For thousands of years horses have been an ever-present ally in war and peace. They have helped shape our journey through time and their history is in fact intertwined with the history of civilization itself. For years, they’ve been used mainly for sustenance and transportation, until we thought of using them as well for leisure, and simply put that’s how horse racing came to be.
Archaeological records show that the long and distinguished history of horse racing started alongside the domestication of horses by prehistoric nomadic tribesmen of Central Asia, dating as far back as 4500 BC. From then, it evolved and became one of the most popular ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine sports. In fact, it gained so much fame that it became part of the Olympics itself around 638 BC.
In ancient Greece and Rome, horse racing was a sporting event for the wealthy and remained so for years after as it was a sport that only aristocrats and royalty could afford, thus earning it’s moniker “Sport of Kings”. With horse racing’s continuous evolution came the breeding of horses for optimal speed and endurance. These are two of the most coveted characteristics in a race horse, and can only be replicated at quite an expense.
This particular breed of horses are known as the Thoroughbred and is a product of crossbreeding between an Arab stallion and an English mare. Royalty and other nobles have been known to set up private matches between their Thoroughbreds and wager amongst themselves as a form of entertainment.
In the modern era, horse racing began to become organized and it flourished from a diversion of the higher class into a huge public-entertainment business. Around the 18th century, during the reign of Queen Anne, multi-horse races with huge purses began to gain popularity over one-on-one races. It gained so much traction over the years that racing’s elite felt the need for the creation of a central governing authority, thus the formation of the Jockey Club.
The Jockey Club wrote the rules and regulations of horse racing and horse breeding. The club was the supreme authority in horse racing in the UK from 1750 until 2006. Besides being a policy-making body, the club was also entrusted with keeping a breed registry by tracing the pedigree of every racehorse in England whose results were published in the general Stud Book.
The club designated specific races as the ultimate tests of excellence when it comes to quality racing. Since 1814, there were only 5 races that meet the standards namely the English Triple Crown that is made up of 3 races (open to colts and fillies): the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby and the St. Leger Stakes, and two others (open to fillies only): the 1,000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks. All 5 are more famously known as the “classics”
In 2007, when the regulatory power shifted to the Horseracing Regulatory Authority; it transferred complete control from The Jockey Club to the British Horseracing Association.
In the early 1600, years before the arrival of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, British settlers came to America still to escape religious persecution and brought with them fine breeding stock and horse racing with them. Although the first ever race track in American was laid out in 1665 in Long Island, New York, organized and professional horse racing only started after the Civil War. It gained so much popularity that the need for regulation once again came up which led to the creation of the American Jockey Club who quickly established rules and regulations similar to those of their English counterparts. This helped clean up all the criminality and corruption in horse racing.
Like the English, the Americans also have their crown jewels among races, the American Triple Crown, and these namely are The Kentucky Derby, first run on 1875 in Churchill Downs Louisville Kentucky, the Belmont Stakes, first run in 1867 at Jerome Park Long Island, New York, and the Preakness Stakes, that was first run in 1873 at Pimlico Park in Baltimore, Maryland.
Although there’s been a general decline in its popularity over the years, this $25 billion industry has still managed to keep up with the times and are in fact quite popular among online betters making it still the second-most attended spectator sport in the United States, outranked only by baseball.