How Does Horse Racing Compare Between the UK and USA?

How Does Horse Racing Compare Between the UK and USA?

“Horse racing” (CC BY 2.0) by Nico Nelson

They call horse racing the sport of the kings but, if you scratch below the surface, you will find it is quite different depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you live.

All conversations about the history of the sport in the western world start in the British Isles. The kings and queens of England (and latterly Scotland) were equine enthusiasts throughout the Early Modern period.

Thanks to Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart dynasty, we have Royal Ascot – now one of the best known thoroughbred racehorse meetings in the world. Because of her uncle, King Charles II, Newmarket was established as the headquarters of flat turf horse racing in Britain a generation earlier during The Restoration period.

Where there is competition, there are wagers, and horse racing betting right through to the fixed odds sportsbooks and exchanges we know today started with peer-to-peer bets based on old English currency, the half crown. We mean peer to peer literally, as many noble and highborn lords and ladies made bets with each other.

Historic horse races like the Epsom Derby followed throughout the eighteenth century. Again, the nobility was behind the foundation of such Classic races and the Grand National – a now world-famous steeplechase run near Liverpool over unique jumps that around two-thirds of British adults bets on every year.

Whether it is National Hunt or flat, UK horse racing by and large takes place on turf. There is grass underfoot with the concept of all-weather races on artificial surfaces very modern by comparison.

How Does Horse Racing Compare Between the UK and USA?

“Dirt Horse Race” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by gomattolson

Although there are many valuable turf races run stateside, the USA is best known for horses competing on dirt. Inspired by the Epsom equivalent, the Kentucky Derby was born after its founder Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. visited England in 1872 and then decided to organize the Louisville Jockey Club.

Three years later, “the run for the roses” was inaugurated at Churchill Downs in the Bluegrass State. Just like English Flat horse racing, the US thus developed a Triple Crown for thoroughbreds with the events only open to three-year-olds.

The Kentucky Derby, which is still one of the most popular betting events anywhere in the world, may have been the last to get up and running but became the first leg of the series. New York’s Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the US Triple Crown races after being founded in 1867 with the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland following in 1873.

What all these major events did was help to establish who the best racehorse of their generation in a particular country was. Eventually thoughts turned to the possibility of having a world championship for flat racehorses, and thus the Breeders’ Cup was created in 1982 and first held two years later.

Unlike horse racing meetings which had become synonymous with a fixed location, the concept was different here. The Breeders’ Cup would move venues each and every year, bringing the best horses on the planet to different locations in America.

To date, the meeting has been at 12 different racetracks in the US. The history of horse racing on both sides of the Atlantic is intertwined, even if those stateside don’t always remember the British roots.

 

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