Bearing a rich history, horse racing is one of the oldest sports known to man. The beginnings of the equestrian sport can be traced to various ancient civilizations such as Babylon, Persia, China, Greece, and Egypt. As early as 700-40 BCE, racing with horses was a part of the Greek Olympics in the form of the four-hitch chariot, and later evolved to bareback.
Dubbed “The Sport of Kings”, horse racing has one of the biggest prize pools of any modern sport. It has long been a favorite pastime and source of entertainment for British royalty and aristocrats. In the 18th century, horse racing became well-established with a set of rules, wagering systems, and organizations of skilled experts such as breeders, jockeys, groomers, and trainers. Today, horse racing has cultivated itself to become one of the most beloved sports internationally by many including sports enthusiasts and bettors.
There are many organized horse racing events to look out for, but here are ten of the most celebrated and high-priced annual horse races in the world.
Inaugural race: 1875
Date: First Saturday of May
Location: Churchill Downs Racetrack, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
When one thinks of horse racing, the Kentucky Derby undoubtedly comes to mind. This first leg of the American Triple Crown is perhaps the most iconic horse racing event in the USA and maybe even the world.
Named the “Run for the Roses”, the Kentucky Derby is known for its tradition of draping a blanket of red roses called “The Garland of Roses” on the winning horse after a race, as well as “The Jockey’s Bouquet” consisting of 60 long stem roses awarded to the jockey.
Dubai World Cup
Inaugural race: 1996
Date: Last Saturday of March
Location: Meydan Racecourse, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The Dubai World Cup is the last part of the Dubai World Cup Night of races, which is a series of eight Thoroughbred races and one Purebred Arabian race. The race is participated by Northern Hemisphere Thoroughbred racehorses age four and up, and Southern Hemisphere Thoroughbred racehorses age three and up.
Since its beginnings, the Dubai World Cup quickly rose to prominence in the industry, becoming a major attraction and carrying one of the most valuable purses in horse racing history.
Inaugural race: 1861
Date: First Tuesday of November
Location: Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, Australia
The most important handicap Australian Thoroughbred race, this beloved event is anticipated by over 100,000 spectators each year. In 2003, the Melbourne Cup recorded 122,700 people in attendance on the day of the race.
In 1930, legendary racehorse Phar Lap graced the racing scene by winning the Melbourne Cup amid the Great Depression – bringing a glimpse of joy and entertainment to the public despite difficult times.
Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
Inaugural race: 1920
Date: First Sunday of October
Location: Longchamp Racecourse, Paris, France
Europe’s most famous and high-priced horse race, the Prix de l’Arc is a weight-for-age race open to three-year-olds and above (except for geldings). It is one of the most highly anticipated races internationally, with the best horses from all around the world including the UK, Ireland, and France competing for the grand prize.
Breeder’s Cup Classic
Inaugural race: 1984
Date: First Saturday of November
Location: Various locations across North America
The Breeder’s Cup Classic is a unique horse race in terms of its location. Unlike its contemporaries, this race is held in different race tracks across North America each year. However, it has only been held outside the USA on the Woodbine Racetrack in Ontario, Canada.
Horseman John R. Gaines came up with the name for this weight-for-age race. The Breeder’s Cup Classic got its title from the fact that it was largely funded by Thoroughbred breeders.
Inaugural date: 1873
Date: Third Saturday of May
Location: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore, Maryland
Called the “Run for the Black-Eyed Susans”, the Preakness Stakes is the second leg of the American Triple Crown between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.
The winner of the Preakness Stakes is bestowed the Woodlawn Vase, which was first awarded in 1917. At first, the winner was not allowed to keep the trophy, as it was supposed to be passed to the following year’s winner until eventually, a half-size reproduction of the Woodlawn Vase was given to the winners to keep permanently.
Inaugural race: 1839
Date: Second Thursday to Friday of April
Location: Aintree, Merseyside, England
For almost two centuries, Grand National has gained a reputation for being the hardest race to predict because of the challenges it poses, including the fact that forty horses have to line up in an incredibly large field, causing a lot of traffic problems.
There have been many interesting moments in the race’s history. In 1929, the Grand National saw a record 66 horses competing for the win, which was won by Gregalach – a racehorse that only had a 100/1 shot.
Inaugural race: 2017
Date: Second or third Saturday of October
Location: Randwick Racecourse, Sydney, Australia
Fairly new in the horse racing scene, The Everest holds the record for the world’s richest race on turf. Each year, only twelve sprinters line up for this weight-for-age competition.
Although the event is yet to gain its Grade 1 status, this race is not easily joined by just anyone. To be able to compete, racers must secure one of the twelve racing slots at the price of a whopping $600,000!
Inaugural race: 2020
Date: Last weekend of February
Location: King Abdulaziz Racecourse, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
This newest horse race on the list holds the title of the richest horse race ever held. A part of the qualifiers for this prestigious race are taken from the top contestants of other races such as the USA’s Pegasus World Cup and Japan’s Champions Cup. Despite the great prize, entries to the race are free.
The two-day event also features the ground-breaking International Jockey Challenge where equal numbers of both male and female contestants compete for a prize in four races.
Inaugural race: 1780
Date: First Saturday of June
Location: Epsom Downs Racecourse, Surrey, England, UK
The second leg of the English Triple Crown, the Epsom Derby is one of the oldest horse racing events that still stand today contested by Thoroughbred racehorses at the historic Epsom Downs.
The Epsom Derby, often referred to as the “Blue Riband” of the turf, is one of the richest horse racing events in the UK and is highly sought-after by breeders and owners.
There are hundreds of horse racing events to watch and enjoy, but these were a few of the most iconic ones to anticipate yearly, especially for sports enthusiasts, horse racing fans, and bettors.
Although the digital age has taken over our lives, horse racing will always be embedded in our culture. Horse racing has made history in many countries all over the globe, all throughout time – and the hype doesn’t look like it’s dying down anytime soon.
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