The History of Horse Racing

Horse racing has been an important part of the cultural landscape for thousands of years. In Ancient Greece and Roman times, public entertainment was provided by chariot races and horse races. Records suggest that the sport has also been practiced in Babylon and Persia. Throughout the centuries, racing has evolved from a simple contest of speed to a spectacle with hundreds of runners and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment. Racing also has been influenced by several cultures, from those who practiced it in the Middle East and Arabia to those who bred and raced horses in China, Egypt, and Syria. The sport has spanned a wide range of distances, from short sprints to long races that last for hours. The earliest races were held in the Middle East and likely involved Barb and Turk horses. These races were recorded in contemporary accounts in the 17th and 18th centuries. But the names of the riders were not officially documented until the 1850s. By the early 19th century, horse racing in the United States began to focus more on competition amongst runners rather than on speed. This changed when the Civil War was fought. Speed became the goal, and a more open event was created with a large number of competitors running in a variety of races. From there, the sport was expanded into an industry that could support a large number of bettors, as well as a public entertainment business. Various forms of betting emerged, including place bets and win bets. Some people would bet on a specific horse to win a particular race. Others would bet on the race’s result, and the owner would provide a purse. Later, standardized races for six-year-olds carrying 168 pounds were offered in 1751, called King’s Plates. In a heat, a horse had to win two heats to be considered a champion. If the owner withdrew his horse before the race, he forfeited half the purse. Horse racing grew to be a large and lucrative public entertainment business. Organized racing in North America began in 1664 when the British took possession of New Amsterdam. During the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), gambling was widespread and races were run primarily based on wagers. Before the Civil War, racing was mainly a sport for noblemen. Racing was regulated by law, and all horses were required to be bona fide property of their owners. They had to be certified to be of a certain age. A third party kept records of agreements between the owners and the riders. By the middle of the century, American Thoroughbreds were being bred in England. However, this was impeded by the Jersey Act, which disqualified horses bred in the United States from participating. The Jersey Act was repealed in 1949. After the Civil War, the Triple Crown was a consistent three-race series that required a horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. Today, there are hundreds of books on the history of horse racing. There are also thousands of websites that cater to the needs of horse racing fans.