Horse racing has a long and storied history and is one of the most popular sports today. Unless you happen to follow it or bet on horse racing, you may not know a whole lot about it. We’ve done some work to bring you a list of 10 facts about horse racing, which we’re sure you’ll find very interesting, to say the least.
10 Fascinating Horse Racing Facts:
1. The Sport Dates Back to Ancient Times
Horse racing dates back to around 4500 BC when nomadic tribesmen of Central Asia (who are credited with domesticating horses) raced the animals for competitive fun. It was later in 1000 BC when the Greeks began racing two-wheeled carts or chariots pulled by horses. This sport became so popular that the Egyptians and Romans began racing horse-drawn chariots.
In 664 BC at the 33rd Olympiad, horseback racing became an official sport with the riders being called jockeys just as they are today. The Romans then took horse racing to Britain during the Common Era wherein the equestrian sport lived on through time and flourished.
2. Horse Racing Began in America During the 1600s
In the mid-1600s, horse racing made it to American soil when the first racetrack was built in colonial America called Newmarket. While the sport was not very organized in the beginning, it became popular over time. As prominent racehorses were brought to America from England and bred, more hybrid offspring were born and raised to become champion racers.
As time marched on, horse racing became a popular sport across the United States. By the late 1800s, over 300 tracks were operating in the country.
During the 1900s, horse racing had its ups and downs. At the beginning of the Great Depression, a few states decided to legalize horse race betting as a way to stimulate the economy. When World War II ended, horse racing wasn’t very popular and this wane lasted into the 1970s. It didn’t regain popularity until many Americans were interested in the Triple Crown which was making news from coast to coast.
3. Betting is Why Horse Racing Survived as a Major Sport
People have been betting on horse racing since the sport got its start. Wagering on the outcome of horse races has always been what has drawn people into the world of horse racing. Wagering is also why horse racing continues to be one of the most popular sports in the world today.
Back in the early 20th century in America, an anti-gambling sentiment prevailed across the land which resulted in most states outlawing gambling on horses. This nearly killed the sport altogether. Thankfully, the sport did regain its popularity when horses began winning the Triple Crown which is a series of three thoroughbred horse races consisting of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.
4. Thoroughbred Racehorse Names Can’t Be Random
You may be surprised to learn that a lot of thought goes into choosing a name for a thoroughbred racehorse. The breed registry for thoroughbred horses in the US and Canada called the Jockey Club sets out guidelines that must be followed when naming racehorses.
If you have a thoroughbred that you’re in the process of naming, you can submit up to six names for the Jockey Club to decide from. But you can’t just pick any names as they must be shorter than 18 characters in length, including punctuation and spaces. And don’t think you can name your horse after a famous racetrack because that’s prohibited too.
5. Horse Racing is Big Business in the USA
Horse racing is the longest-running sporting event in the USA and a multi-billion-dollar industry. What started long ago as a small race in a small community, horse racing is wildly popular today. Tickets to some of the biggest races are hard to come by and can cost hundreds of dollars apiece or even more.
Held annually at Churchill Downs in Louisville, 2021 marked the 147th running of the famed Kentucky Derby. This race is the most prestigious of them all and the event of the year for horse race fans.
The Kentucky Derby was founded back in 1875 by Meriwether Lewis Clark who was trying to mimic the Epsom Derby that’s run in England. While it wasn’t a big hit at the start, the Kentucky Derby is one of the grandest sporting events of the year. The track is packed with fans with millions of people the world over watching the race on TV. Dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sports”, the Kentucky Derby is an iconic American sporting event that’s steeped in tradition.
6. The Kentucky Derby Has an Official Drink and Song
The famed Kentucky Derby is so steeped in tradition that it has both an official drink and an official song. Before, during, and after the race, spectators enjoy drinking Mint Juleps which is a fancy drink consisting of bourbon, mint, and sugar syrup. Before the race begins, the official Kentucky Derby song is performed which is called My Old Kentucky Home by Stephen Collins Foster. And, to keep with the gambling spirit of the race, spectators can place bets on how long the song is played.
7. It’s Not Easy to Be a Professional Jockey
Though being a jockey can be an exciting career, not many people can do the job as it’s demanding and comes with some specific requirements. To get a jockey license, you must be at least 18 years old and have experience with horses and knowledge of racing.Most professional jockeys weigh less than 120 pounds and stand no taller than 5’6”, which disqualifies many people of average or large size. The North American Racing Academy (NARA) is located in Kentucky and it’s where most jockeys earn a degree. To be accepted in the NARA, students must have a high school diploma or GED and experience riding and training horses.
Life isn’t easy for the average professional jockey and success doesn’t come to everyone who chooses this career. This job is characterized by daily rigors, routines, and strict regimes that require true dedication to the profession and a real passion for horses.
Jockeys are always under pressure to maintain low body weight and to keep in tip-top shape. Couple these physical stresses with the rigors of daily practice and training, and you’ll realize that professional jockeys are a rare breed indeed!
8. Thoroughbred Racehorses Have the Same Birthday
Regardless of what day a thoroughbred horse is born, it will be considered a year older on January 1st. By setting a standard birth date for all thoroughbreds, it’s easy to determine each horse’s acceptability for races based on its age.
January 1 was chosen because most mares go into heat shortly after the new year. The gestation period runs for about 11 months, which means most foals are born in the spring, making January 1 a practical choice for their common birthday. This odd tradition started in England. Before professional horse racing became a thing, owners pitted their horses against one another without regard to age, and most of the horses were over four years old. During these early days of horse racing, the Brits didn’t race during the cold winter months and only rarely in the spring. Therefore, they collectively decided that May 1 would be a standard birth date for all thoroughbreds.
This standard birthday made easy work of matching two and three-year-old horses against each other. However, by the 1830s, an increasing number of younger horses were racing so the UK Jockey Club decided that all horses racing professionally were born on January 1, at least on paper.
9. Secretariat is a Racing Legend in the US
Secretariat was a thoroughbred racehorse that was also called Big Red. At his peak during the early 1970s, Secretariat was often the subject of headlines the world over as he won one race after another and in grand style!
This beautiful red stallion with the white “socks” won the hearts of millions during his spectacular run that won the Triple Crown in breathtaking style. Secretariat blew the other horses off the track as he won the Belmont Stakes by a mind-blowing 31 lengths.
By the end of 1972, Secretariat was a household name in the United States as he won seven of nine races and was named Horse of the Year. It’s all history from there as Secretariat became a worldwide superstar, captivating the public’s attention from all four corners of the globe. Incidentally, in 1973, Big Red was the first horse to run the Kentucky Derby in under two minutes, matching the track record.
10. Racehorses are Valuable
By now, you probably realize that racehorses don’t come cheap, and especially the ones that win big races! In 2000, a racehorse called Fusaichi Pegasus sold for a whopping $70 million to Coolmore Ireland, one of the world’s biggest breeders.
This thoroughbred stallion was very successful on the track, racking up nearly $2 million in winnings. Fusaichi Pegasus also won the iconic Kentucky Derby in 2000, which certainly didn’t hurt his financial worth!
In 2020, this fine stallion was put out to pasture so to speak, as he was no longer bringing in big bucks for his stud services. Thus far, Fusaichi Pegasus holds the world record for the most valuable racehorse in history. However, since records were made to be broken, it’s just a matter of time until another horse shatters this stallion’s record!
Horse racing has a long history that’s full of fascinating stories and facts. Whether you’re a diehard racing fan or just someone who admires horses, you have to admit that horseracing is pretty cool. These are just a few of the fascinating facts about horse racing as this popular equestrian sport is making new history and creating fresh stories every day!
Featured Image Credit: clarencealford, Pixabay
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.