Horse racing is one of the oldest sports in the world that has not undergone any significant changes concerning the concept of the game.

During centuries, horse racing has turned from a speed contest to a spectacle of first-class runners. However, the basis of the sport has remained the same — the horse that first finishes the race is the winner.

The traditions concerning horse racing differ depending on the country, and many countries have adapted the sport to fit their particular cultures. Various types of racing and horse breeds contribute to the sport’s features and popularity.

With that in mind, the history of horse racing is lengthy and filled with eye-catching facts that might interest you. Keep reading to find out more.

Early History

Not surprisingly, the history of horse racing dates back to BCE. It’s not known when and where the first horse race took place, but we know that horse racing was part of the Olympic Games in the period between 700 and 40 BCE. At that time, four-hitch chariot and mounted (bareback) races were part of the Games and a form of public entertainment in the Roman Empire.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information about horse racing in other ancient civilisations, as documents were lost or nonexistent. According to some information and facts, China, Arabia, Persia, and other Middle Eastern and North African countries were among the first countries to host horse racing events at the start of the new era.

On the other hand, Europeans got their first contact with horse racing somewhere between the 11th and 13th century AD with the help of Arabian, Barb, and Turk horses.

When talking about the UK, horse racing gained popularity in medieval England, as horses were brought from Spain to England in the 12th century. Henry VIII continued the tradition of importing horses from Spain and Italy in the 16th century, and James I sponsored horse racing events in the 17th century.

Thus, the first horse racing events in England were not actual races but displaying horses to potential buyers.

Modern History

Although there isn’t an official event that was a starting point of the modern history of horse racing, many consider it to be the introduction of the classic English races in the 18th century.

The first race, St. Leger, was introduced in 1776, followed by the Oaks in 1779, and the Derby in 1780. The 19th century introduced two new races — the Two Thousand Guineas in 1809 and the One Thousand Guineas in 1814.

Later on, the St. Leger, Derby, and Two Thousand Guineas were combined into the British Triple Crown of horse racing in the 19th century. The Triple Crown consists of three races for three-year-old Thoroughbred horses. Winning all three races represents the most significant accomplishment in Thoroughbred racing.

The French did not lag with their own inauguration of horse racing events with the Prix du Jockey Club from 1836. A few years later, in 1863, they added the Grand Prix de Paris and, in 1920, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Lastly, the Americans followed the footsteps of their European counterparts with the introduction of the Belmont Stakes in 1867. Shortly after that, they added the Preakness Stakes race in 1873 and the world-famous Kentucky Derby in 1875. The three races comprise the American Triple Crown.

Horse Racing Types

There are numerous types of horse racing, but five of them are most popular in the competitive world of horse racing. In the same manner, different breeds of horses excel in some racing types while falling flat at others.

Take a look at the five-horse racing types that you should know about if you’re interested in horse racing or betting:

Flat racing — A race where horses gallop along a direct route between two points on an oval or a straight track.
Jump racing — A race with obstacles, also known as Steeplechasing or National Hunt racing.
Harness racing — A race where a jockey is in a sulky, and a horse trots or paces to the finish line.
Endurance racing — A race that takes place in the country over a distance of 40 to 161 km.
Saddle Trotting — A race where a horse must trot from the starting point to the finish point under saddle.

Horse Breeds

As we’ve mentioned before, some horse breeds excel in particular disciplines. For example, Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, Arabian, Paint, and Appaloosa excel in flat racing, while Thoroughbred and AQPS breeds excel in jump racing.

When it comes to harness racing, Australia, New Zealand, and North America use Standardbreds, while Europeans use Standardbreds with Russian and French Trotter. Moreover, Finnhorses and Scandinavian Coldblood Trotters are used in harness racing, as well as in their respective disciplines.

The most renowned horse breeds are:

  • Thoroughbred
  • Standardbred
  • Arabian Horse
  • Quarter Horse
  • Appaloosa
  • American Paint Horse
  • Selle Français
  • AQPS
  • Korean Jeju
  • Mules