A Brief Overview of Horse Racing History

Horse racing. It is one of the oldest sports in the world and yet, still very popular even in today’s times.

In the 2020 edition of the Kentucky Derby, almost 10 million people watched the race.

With so many people watching and betting on horse racing, you might be curious about how this sport gained its popularity? Well, this is a brief overview of horse racing history.

History of Horse Racing

Horse racing can be dated as far back as 4500 BC. You have to remember that until the beginning of the 1900s, there was no other mode of transportation.

So, people needed something else to rely on for transportation besides their own two feet. This is where horses come in because they can cover a lot more ground than a human can.

Some of the most notable uses of horse races in ancient times were by the Greeks and the Romans. They used to have chariot races for sport, including in what is still the world-famous Coliseum in Rome.

The more modern version of the sport is credited to the Crusades. The English military brought back Arab horses from the Crusades and a few centuries later, the English who chose to take the pilgrimage to what is now the United States brought their horses with them on that journey.

By the 1750s, horse racing became more organized. The Jockey Club was formed in Newmarket. That organization is responsible for most of the horse racing rules that exist today and came up with the term thoroughbred to represent the most popular form of racing.

Triple Crown Races

Part of the reason horse racing is so popular today is that every year, the best 3-year-old horses in the world compete for the illustrious Triple Crown title.

What is the Triple Crown? It is the title given to a horse that manages to win all three of the sport’s biggest races in the same year.

The three races that the horses have to win to achieve this are the Kentucky Derby held at Churchill Downs, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.

All three of those races date as far back as right after the Civil War. The Belmont Stakes had its first edition of the race way back in 1867. Then, the Preakness Stakes started six years later in 1873, and finally, the Kentucky Derby got in on the action in 1875.

So, how many horses have managed to win all three of these races in the same year since 1875? The answer may surprise you because it is just 13 horses.

That shows you how difficult it is to achieve this and why when it does happen, it is so celebrated. In the modern era, one of the most famous horses (and arguably the best ever) to do this was Secretariat in 1973.

Secretariat owns the fastest race record in each of these races (1:59 in Kentucky Derby, 1:53 in Preakness Stakes, 2:24 in Belmont).

There was a very long period from 1978 to 2015 where no horse ever won the Triple Crown. A horse by the name of American Pharoah finally broke the drought in 2015. But, horse racing fans did not have to wait another 37 years for a Triple Crown winner because Justify followed the horse up three years later in 2018.

Breeders’ Cup

Besides the Triple Crown races, this is arguably the biggest race in the entire sport. It takes place every year but it is a much newer race compared to the ones above.

This dates back to 1984 and unlike the Triple Crown races, the location of this one changes every year. Most are held on racetracks within the United States.

It used to be a one-day event up until 2006 but starting then, it was changed to be a two-day event. There are about 14 races throughout the two days but the main event is the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Currently, it has a purse of about $6 million.

The unique thing about this race is that horses have more than one year of eligibility, unlike the Triple Crown races that are reserved for 3-year-olds. There has been one repeat winner of the Classic in the history of the race, and that was Tiznow back in 2000 and 2001.

Betting on Horse Racing

A big reason why the sport is so popular today is that people like to bet on it. Today, it is easier than ever with some states allowing you to bet on races with your mobile device.

You do not have to be at the physical racetrack to place bets, although it is a popular place to go to because you can watch the races live that you are betting on. There are off-track betting shops that allow you to bet on simulcast races all over the world.

When it comes to betting on horses, the most popular bets are to bet on a horse to win the race, come in second (place), or third (show). Bettors then combine these bets into either an exacta (predicting the top two horses) or a trifecta (top three horses). Some bettors prefer to maintain flexibility with that bet so they box it, which allows those horses to come in any order.

Because of the wide accessibility and the speed of the races, there are billions of dollars bet on the sport across the world each year. They call it the fastest two minutes in sports, and the simplicity of it keeps the bettors coming back.

Discover More Horse Racing History

This is just a little bit of the horse racing history that there is to know about the sport. Some of the information above is a big reason why the sport is played the way it is today.

Do you want to know more? See our Lifestyle section.