Those with a passing interest in the subject will be aware that horse racing is an ancient sport. Many of the top events around the world have been in place for centuries, and they are among the oldest organized sporting events still taking place.
Only those with a passion and dedication for studying horse racing will be aware that it’s actually been around for thousands of years. Our ancient predecessors began a practice that would eventually become one of the most popular sports on the planet.
In the modern day, horse racing is popular for a number of reasons. It’s a thrilling sport with man and animal working together to negotiate the course while getting past the post in a faster time than the competition.
Most racegoers also like to place a bet, particularly at the big meetings that draw huge crowds. Aintree, Epsom and Cheltenham betting are the most popular in the UK, while other meetings in Australia, France, the USA and beyond will also add revenue to the successful betting industry.
This is the picture in the present, but it’s the result of a legacy that was built over many thousands of years.
The Birth of Horse Racing
The earliest mention of horse racing as an organized sport can be traced back to ancient Chinese dynasties. Surviving texts tell us that races were used as a form of entertainment, and there was also an element of betting on the outcome.
The Romans and Ancient Greeks are often credited with progressing certain sports, and that’s the case with horse racing. In Roman times, chariot racing was the most common form of man and horse competing against others. Once again, the concept of racing came first, but there was an element of betting on the outcome too.
While the English often take the credit for driving the sport of horse racing, they don’t enter the story until the Middle Ages. Across England and into Europe, knights and noblemen raced and jousted. The aim was to find horses capable of going into battle, but the games became great entertainment.
The Pivotal Years
From the 1600s onwards, the UK was the focal point of horse racing. This was the period where organized meetings began to take place, and some of these have survived into the modern era. The Epsom Derby, for example, was first run way back in 1780, while its roots can be traced back to the 1600s when an event known as the Manx Derby took place.
Further major races followed through the 1800s and top events such as the Grand National, Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival were quickly established. Some races have fallen into obscurity, but many remain as some of the oldest sporting events still in existence.
Horse Racing Becomes Official
Arguably, the most important development in the history of horse racing came with the establishment of the Jockey Club. The organization was officially established in 1750, although some historians believe they were set up in the 1920s.
The role of the Jockey Club was as the regulator for the sport. Rules were established, and meetings became official through their sanctioning. In the present day, the Jockey Club also owns and operates several renowned race courses around Great Britain.
A Global Affair
While the world’s major horse races may have originated in England, many meetings quickly followed outside of the UK. Over time, this led to a whole host of important events right across the world.
Several of those major meetings have a long history, and the list includes the Kentucky Derby, the Melbourne Cup, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Dubai World Cup, and the Belmont Stakes.
The sport of horse racing is well established around the world, but there is still room for evolution. In Australia, the Melbourne Cup may be the most historic and popular event, but race organisers have recently looked to build interest in the sport.
Australia now has an event known as The Everest, which correctly claims to be the richest horse race in the world. First run in 2017 at the Randwick Racecourse in Sydney, the Everest included a total prize fund of $20 million and those figures cannot be matched by any other event.
The Everest will be a tough act to follow, but other new races may break ground in the near future.
As horse racing moves forward, there won’t be too many changes to the sport. Those big meetings have been established for many years, and there is no need to change the format.
The sport will undoubtedly get bigger, and we may see more courses and races come into play. Horse racing is a success story, and it’s here because of a long and fascinating history.