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Horse Racing From Ancient History to TodayBy GamblersPick Mar 05, 2020People have raced horses and bet on the winners for thousands of years. Although racing is one of the world's oldest sports, it is still very much alive today.
Horse racing is one of the oldest and most widespread sports in the world. During a horse race, two or more horses ridden by jockeys compete by traveling a set distance as quickly as possible. For many spectators, the appeal of the sport is betting on the winner. Racing is one of the only forms of gambling that is legal in most of the world, and the sport's global market worth is around $115 billion.
Origins of Thoroughbred Racing
The practice of racing horses dates back as far as 4500 BC. Nomadic tribes in Central Asia were the first to domesticate horses, and it is likely that they also established the sport. Racing was an organized sport for all major civilizations in ancient history. For example, in ancient Greece, there were Olympic events for chariot and mounted racing horses. The specifics of racing in other ancient civilizations is not well established, but historians believe that it was a widespread practice.
Modern racing dates back to the 12th century in England. Professionals rode horses that were up for sale during competitions to display their speed to potential buyers. English knights also returned with Arab horses after the Crusades, and over the next several hundred years, many Arab stallions were imported. Then, these horses were bred with English mares to produces horses with great speed and endurance. In the 1500s, Henry VIII imported horses from Spain and Italy as well.
In the early 18th century, racing horses became a professional sport in England. Courses emerged across the country, and purses got larger and larger, which made owning and breeding racehorses more profitable. With so much money at stake, the sport also needed skilled horse jockeys, which provided prestigious career opportunities for working-class men. In 1750, the Jockey Club was formed to create rules around racing, establish sanctioned courses, and regulate breeding. The organization still regulates racing in England today.
Racing in America
British settlers brought thoroughbred racing to America in the 17th century. The first racetrack in America was built in 1665 in Long Island. Racing remained a well-liked sport, but it didn't achieve widespread popularity until after the Civil War. Perspectives on racing also changed during this time. Before the Civil War, stamina was the most important quality in a racehorse. After the war, speed was the goal.
During industrial expansion in the late 1800s, racing and gambling became massively popular in the U.S. By 1890, there were 314 tracks in America. Racing grew quickly without any regulatory organization or governing body, which meant that many tracks became enmeshed in criminal activity. However, in 1894, the biggest track and stable owners formed the American Jockey Club and successfully eliminated most of the corruption.
In the early 20th century, an antigambling sentiment was passed that almost completely destroyed the horse racing industry. By 1908, only 25 tracks remained. Then, when pari-mutuel wagering was introduced to the Kentucky Derby, many state governments legalized this form of gambling in exchange for a portion of the money wagered. This allowed more tracks to open, and by the time World War I ended, racing was once again popular in America.
In 1951, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame opened in Saratoga Springs, New York. The museum honors the most successful horses, horse jockeys, trainers, and owners throughout history. The sport lost popularity again in the 1950s and 60s. In the 70s, it experienced another resurgence because of horses like Secretariat and Affirmed. These horses won the American Triple Crown by winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes.
Breeding and Studbooks
Private studbooks had existed since early 1600s, but they were not all reliable. In the late 1700s, James Weatherby, the Jockey Club's secretary, was tasked with tracing the pedigree of every racehorse in England. In 1791, he published An Introduction to a General Stud Book. Subsequent volumes continue to be published in order to record the pedigree of the descendants of these horses. Today, all modern thoroughbreds in England can be traced back to one of three stallions: Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian, or Godolphin Arabian. These three horses are known as the foundation sires.
The American Stud Book was first published in 1868 and included foals from the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. Many other countries have their own studbooks to trace the lineage of their thoroughbreds.
The English and American studbooks had reciprocity until 1913, which was when the English Jockey Club passed the Jersey Act, disqualifying many thoroughbreds that were bred outside of England and Ireland. This was done to protect the British thoroughbred horses from American horses' sprinting blood. However, when several French horses with American ancestry had victories in English races, the English Jockey Club rescinded the Jersey Act.
There have been numerous famous race horses throughout history. Here are just a few of history's most notable horses:
Kincsem: The mare Kincsem was foaled in 1874 in Hungary. She had an undefeated career for four seasons and won races in Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, France, and the U.K. Several famous racehorses are descendants of Kincsem.
Man O' War: Man O' War was foaled in 1917 in Kentucky. Also known as Big Red, he won 20 out of the 21 races he ran. His only defeat happened during a restart where he was not given enough time to re-position before the race began.
Seabiscuit: Seabiscuit was foaled in 1933 in Kentucky. He lost his first 17 races but experienced a major improvement under a new trainer. After sustaining an injury, he made a miraculous comeback and won in 1939, which made him a symbol of hope for Americans during the Great Depression.
Arkle: Foaled in 1957 in Ireland, Arkle is considered by most to be the greatest steeplechase horse in history. He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, 1965, and 1966, and he won the Irish Grand National in 1964.
Secretariat: Secretariat is widely regarded as the greatest race horse of all time. He was foaled in 1970 in Virginia and was the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 25 years. In 1973, he won the Belmont Stakes in what is considered one of the best rides ever completed.
Racing and Betting Today
From the 1980s to today, racing has gradually declined in popularity in the United States, most likely because there has not been another Triple Crown winner. About half of states in the U.S. have thoroughbred tracks today. State racing commissions now have the sole authority to grant racing dates and to license the participants. They share the power to appoint officials and regulate racing rules with the American Jockey Club. However, the horses, jockeys, and trainers are all independent contractors.
Wagering is one of the biggest appeals of racing and is likely the reason the sport has lasted for so long. American tracks all use a pari-mutuel wagering system, which was created during the late 1800s. Under this system, a fixed percentage of the total wager, typically between 14 and 25 percent, is removed for taxes, track costs, and racing purses. The remainder is divided by the number of correct wagers to calculate the payoff.
The odds are regularly calculated and posted on the toteboard during the wagering period before the race. For example, if the odds are three to one, the bettor receives $3 for every $1 wagered if their bet was correct.
The three typical pools are win, place, and show. A win occurs when the horse finishes first, a place occurs when the horse finishes first or second, and a show occurs when the horse finishes first, second, or third. Bettors can also wager on a daily double, which involves selecting the winners of two consecutive races. Another popular wager is the exacta, which is a bet on the first and second place winners of one race in the correct order. The quiniela is also a bet on the first and second place winners, but they do not have to be in the right order.
Although racing is not as popular today in America as it used to be, it is still a well-known spectator sport and form of gambling. With such a long, rich history, thoroughbred racing will likely continue to be a massive industry for the foreseeable future.
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