Horse Racing

From New World Encyclopedia

Monmouth Racetrack in New Jersey in May 2005.

Horse racing is an equestrian sport which has been practiced over the centuries; the chariot races of Roman times are an early example, as is the contest of the steeds of the god Odin and the giant Hrungnir in Norse mythology. It is often associated with gambling. The common nickname for horse racing is The Sport of Kings.

The style of racing, the distances and the type of events varies very much by the country in which the race is occurring, and many countries offer different types of horse races. The Triple Crown is perhaps the best known horse races but horse racing is popular all over the world.


The sport of Horse Racing officially developed sometime before 1000 B.C.E. when the Greeks created a game involving horses connected to two-wheeled carts or chariots. As history progressed the game caught on with the Egyptians and Romans, but it would take time for the sport to evolve.

In 664 B.C.E. at the thirty-third Olympiad, horse racing became a sport of formal competition when men appeared on the horses instead of behind them and were called jockeys.

In the early years of the common era, during the Romans quest to dominant the world, they brought the sport all the way to the islands of Britain. Even though the rule of the Romans ended, the sport itself lived on through time and started to flourish through the centuries. The sport was popular in England by the late 1500s, but was prohibited by some of the country's leaders. After the execution of Charles I for tyranny in 1649, the sport was banned for ten years before it was restored in 1660 by Charles II. When the sport returned, it did so on a new level, and under a ruler who was not only a avid fan and gambler, but also a rider competitively as well.

It was during Charles II reign that the three founding sires of the modern Thoroughbred racehorse was founded. In 1688, Captain Robert Byerly captured a black stallion during the Hungarian siege of Buda, bringing the horse home as a spoil of war. In 1704, a British consul by the name of Thomas Darley smuggled a Arabian colt from the Syrian Desert into the country of Yorkshire. The final horse was found in 1729, when a mysterious horse appeared at the Earl of Godolphin's stud farm near Cambridge. These three horses were known as the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Barb.

Racing continued to grow in popularity during the time of the eighteenth century and in organization as racecourses were built, new rules of horse racing were introduced, and records started to be achieved.

Forms of horse racing

Horse races can be organized by many different categories such as age, sex, distance, and time of year. One of the principal forms of horse racing, which is popular in many parts of the world, is Thoroughbred racing. Harness racing is also popular in the eastern United States and more popular than thoroughbred racing in Canada and parts of Europe. Quarter horse and Arabian racing are also popular in the western United States and Florida.

Here is a list of different types of races:

ALLOWANCE RACE: A race where weights and eligibility to enter are determined by conditions set by the racing secretary.

BABY RACE: A race for two-year-olds.

CLAIMING RACE: A race where horses are entered for a specified price and can be claimed (purchased) from the race for that price. Claimers are horses who generally run only in claiming races.

CLASSIC: A race for three-year-olds, such as a Derby or Oaks, that has a long standing tradition behind it. The American classics are the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.

CONDITIONED RACE: Eligibility to enter is determined by a set of conditions such as age, sex, races won, etc.

DERBY: A stakes race for three-year-old colts.

DISTAFF RACE: A race for fillies, mares, or both.

GRADED RACE: The most important or prestigious races in North America are assigned grades (I, II, or III) based on the quality of previous winners and the race's influence on other races or championships.

GROUP RACE: European equivalent to North American graded races.

HANDICAP: Race where the racing secretary or track handicapper assigns the weights to be carried.

INVITATIONAL: A stakes race open only to horses who are invited to enter. Generally no entry fee is charged.

MAIDEN RACE: Horses who have not yet won a race are referred to as maidens, hence a race for non winners.

OAKS: A stakes race for three-year-old fillies.

OVERNIGHT RACE: A race where entries close a specific number of hours before running (such as 48 hours), as opposed to a stakes race where nominations close far in advance.

ROUTE RACE: A race run at a mile or longer, generally around two turns.

SCALE OF WEIGHTS: Fixed weights to be carried by horses in a race according to age, distance, sex, and time of year.

SPRINT RACE: A race run at less than a mile, generally with only one turn.

STAKE: A race for which an owner must pay an entry fee to run his horse. The fees can be for nominating, maintaining eligibility, entering and starting, and are generally added to the amount put up by the track to make up the total purse.[1]

The breeding, training and racing of horses in many countries is now a significant economic activity as, to a greater extent, is the gambling industry which is largely supported by it. Exceptional horses can win millions of dollars and make millions more by providing stud services, such as horse breeding.

Horse racing in North America

In 1665, the first racetrack was introduced in colonial America by the name of Newmarket. American horse racing was much less organized during this time. The most prominent postwar imported horse to America was Diomed in 1798, 17 years after his victory in England's first Derby Stakes. For the next decade, the horse would breed talented young offspring, and giving the American racing industry potential.

In the United States, races can occur on flat surfaces of either dirt, polytrack, or grass, generally Thoroughbred racing; other tracks offer Quarter Horse racing and harness racing, or combinations of these three types of racing. Racing with other breeds, such as Arabian horse racing, is found on a limited basis. American Thoroughbred races are run at a wide variety of distances, most commonly from 5 furlongs to 1½ miles (2414 m); with this in mind, breeders of Thoroughbred race horses are able to breed horses that excel at a particular distance.

A horse race at Del Mar.

The high point of US horse racing has traditionally been the Kentucky Derby which, together with the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, form the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing for three-year-olds. However, in recent years the Breeders' Cup races, held at the end of the year, have been challenging the Triple Crown events, held early in the year, as determiners of the three-year-old Champion. The Breeders' Cup is held at a different track every year; the most recent edition (2006) was held at Churchill Downs. It also has an important effect on the selection of other annual Champions. The corresponding Standardbred event is the Breeders' Crown. There are also a Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Pacers and a Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Trotters.

American betting on horse racing is sanctioned and regulated by state governments, almost always through legalized parimutuel gambling. Thoroughbred horse racing in the United States has its own Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York. The Hall of Fame honors remarkable horses, jockeys, owners and trainers.

The most famous horse from Canada is generally considered to be Northern Dancer, who after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness went on to become the most successful Thoroughbred sire of the twentieth century. The only challenger to his title of greatest Canadian horse would be his son Nijinsky II, who is the last horse to win the English Triple Crown. Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, home of the Queen's Plate, Canada's premier Thoroughbred stakes race, and the North America Cup, Canada's premier Standardbred stakes race, is the only race track in North America which stages Thoroughbred and Standardbred (harness) meetings on the same day. The Pattison Canadian International has the largest purse of any Canadian horse race.

Quarter Horse racing is popular throughout the entire United States. Quarter Horses are faster than Thoroughbreds, but run shorter distances. While the average Thoroughbred race is roughly a mile, the average Quarter Horse race is about a quarter of a mile (hence the name of the breed). The classic distance of a Quarter Horse race is 440 yards, but races are run from anywhere between 100 and 870 yards.

American Quarter Horses are shorter and more muscular than their Thoroughbred cousins, and so are more suited to shorter, more explosive races. With the exception of the longer, 870-yard distance contests, Quarter Horse races are run flat out, with the horses running at top speed for the duration. There is less jockeying for position, as turns are rare, and many races end with several contestants grouped together at the wire.

Horse racing in Australia

Racing in Australia has enjoyed great success with races such as the world famous Melbourne Cup, the so-called race that stops a nation, which has recently attracted many international entries. The first Melbourne Cup took place in 1838 at Batman Hill, and now takes place at Flemington. It is known as one of the greatest and more challenging handicapped horse races in the world.

Other notable races include the AJC Derby, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate, Golden Slipper, Oaks and the three AJC stakes races. In Australia, the most famous horse was Phar Lap, who raced from 1928-1932 (though originally bred in New Zealand). In 2003-2005, Makybe Diva became the first and only horse to ever win the Melbourne Cup three times. In harness racing, Paleface Adios became a household name during the 1970s, while Cardigan Bay, a pacing horse from New Zealand, enjoyed great success at the highest levels of American harness racing in the 1960s.

Horse racing in Europe


The country of Ireland has always had a firm place in the history of the sport because of their horse breeding. Even in other countries, some of the best horses are Irish-bred. Legend says that the first chase occurred in Ireland in 1752 between Edmund Blake and Cornelius O'Callaghan for the prize of a hogshead of wine.

By the early parts of the nineteenth century, steeplechase was established as an Irish sport. Point to pointing originated there and even today, jump racing (National Hunt racing) is marginally more popular than racing on the flat. As a result, every year Irish horse racing fans travel in huge numbers to the highlight event of the National Hunt calendar, the Cheltenham Festival, and in recent years Irish owned or bred horses have dominated the event. Ireland has a thriving thoroughbred breeding industry, stimulated by favorable tax laws. The world's largest thoroughbred stud, Coolmore Stud, is there. Notable Irish trainers include Dermot Weld, John Oxx and Aidan O'Brien. Notable jockeys include Kieren Fallon, Michael Kinane, Johnny Murtagh, Ruby Walsh, and Tony McCoy. The multiple Gold Cup winner Best Mate also hails from Ireland, while the great Red Rum was bred there, before moving across the Irish Sea to be trained. Arkle, rated the greatest steeplechaser of all time, was bred and trained in Ireland and became a national hero through his exploits. The legendary racemare Dawn Run was another famous Irish champion. Vincent O'Brien who trained horses at Ballydoyle in Tipperary, was one of the most successful trainers of all time, in both National Hunt racing and on the flat. Champion racehorses trained by Vincent O'Brien on the flat include Nijinsky II, Sir Ivor, Ballymoss, Alleged, The Minstrel, and El Gran Senor.


France has a mature horse racing industry with a long breeding history. The Haras Nationaux of France is the national public administrative body responsible for the regulation and administration of breeding of horses and donkeys in France. It administers twenty-two regional Haras, or horse-breeding centers.

The race with the largest international following is the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe held at Longchamp Racecourse on the first Sunday in October. The Grand Prix de Paris is also held at Longchamp but is run in mid-July. The other two French Classic Races are Prix du Jockey Club (the French Derby) and the Prix de Diane both held in June at Chantilly Racecourse.


The Palio di Siena (known locally as Il Palio), the most famous palio in Italy, is a horse race held twice each year on July 2 and August 16 in Siena, in which the horse and rider represent one of the seventeen Contrade, or city wards. A magnificent pageant precedes the race, which attracts visitors and spectators from around the world.

See also: List of horse races in Italy

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, there are races which involve obstacles (either hurdles or fences) called National Hunt racing and those which are unobstructed races over a given distance (flat racing). The UK has provided many of the sport's greatest ever jockeys, most notably Gordon Richards. In the UK there are rules that stop the jockey using the whip too much. For example, they are not allowed to raise their whip over their shoulder.

Races in the UK are not referred to as Race 1, Race 2, etc., but by the starting time. For instance, the "1:35" or the "3:10."

Horse racing in Asia


Horse racing in Korea traces back to May 1898, when a foreign language institute run by the government included a donkey race in its athletic rally. However, this type of racing was sponsored for entertainment purposes only. No betting was conducted. It was in 1920s that "Modern Horse Racing" involving betting system made its debut. In 1922, the Chosun Racing Club, the nation's first-ever authorized horse racing club, was established to make horse racing more systematic and better organized. In 1923, the pari-mutuel betting system was officially adopted for the first time in Korea. The Sinseol-dong racecourse opened in 1928 and incorporated racing clubs were allowed to have their own racecourses.

Finally in 1933 a decree on horse racing was promulgated. Under the decree, only incorporated racing clubs were entitled to conduct horse racing. The Chosun Horse Racing Authority was also established in 1933 to coordinate and control incorporated racing clubs across the nation and ensure consistency in their administration.

In 1945, the Chosun Horse Affairs Authority was renamed to the Korea Racing Authority, and efforts were made to restore the national identity in horse racing. However, the Korean War which broke in 1950 resulting in great turmoil for Korean society, thus undermining the development of horse racing. During the three-year war, racecourses were requisitioned for military training and horse racing came to an abrupt halt. To keep the tradition of horse racing alive, the Korea Racing Authority worked out a plan to reestablish the racecourse at Ttuksom in Seoul. The construction, which began during the war, was completed in May 1954. With its dedication, horse racing resumed, and the newly constructed Ttksom racecourse served as the hub of Korean horse racing until it was relocated to the modern racecourse in Gwacheon in 1989.

Pari-mutuel bets were tallied manually until 1984. The inefficient management of pari-mutuel betting system was a major stumbling block to broadening the fan base. To overcome this fundamental obstacle, the computerized pari-mutuel betting system was established in 1984, and at the same time, horse racing came to be televised in color, both on- and off-course. These two measures have played a decisive role in boosting attendance and turnover. In 1984, turnover and attendance increased at 67 percent and 58 percent, respectively, from the previous year.

To form a link in the chain of the program to make the most of the Olympic facilities, the government designated the KRA as the organization exclusively responsible for providing the Olympic Equestrian Park. Accordingly, the KRA secured 280 acres of the land in Gwacheon area on the southern outskirts of Seoul, and began its construction in 1984 till 1988. After the Olympics, the Park was converted into racing facilities named Seoul Racecourse and the first race was held on September 1, 1989. With the opening of the Seoul Racecourse, the 36-year-long era of the Ttuksom Racecourse came to an end and the nation's horse racing continued to make great strides.

As part of the efforts to preserve the ponies native to Jeju Island, which has been designated as Natural Monument No. 347, the KRA began the construction of the 180 acre Jeju Racecourse at the foot of Mt. Halla in October 1987. Three years later in October 1990, the Racecourse opened for pony racing.

As an effort to raise racing quality and promote horse racing nationwide, the KRA started to construct the new thoroughbred racecourse in Busan, the second largest city in Korea. The racecourse opened in September 2005. The stellar growth of Korean racing and KRA's internationalization efforts have drawn the international attention since the beginning of the 2000s. Led by this, in October 2002, the Asian Racing Federation decided to designate Korea as the host of the 30th Asian Racing Conference in May 2005. Also, in June 2004, the International Cataloguing Standards Committee included Korea as one of the Part III countries, and decided to add seven Korean Grade Races to the Blue Book list starting from 2005.

United Arab Emirates

The big race in the UAE is the Dubai World Cup, a race with a purse of $6 million, making it the largest purse in the world. Within around two and a half years time Dubai will have a horse racing city named Meydan.

There is no paramutuel betting in the UAE.

Hong Kong

Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong at night

The British tradition of horse racing left its mark as one of the most important entertainment and gambling institutions in Hong Kong. Established as the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club in 1884, the non-profit organization conducts nearly 700 races every season at the two race tracks in Happy Valley and Sha Tin. The sport annually draws in over 11 percent of Hong Kong's tax revenue. Off-track betting is available from overseas bookmakers.


Nakayama Racecourse in Funabashi, Japan

Japan conducts more than 21,000 horse races a year in one of three types: flat racing, jump racing (races over hurdles), and Ban'ei Racing (also called Draft Racing).

There are a total of 30 racetracks in Japan. Ten of these tracks are known as "central tracks," where most of Japan's top races are conducted. Races at these ten tracks are conducted by the Japan Racing Association (JRA), which operates under the oversight of the Japanese government. The remaining 20 tracks are operated by municipal racing authorities and run under the affiliation of the National Association of Racing (NAR). Two tracks, Sapporo Racecourse and Chukyo Racecourse, run separate meetings under either JRA or NAR jurisdiction.

The JRA purse structure is one of the richest in the world. As of 2007, a typical JRA maiden race for three-year-olds carries a purse of ¥9.55 million (about US$83,000), with ¥5 million (about US$43,000) paid to the winner. Purses for graded stakes races begin at around ¥75 million (about US$650,000).

Japan's top stakes races are run in the spring and fall. The country's most prominent race is the Grade 1 Japan Cup, a 2400m (about 1 1/2 mile) invitational grass race run every November at Tokyo Racecourse for a purse of ¥530 million (about US$4.6 million). Other noted stakes races include the February Stakes, Takamatsunomiya Kinen, Yasuda Kinen, Takarazuka Kinen, Arima Kinen, and the Tenno Sho races run in the spring and fall. The Satsuki Sho, Tokyo Yushun and Kikuka Sho comprise the Japanese Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.

Japan's top jump race is the Nakayama Grand Jump, run every April at Nakayama Racecourse. Instead of running over a large course as is the case in other countries, the course for the 4,250m (about 2 5/8 mile) Nakayama Grand Jump follows a twisted path on the inside portion of Nakayama's racing ovals. The race carries a purse of ¥170 million (about US$1.4 million).

The top jockey in Japan is Yutaka Take, who is a multiple champion in his homeland and regularly rides Japanese horses in stakes races around the world. Yutaka Take was the regular jockey for Deep Impact, JRA's two time Horse of the Year (2005-2006).


In India, the Mumbai (Royal Western India Turf Club) is the major horse racing center, and the Indian Derby is a Grade I event usually run in every March. Lots of famous jockeys from Ireland, England, South Africa, and France ride regularly in India. Mumbai has two subsidiary race courses - one at Delhi, and another at Pune. Bangalore Turf Club also conducts races, which are famous along with Pune and Kolkotta. The Hyderabad Race Club is also popular.


While the attention of horse racing fans and the media is focused almost exclusively on the horse's performance on the racetrack, or for male horses possibly its success as a sire, little publicity is given to brood mares. Such is the case of La Troienne, one of the most important mares of the twentieth century to whom many of the greatest thoroughbred champions, and dams of champions, can be traced.

In most flat horse races, not including steeplechases, the pedigree of the horse is one of the things that allow it to race: the horse must have a sire (father) and a dam (mother) who are purebred individuals of whatever breed is racing. For example, in a normal harness race, the horses sire and dam must both be pure Standardbreds.

A stallion who has won many races will usually be put up to stud when he is retired. This means that the owner of a mare can pay to breed his mare to that stallion. The more successful a stallion has been, the more expensive it is to breed the mare. An owner who is serious about racing will pay a great deal for a breeding to a successful stallion. Because stallions can breed many mares per season but a broodmare can only have one foal, an owner who has had a successful colt and keeps him as a breeding stud will probably make more money than an owner with a successful filly. However, the advent of embryo transfer technology—by means of which broodmares may have more than one offspring per season—might bring changes to the traditions of breeding.

Pedigrees of stallions can be seen at Weatherbys Stallion Book.[2]


At many horse races, there is a gambling station, where gamblers can stake money on a horse. (Gambling on horses is prohibited at some tracks; the nationally renowned Colonial Cup Steeplechase in Camden, South Carolina, is known as one of the races which betting is illegal, because of a 1951 law in the state where betting on horse racing is illegal.) Where gambling is allowed, most tracks offer Parimutuel betting where gamblers' money is pooled and shared proportionally among the winners once a deduction is made from the pool. In some countries, such as UK, Ireland, and Australia, an alternative and more popular facility is provided by Bookmakers who effectively make a market in odds. This allows the gambler to lock in odds on a horse at a particular time.

Types of bets

The three most common ways to bet money are: bet to win, bet to place, and bet to show. Bet to win means that you stake money on the horse, and if it comes in first place, the bet is a winner. In bet to place, you are betting on your horse to finish either first or second and 'show' is first, second or third. Since it is much easier to select a horse to finish first, second or third than it is to select a horse just for first, the 'show' payoffs will be much lower on average than win payoffs. Betting 'show' is really playing it safe while win betting is a bit more risky, yet the rewards are better.

In Europe, betting to show is less commonplace since the number of "payout places" varies depending on the size of the field that takes part in the race. For example, in a race with seven or less runners in the UK, only the first two finishers would be considered winning bets with most bookmakers. Three places are paid for eight or more runners, whilst a handicap race with 16 runners or more will see the first four places being classed as "placed." Betting to place takes on a different meaning in Europe for this reason. In the United State a place bet would only pay out if the horse in question finished first or second, whilst in the UK, a place bet would be deemed a winner based on the aforementioned criteria.

The term "Each Way" bet is used across the globe, but again has a different meaning depending on your location. An each way (or E/W) bet sees your total bet being split in two, with half being placed on the win, and half on the place. United States bettors would only see a payout for a first or second place finish with this type of bet, whilst European and British bettors (or "punters") would receive a payout if the horse either wins, or is placed based on the place criteria as stated above. Most UK bookmakers cut the odds considerably for an each bet, offering the full odds if the horse wins but only a third, a quarter or a fifth of the odds if only the place section of the bet is successful.


There are many dangers in horse racing for both horse and jockey: a horse can stumble and fall, or fall when jumping an obstacle, exposing both jockey and horse to the danger of being trampled and injured.


  1. Types of Horse Races, Retrieved May 29, 2017.
  2. Weatherbys Stallion Book, Weatherbys Stallion Book Online. Retrieved May 29, 2017.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barich, B. A Fine Place to Daydream: Racehorses, Romance, and the Irish. Random House Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1400042798
  • Hillenbrand, L. "Seabiscuit: An American Legend." Random House Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0449005615
  • Simon, M. Racing through the century: the story of thoroughbred racing in America. BowTie Press, 2002. ISBN 1889540927

External Links

All links retrieved January 14, 2018.


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