight or nine crosses pure blood, to trace back for at least a century, and to show such performances of its immediate family on the Turf as to warrant the belief in the purity of its blood.[21][notes 4]
This removed the stigma of not being considered purebred from American-bred horses.[3] The main reasons for the repeal included the fact that by this time, most of the horses with suspect pedigrees were so far back in most horses' ancestry that it no longer made much sense to exclude them. Another reason was that it made little sense to exclude some of the most successful racehorses in Europe from registration.[20] Weatherby's further amended its regulations in 1969, introducing the word "thoroughbred" to describe the horses registered in previous volumes of the General Stud Book.[16] In 2006, Blood-Horse Publications, which publishes The Blood-Horse magazine, chose the repeal of the Jersey Act as the 39th most important moment in Thoroughbred horse racing.[6]


  1. Admission means registration in this instance.
  2. Americus was an ancestor of Mumtaz Mahal, herself an ancestress of Nasrullah. Sibola was an ancestress of Nearco. Both of these stallions were very influential in Thoroughbred breeding.[17]
  3. Tourbillon's maternal grandsire was Durbar II, who won the 1914 Epsom Derby and was the first winner of the Derby to be ineligible for the General Stud Book.[13]
  4. Crosses means generations of a pedigree, in this case, meaning that the pedigree goes back eight or nine generations.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Napier and Rasmussen Treasures of the Bloodstock Breeders' Review p. 642
  2. 2.0 2.1 Leicester Bloodstock Breeding p. 78
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Willett Classic Racehorse pp. 71–74
  4. Robertson History of Thoroughbred Racing in America p. 196
  5. Robertson History of Thoroughbred Racing in America p. 198
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Blood-Horse Staff Horse Racing's Top 100 Moments pp. 124–125
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Leicester Bloodstock Breeding p. 79
  8. 8.0 8.1 Robertson History of Thoroughbred Racing in America pp. 198–199
  9. Leicester Bloodstock Breeding pp. 79–80
  10. 10.0 10.1 Wall Judging the Horse pp. 189–190
  11. Quoted in Willett Classic Racehorse pp. 71–72
  12. Racing Through the Century: 1911–1920. Thoroughbred Times. Accessed 23 February 2009
  13. 13.0 13.1 Napier and Rasmussen Treasures of the Bloodstock Breeders' Review p. 648
  14. Willett Classic Racehorse p. 107
  15. Jockey Club Racing Calendar Meeting minutes for the year of 1913. The entire year was searched and nothing on the new regulation was mentioned.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Leicester Bloodstock Breeding pp. 80–81
  17. 17.0 17.1 Hewitt Great Breeders p. 277
  18. Sparkman "Errors" Thoroughbred Times
  19. Montgomery Thoroughbred p. 170
  20. 20.0 20.1 Napier and Rasmussen Treasures of the Bloodstock Breeders' Review p. 664
  21. Quoted in Willett Classic Racehorse p. 73


  • Blood-Horse Staff (2006). Horse Racing's Top 100 Moments. Lexington, KY: Eclipse Press. ISBN 1-58150-139-0. 
  • Hewitt, Abram S. (1982). The Great Breeders and Their Methods. Lexington, KY: Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. OCLC 12739523. 
  • Leicester; Sir Charles (1983). Bloodstock Breeding. London: J. A. Allen. ISBN 0-85131-349-3. 
  • Montgomery, Edward E. (1971). The Thoroughbred. New York: Arco Publishing. ISBN 0-668-02824-6. 
  • Napier, Miles; Rasmussen, Leon (1990). Treasures of The Bloodstock Breeders' Review. London: J.A. Allen. ISBN 0-85131-502-X. 
  • Robertson, William H. P. (1964). The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America. New York: Bonanza Books. OCLC 64–17364. 
  • Wall, John. F. and Frank Jennings (1955). Judging the Horse – For Racing, Riding, and Recreation. Lexington, KY: Thoroughbred Press. OCLC 3254442. 
  • Willett, Peter (1982). The Classic Racehorse. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1477-2. 


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