There are many kinds of horse racing but thoroughbred racing is the most common today. Thoroughbreds are horses known for their agility, speed and spirit and all modern thoroughbreds can trace their pedigrees back to three stallions imported into England from the Middle East in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The Byerley Turk was the earliest of the three thoroughbred stallions, with the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian following on 20 and 40 years later.
While horse racing in England has a history dating back to the 12th century, it was not until the 18th century that the first of the famous five English classics for three-year-old thoroughbreds were established. The St Leger was founded in 1776, with the Epsom Oaks (1779), Epsom Derby (1780), 2,000 Guineas (1809) and 1,000 Guineas (1814) shortly thereafter.
A consequence of the establishment of the English classics was a change in breeding practices. Prior to the foundation of the five races, breeders concentrated on producing horses that could race long distances and they did not mind if they took time to mature. But because the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, Epsom Oaks and St Leger were run over fewer than two miles and open exclusively to three-year-old thoroughbreds it meant that breeders began producing horses with more speed which were able to race at younger ages.
By the late 19th century, horse racing was popular not only in England but also in France, Italy, the United States of America and the British colonies of Australia and New Zealand. Thoroughbreds arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788 and made their way to New Zealand in the middle of the 19th century. Argentina, Germany and South Africa were early thoroughbred racing adopters as well.
Who runs international horse racing?
While there is an International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities, set up by the governing bodies in France, Great Britain, Ireland and the United States of America, horse racing is unusual insomuch as it is a major international sport that is administered largely on a domestic level.
France Galop is the powerful governing body of horse racing in France. The most famous race on the French calendar is the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, a 2,400-metre event staged at Longchamp in Paris on the first Sunday of October. First run in 1920 and with an honour roll featuring some of the biggest names ever to grace a racecourse, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is viewed by many horse racing enthusiasts as the unofficial middle-distance championship of Europe.
Horse racing in Great Britain falls under the auspices of the British Horseracing Authority. In addition to the five English classics, the country’s top flat races include the Sussex Stakes over eight furlongs at Goodwood, the Eclipse Stakes over 10 furlongs at Sandown Park and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes over 12 furlongs at Ascot.
A feature of the British scene is the popularity of National Hunt racing, highlights of which are the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National at Aintree. British punters bet more money on the Grand National, a four-and-a-half-mile slog over 30 large fences, than they bet on any other race.
Horse Racing Ireland runs Irish horse racing. There are a dozen Group One flat races on the Irish calendar, the pick of which is the Irish Derby at The Curragh, not far from Dublin. The 12-furlong event attracts a high-class field, often including the Epsom Derby winner from three weeks earlier. Sixteen horses have done the derby double.
The Jockey Club is the breed registry for thoroughbred horses in the United States of America. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes comprise the Triple Crown of American horse racing. Only 11 horses have completed the Triple Crown and none since 1978.
Other major horse races on the international circuit include the Dubai World Cup, Japan Cup and Melbourne Cup. The latter is unusual because it is a Group One handicap, which many horse racing fans would say is an oxymoron. At least these days the Melbourne Cup, run over two miles at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November, attracts entries from all around the world and is a quality contest for a handicap.
What are some of the common horse racing bet types?
Horse racing bet types vary considerably depending upon the jurisdiction in which one is betting. Great Britain is home to the world’s most deregulated and competitive horse racing betting market, with bookmakers, totalisers and betting exchanges competing against each other for business.
British horse racing punters who bet with bookmakers have a tendency to fall into one of two distinct categories. First, there is a group of punters who bet win, place or each-way singles and like to take board prices. And second, there is a group of punters who dream of hitting the jackpot and bet small hoping to win big. They are lovers of multiple bets, including poor-value, full-cover wagers such as Yankees (four horses equals 11 bets), Canadians (five horses equals 26 bets) and Goliaths (eight horses equals 247 bets).
Totalisers enable British punters to play in pools, many large, while betting exchanges enable punters not only to back horses but also to lay them, thereby acting as a de facto bookmaker. Betting exchanges have changed the face of horse racing betting in Great Britain forever, some would say for the better and some would say for the worse.
Parimutuel betting is the most common form of horse racing betting away from the British Isles. Nowhere it is bigger than in Hong Kong, where the Hong Kong Jockey Club has a legal monopoly over betting on the sport. One has to visit either Happy Valley or Sha Tin to see with one’s own eyes the amount of money that Hong Kongers bet on horse racing.