Horse racing is the second most popular spectator sport in the UK and when considering its history, it isn’t hard to understand why.
It is believed that the first examples of horse racing date back to 450 BC, with the nomadic tribesmen of Central Asia, who are believed to be the first society to domesticate horses. Since it’s conception, horse racing has been present in many major civilisations across the globe. For example, the ancient Greeks included horse racing – both chariot and mounted – in their Olympic Games. While the races that are viewed today certainly are inspired by these historical events, their particular format is slightly more modern.
Modern Horse Racing
While many people owned horses in Britain and used them for hunting or working, it was not until the 12th century that the first organised horse races were recorded. British knights returning from the Crusades brought Arabic stallions back with them, which were then bred with British mares, creating a breed of horse renowned for its speed and endurance.
Horse racing continued to evolve within the UK over the years, becoming particularly popular in the Stuart Era. King Charles II held races in which two horses would compete on private or open courses, the winner being awarded a prize.
Modern horse racing, as we know it today, can be seen in the types of races that became popular during Queen Anne’s reign. These races would involve several horses competing while spectators watched and took bets. The popularity of this style of racing endured, and many still enjoy horse racing betting today, alongside famous and traditional race courses, such as Ascot, which was created by Queen Anne.
What are Thoroughbreds and Why are They so Important?
Keen fans of racing may have noted that though horse racing has been dated back to the 12th century, the specifics of modern racing have evolved since their popularity exploded in the 15th century. The 1400s saw the introduction of Arabic stallions, which might not have instantly changed the game, but they did have one particular but significant impact; that is, the creation of the thoroughbred.
The breed of Arabic stallions with English mares had monumental effects. The combination of the stallion’s speed and agility with the mare’s stockier body and enduring stamina made them an instant favourite for the sport. This was eventually formalised in 1791 when the English Jockey Club published their General Stud Book. This book defined what made a horse a thoroughbred, specifically that they needed a particular ancestry. The General Stud Book did not only regulate horse breeding, but horse racing too, stating that thoroughbred horses were the only certified breed of horse for racing.
Thoroughbreds are shorter than a lot of other breeds, averaging about 16 hands with delicate heads, slim bodies and wider chests. They are known for their sensitive, high-spirited nature, and dedicated racing style. While there are other breeds of horses allowed to race in the UK today, the thoroughbred still remains hugely popular, both within Britain and across the world.