Horse racing is now one of the biggest sports in the world. In fact, in Ireland alone, over 1.3 million people attended a horse race in 2019.
Ireland has a proud horse racing heritage thanks to top jockeys like Katie Walsh and Ruby Walsh. But, how did the sport get so popular worldwide? Here, we’ll look at international horse racing through the years. We’ll examine the current state of play in the horse racing industry before assessing key moments in the sport’s past.
Horse Racing in the 21st Century
From the Kentucky Derby to the Melbourne Cup, horse racing is now undoubtedly a global sport. Plus, it’s also an incredibly big business. After all, several of the world’s richest horse races offer purses in excess of $5 million.
Horse racing’s universal appeal partially comes from its low barrier to entry. After all, thanks to online betting, you can place a wager on any form of horse racing that’s taking place anywhere in the world from the comfort of your own sofa. This means you can feel your heart flutter in the same way it would if you’d placed a bet at the track, but all you need to do is sit back and watch the action unfold on the TV.
So, with this in mind, how did horse racing become so popular? Let’s take a look at some key moments from the sport’s past.
The History of International Horse Racing
Although some aspects of 21st century race meetings are modern phenomena, international horse racing is almost as old as civilisation itself. In fact, archaeological records show evidence of horse racing in ancient Rome, when chariot racing was particularly popular.
Since ancient times, horse racing has been associated with the aristocracy. However, it didn’t get its nickname as ‘the sport of Kings’ until the 17th and 18th centuries, when royal rulers in Britain such as King Charles II embraced thoroughbred racing. During this period, the Jockey Club was also formed and rules for horse racing were established.
Although horse racing is as old as time, in America the sport only dates back to 1665, when the Newmarket Course was established in New York. However, uptake was quick and interest exploded after the Civil War. By 1890, there were 314 tracks operating across the country. Plus, in 1875, the first-ever Kentucky Derby was run. To this day, it remains America’s most famous horse race.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the Melbourne Cup was established. This popularised horse racing in Australia to the point that Melbourne Cup day is now a public holiday in the local area. In addition, the race is also known locally as ‘the race that stops the nation’.
Following this, at the turn of the 20th century, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was run for the first time in France at Longchamp Racecourse. This has since grown to become the second most prestigious horse race in Europe (after the Epsom Derby in England).
Throughout the 20th century, horse racing became increasingly popular across the globe, including Asia. As well as becoming popular in Mongolia, the Japan Cup was inaugurated in 1981. In under 40 years, it has quickly become one of the richest races in the world.
Finally, at the turn of the 20th century, international horse racing exploded in the Middle East, with the Dubai World Cup launching in 1996. At this point, a battle emerged between Dubai and America for the title of ‘world’s richest horse race’. Ultimately, this title was taken by the Saudi Cup in Riyadh, which is worth a colossal $20,000,000.
With horse racing currently going from strength to strength, it will be interesting to see how the sport will evolve further in the coming years. With increasing access for television crews, increasing betting opportunities and increasing prize money, it appears to be a sport that’s going from strength to strength.