Horse racing has been a part of British sporting culture for hundreds of years. It’s one of the oldest sports in the world that is still widely practiced today, and in the modern era it has evolved and spearheaded the betting industries. Let’s take a look back in time to where the sport of Kings began.
Whilst we can trace chariot races back to the year dot, it is widely believed that horse racing as we know it today began back in February 1539, when the first race meeting was held at the Chester Roodeye racecourse. The course still boasts that it was the first in Britain, and who are we to argue?
It wasn’t until the 17th century that the royal family started to become involved with horse racing. King James I was said to have visited Newmarket and set up a home there, becoming the founder of their new race course, but it was Charles II who established the first race meeting at Newmarket in 1664. From then the sport really started to take hold, and a set of official rules were created and events run accordingly.
The world renowned Ascot race course was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne, and the first race held there – named Her Majesty’s Plate – is said to have been the biggest event of its time. Following on from this and riding the wave of popularity, more and more courses were constructed throughout the British Isles.
1750 was a breakthrough year for British horse racing with the formation of the Jockey Club. It was this group that had the job of setting rules and regulations for the sport in order to combat the already corrupt goings on that were taking place. However, it wasn’t until 1758 that they passed their first resolution – that all jockeys must weigh in after a race.
1764 saw the foaling of a remarkable horse named Eclipse. He won 18 out of 18 races, including 11 Kings Plates, but was retired to stud after only 17 months because when he raced no one would bet on any other horses. It is estimated that over 80% of thoroughbred race horses today have Eclipse in their pedigree.
Over the next century or so some of the biggest races in the world were set up and are still household names today, such as the Oaks, St Leger, 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas, Grand National and many more.
As horse racing continued to grow and gain international appeal, the sport employed a host of governing bodies from 1866 onward, starting with the National Hunt Committee. Others included The Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, Racehorse Owners Association, Horserace Betting Levy Board and the Doncaster Blackstock Sales.
The modern era of horse racing saw changes such as the first flat races, photo finishes and legalised betting outside of the race courses themselves. In fact, high street betting has long been hailed the saving grace of horse racing, as before them it was heading into decline.
The 1950s and 1960s saw horse racing brought to our screens for the first time and nowadays there are even a number of TV channels dedicated solely to horse racing. Whilst television certainly has increased exposure, it hasn’t done much for attendances at the race courses themselves, and the numbers showing up at tracks around the country have been waning. Revenue from online bookmakers has certainly helped the sport stay buoyant, though, and has brought horse racing into a brand new era.