An Overview of Horse Racing Through the Ages


Horse racing is one of the oldest sports in the world. Since the Ancient Era, humans have engaged in competitions of speed, strength and stamina, and so, it was only a matter of time before we started pitting animals against each other in the same kind of competitions.

Today, horse racing has lost quite a bit of popularity, and yet it still remains a hugely popular sport, not just in the audience scene, but also, in the betting scene. Punters from all over the world tune in to the most popular derbies, such as the Kentucky Derby, the Dubai Derby, etc. And place their money on, who they believe, are the best horses in the race. When it comes to online betting sites, horse racing is surpassed by only a few sports, most notably football. Websites like keep a close tab on horse races of all stripes, especially the thoroughbred matches that are most popular today.

The history of horse racing stretches back millennia, so the fact it is still hugely popular is a testament to people’s love of the sport. In this article, we are going to take a look at how horse racing started, and how it has developed over the ages.

Ancient Era & Origins


As we said, the history of the sport can be traced back all the way to the Ancient Era. Humans have been engaging in competitions of strength, stamina and speed, for as long as we’ve practiced animal husbandry. So, it isn’t a huge stretch of imagination to put the two together, and start animal competitions.

It is believed that horse racing was first practiced in Ancient Mesopotamia, most notably Babylon, where the sport was done during festivals and special events. Not much is known about horse racing in Babylon, but we do know that, from there, it spread to neighboring nations, eventually hitting Egyptian shores, where it truly flourished.

Ancient Greek travelers brought the sport over to their city-states, where horse racing grew in popularity, and according to Encyclopedia Britannica, another popular form of horse racing developed. Chariot racing has been a staple of the sporting world over most of Ancient history, and remained popular well into the post-Christ era, hitting its apex in Ancient Rome.

Medieval – Victorian era


After the collapse of the Roman empire, chariot racing fell off as a sport, and with it, horse racing lost a lot of popularity, at least in Europe. However, the practice of horse racing grew in popularity, with lords and knights considering the skill essential. During the medieval and renaissance period, festivals were held which included a number of different sporting competitions, including wrestling, fencing, jousting, and, of course, horse racing. So, the practice remained in vogue throughout the period.

The peak of horse racing was reached in the 18th century, however, when Britain experienced a sort of resurgence. Purportedly, King Charles II was a big fan of the sport, and it was him who popularized the Newmarket race. In the mid-18th century, the Jockey Club was first formed, in an attempt to regulate the Newmarket races. Over the years, the popularity of the sport grew, and new tracks were opened all over the country.

It was in the Victorian Era that horse racing began to be adopted by various countries all over the world. Most notably, the United States of America began to embrace the sport, as well as all of the English colonies during the period. During the 1800s, horse racing was the most popular betting sport, attended by rich and poor alike.

Horse Racing Today


Today, horse racing has fell off in terms of popularity, though it still remains a favorite on various betting sites. During the 20th century, some of the most popular athletes in the horse racing scene came to prominence, the most popular of which, according to the Guardian, was Ribot, followed by the Secretariat.

Secretariat might be the most popular race horse in the history of the sport, with various films, books, documentaries being centered on him. He was a thoroughbred, whose peak year came in 1973, when he ran the Kentucky Derby in record time. Nicknamed “Big Red”, the horse won the Triple Crown in his heyday, and went down in history as one of the greatest horses in the world of horse racing.

Most Popular Races Today


In 2024, the most popular venues for horse racing are the Kentucky Derby, the Dubai Derby, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Royal Ascot. Out of these, the Kentucky Derby might be the most popular. As the name suggests, it takes place in Kentucky and is an annual event, being attended, watched, and followed by fans and punters from all over the world.

The Dubai Derby, another annual event, takes place in Dubai. It is, currently, the horse racing derby which features the biggest prize in the world of horse racing. The Prix de l’Arc and Royal Ascot are two of the most prestigious and well-known events in the world of horse racing, being raced in Paris, France and Ascot, England respectively.

Apart from the four mentioned above, other popular horse racing events are the Melbourne Cup, the Belmont Stakes, the Grand National, etc.

Closing Thoughts

Horse racing has had a long and storied history, dating back all the way to the Ancient Era. The sport has persevered through the ages, fluctuating in popularity, though never dropping into obscurity, like so many other sports that have been played throughout history. In the Ancient Era, the sports pinnacle was reached in Ancient Greece and Rome, where it was vastly more popular than most other sports.

In the modern era, the peak of the sport came in the 19th and 20th century, when the sport spread from Great Britain throughout the world, and when some of the most popular horses came to prominence respectively. While it has dropped in popularity, the sport remains big on the betting scene today, especially the biggest races, such as the Kentucky Derby, the Royal Ascot and the Dubai Derby.