Thousands of years ago, I discovered that an animal of the Equus order was good for carrying its weights and lightening its load. Then one day, since the human race as a whole is a natural competition, we started using that animal, called a horse, to race against others.
So man started breeding horses to excel in speed and endurance. When this new type of entertainment and sport began to evolve, it was the nobility, or royalty, who could afford the expense of raising horses for this purpose. Therefore, that “class” of people was the one who often liked the free time of competing in horse racing.
The first records of horse racing images were found in the origins of the prehistoric nomadic tribesmen of Central Asia. They were the first to domesticate the horse around 4500 BC. The first written news came much later, after horse racing was already a consolidated sport from Central Asia to the Mediterranean. Horse racing became part of the Greek Olympics around 638 BC. And the Roman Empire was obsessed with this sport.
Modern races date back to the 12th century. The knights of the British Empire imported Arab horses on their return from the Crusades. In the years that followed, hundreds of Arabian stallions were crossed with English mares to give the most desirable combination of speed and endurance. This breed of horses became known, after its evolution, as Thoroughbreds and of course the Nobility were the leaders in staging competitions between the two upper thoroughbred horses for private betting, as a diversion.
As the sport evolved to become more professional during Queen Anne’s reign in the early 18th century, one-on-one competitions gave way to events where several horses competed. Racecourses offered bags or cash prizes to the winner of the events. And those bags got bigger to attract the best horses.
During the mid-1700s, it was decided that a governing body was required to establish the rules and standards by which runners, breeders and owners had to comply. As a result the Jockey Club was established in Newmarket, and still exercises complete control over British racing to date.
Once the Club established the complete rules and standards of the horses and breeds that could run under the Club penalty, five breeds were designated as “classic” for three-year-old horses. The English Triple Crown – which is open to both foals and fillies – is made up of 2000 Guinea, Epsom Derby and St. Leger Stakes. Two other breeds open only to fillies are the 1000 Guinea and Epsom Oaks.
When the British settled in America, they brought excellent breeding and racing horses with them. The first known track in the Colonies was on Long Island in New York. It was first set up around 1665. Although horse racing was a popular local event, organized and professional racing did not begin until after the Civil War. From there, the sport has grown in popularity in all established parts of the country. And many of the circuits were run by the “criminal element”. Since this was quite undesirable for the most important track owners and ranchers, they met in New York in 1894 and formed the American Jockey Club. They soon established rules and regulations similar to those of the English Jockey Club and they quickly eliminated much of the corruption.
The Kentucky Derby, one of the best known horse racing events in the United States, was first launched in 1875. Its home is at the Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. It is one of the three races that make up the American Triple Crown. The other two are the Belmont Stakes, first run in Long Island, New York in Jerome Park in 1867, and the Preakness Stakes, first run in 1873 at Pimlico Park in Baltimore, Maryland.
Although interest has grown and waned over the years, horse racing is the second most popular spectator sport in the United States, only surpassed by baseball.
There are other forms of horse racing in both Britain and the United States. These include:
– The cantilever phase that requires the horse to eliminate such obstacles as brush fences, stone walls, railway fences and water jumps. Britain’s oldest and most famous bell tower is the Grand National of England. It was the first race to Aintree in 1839 and continues today. The most famous in the United States is the American National. It was first performed in 1899 in Belmont Park and continues to be held there every year.
– Obstacle course is similar to obstacle course, but it is much less demanding. It is often used as a training arena for thoroughbreds who will later compete in steeplechases.
Point-to-point races are generally run by amateurs across the British Isles.
– And last but not least is the harness race, which was very popular during the Roman empire. Once the Empire left the sport almost vanished until its resurrection, by those who liked to race their horses closely on the country roads of America, in the late 1700s. The first official tracks for harness racing dates back to the early 1800s and, in 1825, harness racing became the favorite attraction at country fairs throughout the United States
From the revival of the saddles, a new breed of horses was born. In 1788, an exceptional English thoroughbred stallion was imported to the United States. He was bred with American thoroughbreds and mixed breed mares to establish the Standardbred line. The name is based on the “standard” distance of a mile in the running speed of the harness. The descendants of this line have been renamed over the years to create this new breed which has the stamina, temperament, physical size and structure to withstand racing under the harness.
Although harness racing again declined in popularity in the early 1900s, they rebounded in 1940 after being reintroduced to a New York track as a pari-mutuel betting event. Its number of runs and scheduled annual events surpass those of thoroughbred racing in the United States today. It has also gained popularity in many European countries, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
What was once almost exclusively “Sport of Kings” has followed over the years to include people of all lifestyles and incomes. It remains, however, a sport quite often associated with the “wealthy”, for those who can afford the cost of raising the level of horse required to run and win, the largest bags awarded by, the most popular horse racing events in all the world.