How Horse Racing in the U.K. Came to Be

How Horse Racing in the U.K. Came to Be

Horse racing has been around for centuries. It is one of the longest-running sports in the history of Great Britain. It currently ranks as the second largest spectator sport in the country. The sport continues to help the country thrive and generates more than £3.7 billion for the economy.

The Beginning of Horse Racing in the U.K.

The dawn of horse racing in Great Britain was during the Roman era. It wasn’t until centuries later when rules and traditions helped to shape the modern version of horse racing. Some of these rules, which started to appear in the 1600s, included the weight-for-age and handicapping system. These rules are also in other sports. The systems, which became foundations for the sport, also exist largely because of the Jockey Club. While it is uncertain when the organization was initially established, many speculate it was in 1750. However, it is a fact the Jockey Club played a major role in the development of horse racing as we know it.

The Jockey Club Present Day

The Jockey Club

The British upper class formed The Jockey Club as an exclusive club for its members of society. The club’s name, jockey, comes from a word used in the Middle Ages and means horseman. The club held its first meetings at the Star and Garter tavern in London. Later, the club relocated to Newmarket, a town in the U.K. known as “The Home of Racing.” It was at this time that the Jockey Club began to set up the rules and regulations for horse racing. It was one of three organizational bodies helping to manage and govern horse racing.

While the Jockey Club continued to govern the sport through the 20th century, there was a major change in 2006. This change would give another organization responsibility for the sport. That meant three agencies were overseeing it. They included the British Horseracing Board (BHB), the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), and the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA). However, in 2007, the HRA was no longer part of the oversight. Instead, its commitments merged with the duties of the BHB and the BHA.

Types of Horses and Races

Horse Breeding

The Thoroughbred horse breed is well-known for being in horse races. The Thoroughbred is typically used to describe pure breeds. However, the term makes reference to the specific breed itself. Generally, people recognize the Thoroughbred as a breed known for its speed and agility.

Thoroughbreds were first bred in England during the 17th and 18th centuries. This unique breed is the result of native mares and Oriental stallions of Arabian, Turkoman, and Barb breeds. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Thoroughbreds began to extend across the world. First imported to North America in 1730, the breed then made its way to Japan, Europe, and South America.

Horse Race Types

Sports betting is very popular as is the sport of horse racing. Oftentimes, people are not aware of the different types of horse races they are betting on. There are nine types of horse racing and, among them, three are more commonly seen than the others. These types are mainly used in various countries across the globe, including the United States, France, and Ireland.

Flat Racing

Said to be the most popular type of horse racing, flat racing takes place on a leveled surface. It’s typically run by the Thoroughbred horse breed in races, such as the Triple Crown in North America. These races are usually between 1 and 2 miles long. Judges make a decision based upon the horse’s stamina and speed individually or a combination of both.

Jump Racing (National Hunt)

Jump racing is also a very well-known type of horse racing. Horses compete in a race that includes a variety of obstacles set along the route. These can include fences, hurdles, and ditches. This kind of race is especially popular in Ireland, France, and the United Kingdom. Although well-liked, this race can be a bit tricky when placing a bet because there are many variables to consider.

The two largest jump racing events are the Aintree Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Both of these highly prominent events take place in England. However, of the two, the Aintree Grand National is the more prestigious.

Endurance Racing

The last common type of horse racing is endurance racing. This type differs from jump and flat racing because any horse breed can participate. However, jockeys typically choose Arabian horses because people know them for having stronger endurance and stamina. Speed typically is not the focus of measurement in this style of racing. Rather, the focus of this race is a horse’s ability to last for a prolonged amount of time. This also is not as popular a racing type because of the amount of time it takes to complete. For example, the Mongol Derby is an endurance race and goes as far as 1,000 kilometers or 1 mile.

Broadcasted Events

The BBC network was the first to cover horse racing on TV in the 1950s. The network giant secured the rights to televise significant key moments in horse racing history. These include the Grand National, the Derby, and the Royal Ascot. Decades later, in 2012, the network lost the rights to another news station that placed a higher bid.

ITV also began coverage in 1955. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the network broadcasted the sport on ITV Seven as part of the channel’s World of Sport program. Finally, Channel 4 picked up coverage of the sport in the early 1980s.

Horserace Betting

horse race bettingPlacing bets on horse races has been around arguably, for as long as the sport’s inception. You can find betting shops all over the United Kingdom. Wherever you see a large crowd with significant amounts of money, there is probably a betting shop. Betting on sports has always taken place within the country, even well before the U.K. legalized it in 1960. Starting in the 1930s, people were wagering as high as £500 million on horse racing. Illegal betting often took place in public houses or pubs. Bookie runners would play the role of the middleman and transport the money from bookmakers to clients. Once legalized, big-name betting shops, such as William Hill, Coral, and Ladbrokes, started to appear on the streets.

History of Jockeys

In the beginning, jockeys were never seen as “aristocratic” individuals, especially because they had very unkempt appearances. However, in the late 18th century, jockeys began to gain notoriety thanks to a number of Yorkshire-based jockeys. These men gained a lot of respect after winning the St. Leger, an illustrious flat race in Great Britain. Their fellow jockeys down south were also receiving high praise as they, too, were proving strength within the sport.

Several jockeys have etched their names into history, including Lester Piggott and Gordon Richards. Both men have greatly influenced flat racing during the 20th century. Today, jump jockeys have proven they, too, can greatly dominate the sport despite their past reputation. Jump jockey Tony McCoy victoriously proved this. He was the only horse racing sports figure to win the title of BBC Sports Personality of the Year. As of November 2017, there are a total of 450 professional jockeys in the United Kingdom.

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