The Concise History of Horse Racing

Horse racing is a sport with long-lasting traditions. Its history dates back many centuries and has gone through several waves of development. The traditions ingrained in horse racing are among its most appealing qualities. Here’s a brief outline of how the sport has developed since its inception.


The exact origins of horse racing are still unverified. But what’s known for certain is that the sport has been around for tens of centuries. Historians believe that the first horse races began in Asia—either in the Central region or in China and the Middle East.

That horse racing would originate in these areas makes much sense given that horses have been ingrained in Asian culture since its very beginning. In 2012 a team of Cambridge scientists published research according to which domestication of horses began 6000 years ago in Central Asia.

In Europe, flat horse racing was the earliest form of the sport and has been around since as early as the 7th century BCE. This was when it became an Olympic event. The Romans had also organised equestrian races from very early times.

Horse racing in Europe turned a new leaf after the Crusaders brought Arab horses which later would be cross-bred with English mares to create what is now referred to as a “thoroughbred.” Unlike the earliest forms of horse racing, which often took place at public streets, thoroughbred racing involved high-skilled riders and prime horses and was reserved for royalty (hence, Sport of Kings) and the wealthy.


By the 12th century, thoroughbred racing had become a favorite pastime for England’s and France’s affluent communities with reportedly Richard the Lionheart offering the first racing purse.

It was Charles II’s 17th-century reign, however, that brought English racing to new heights. An avid supporter of horse racing, Charles II was also a rider. He frequented the Newmarket races—which originated during James I—and set the beginning of the Newmarket Town Plate which he won five years later.

In the meantime, France was also turning into a horse racing centre. By the end of the 17th century, French horse races had become ingrained with gambling, while a century later Louis XVI issued a royal decree that put some order to the events. Competing horses needed a certificate of origin, while foreign ones raced with extra weight.

The 17th century also brought horse racing to America when the Brits set up races in what is now New York. The earliest such events were rather simplistic involving a heads-up run between two horses. As the popularity of the sport grew so did the investments setting the beginnings of the American thoroughbred industry. By the end of the 19th century, hundreds of racecourses had opened across the USA.

Modern Day

Once immensely popular, horse racing had its ups and downs in popularity only to enjoy once again a surge of interest during recent decades. Currently, Britain, France, the USA, and Asia remain the most popular horse racing nations.

As of staple British flat races, the top ones – Two Thousand Guineas, the Derby, and the Saint Leger – make up the Triple Crown. Their jump-racing National Hunt counterparts are the King George VI Chase, the Cheltenham Festival, and the Grand National which has been sponsored by Randox Health since 2016.

The jump race leagues of both Ireland and France also belong under the umbrella name National Hunt, testifying to the long-lasting horse-racing legacy of these countries. Another thing that stuck during the many centuries of horse racing events is its gambling nature.

Horse racing and betting

Scientific developments in equestrian care and technological ones in broadcasting have opened the sport to new audiences. This has made the sport very competitive amid the hundred billion pounds spent globally on horse betting, and attractive to both broadcasters and major corporations. For example, last year Magners signed a four-year deal to be the exclusive sponsor of Cheltenham Gold Cup and the presenting partner for the Festival.

The rise of the internet opened a whole new world for horse racing and gambling in general. Bettors no longer need to visit the track to bet on the ponies. They can sit at home, have a cup of tea, and use their mobile devices to place a wager.

This has pushed the frontiers of online gambling in a sweeping move that involved the whole gambling industry. Even casinos, which like sports bookmakers for decades were only available at brick and mortar locations, now exist entirely online. This is a huge convenience for the majority of British bettors who prefer to wager on something more than horses.

Instead of having to go to the race track and the football bookmaker and to the casino to play, the whole package, including staples such as online roulette, is available in one place. What’s more, online casinos are dedicated to letting new-comers try their platforms without the need for hefty initial investment.

A proof of the popularity of horse racing is The Grand National. According to the BBC, it attracts 150 000 visitors and a staggering 600 million viewers with many of them placing bets. The event is one of the most prestigious European jump races and only one among many others that bring the masses of horse racing to the racecourse and in front of the telly. April 6th will be no exception.