Horse racing is one of the most ancient of competitive sports and can be traced back to the first domestication of the horse. It flourished for thousands of years as the preserve of kings and nobles but is now a sport enjoyed by millions across the globe.
The earliest written records trace horse racing back to the ancient Greeks and of course the Romans who were particularly keen on chariot racing.
The origins of modern horse racing can probably be traced back to around the 12th Century when English knights returned from the Crusades with Arab horses. Over the subsequent centuries many Arab horses were brought back and inter bred with English horses to produces breeds of speed and stamina.
Placing a wager on the results of the outcome of a race is probably as old as the sport itself but horse racing first became professional around the early 1700s when racing between several horses began on which spectators placed bets. Racecourses appeared throughout England and increasing purses were offered to the winners.
The Jockey Club was formed at Newmarket, England in 1750 to rule the sport as a central governing body. Certain racecourses were sanctioned and rules drawn up to conduct meetings. The Jockey Club also took steps to regulate the breeding of racehorses and introduced the General Stud Book to record the pedigree of every foal born and ensure that only “Thoroughbreds” are allowed to race.
Thoroughbreds are so inbred that the pedigree of every single animal can be traced back father-to-father to one of three stallions, called the “foundation sires.” These stallions were the Byerley Turk, foaled c.1679; the Darley Arabian, foaled c.1700; and the Godolphin Arabian, foaled c.1724.
Since 1814, five races for three-year-old horses have been designated as “classics.” Three races, open to male horses (colts) and female horses (fillies), make up the English Triple Crown: the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby (see DERBY, THE), and the St. Leger Stakes. Two races, open to fillies only, are the 1,000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks.
Of course horse racing is equally popular throughout the world, in particular, North America, Australia and most Arab states.