The History Of Horse Racing

On June 1, 2019 by Tim Newman

For more than 50,000 years, people have kept and raced horses in many countries around the globe.

There’s even evidence that horses were used in sport as far back as the Egyptian period. Today, it remains an exciting and admired sport that brings in viewers from all backgrounds the world over. This is a history of the much-loved sport and how it became so popular.

The Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines were the first to start breeding horses and using them for their speed as well as their strength. They were even included in the original Olympic games by 650BC.

In the west, however, horses were synonymous with the elite, including royalty. The first races recorded in England took place under King Athelstan’s rule in the 9th century. In the age of chivalry, horses were used in sporting events such as jousting and chariot racing and, over time, specific breeds of horse began to emerge which had their own unique features that made them well-suited to different sports.

By the 1500s, warfare in Britain had started to evolve, with machinery and weapons taking the place of more traditional methods, so horses were being used less in battles and more for sport and status.

During his reign, Henry VIII passed several laws regarding the breeding and importing of horses; and around this time the first horse racing meetings were established. In 1512, the first recorded trophy was awarded at the Chester Fair and the Kiplingcotes Derby began in 1519 — the world’s oldest running horse race.

Horse racing declined in popularity towards the latter half of the 16th century during Elizabeth I reign, but by 1605, it rose again under James I when he transformed Newmarket into the original home of horse racing – a reputation that remains to this day.

Horse racing gained its title of the ‘sport of kings’ because racing at this point in history was only for royals or noblemen.

Queen Anne took to the throne in 1702 and it was her passion for horses that sparked the nation’s love of the sport. She founded Royal Ascot in 1711 and established the competition, providing a prize pool at the time of 100 Guineas which seven horses competed for in three 4-mile heats, every year since the Royal Family at Ascot has been a pull for attendees.

The Jockey Club was set up in 1750 in the Star and Garter Pub in Pall Mall by numerous high society groups to regulate horse racing as a professional sport, which remains in place to this day. Today, fans of the sport are spoiled for choice, with events, championships and races taking place virtually every day of the year. The availability of the sport, the thrill of the races and the history that comes with many of the meets have made it an incredibly popular sport that has come to be associated with British culture.

The industry is worth more than £5 billion in the UK and is popular in many other countries, including Japan, Australia, and the USA.

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