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History of Horse Racing

Horse racing is an extremely popular sport and here is some of the history and basic information of the 'sport of kings'.

  1. History of horse racing
  2. Royal connections
  3. First horse races
  4. Purpose and types of horse racing
  5. Horse racing classification
  6. Horse racing tactics

History of Horse Racing

There has been horse racing of sorts for many many years. Horse racing began in Assyria in c.1500 bc and Chariot Racing was a popular event in Roman Times. It was in fact the Romans who are thought to have ran the first horse race in the UK, however the first actual recorded event of a meeting was in 1174, this took place at a horse fair in the north-west part of London called Smithfield.

Royal Connections

The Royal Family are behind many of the historic developments that changed and shaped horse racing over the years, with Henry II importing horses specifically for breeding and Charles II being the first to introduce a set of rules in 1664 (for the Newmarket Town Plate). It was in 1752 the Jockey Club formed and penned The Rules of Racing.

First horse races

The Derby is the oldest flat race having begun in 1780 at the Earl of Derby's estate in Epsom, it was run on a sweepstakes basis and is still of course being run every year now, as is the Grand National which was first run in 1856, however the first recorded national hunt (as we know it now) race was in Cork, Ireland in 1752, it was a 4 miles 5 furlongs contest between two church steeples and that is the reason the term 'steeplechase' was coined.

Purpose and types of horse racing

The purpose of a horse race is to determine the fastest of two or more horses over a specific distance with the first horse to cross the winning line being the winner.

Horse Racing Categories - Flat

In the UK and Ireland there are three variations of race categories. The first is Flat Racing, where horses run over a distance between 5 furlongs and 2 miles 6 furlongs on turf. The flat season starts in March and runs through to November with varying quality of races with Group 1 contests being the highest. The youngest horses competing on the flat are 2 years old.

Horse Racing Categories - All Weather

All Weather Racing is the second race category and is similar to flat racing other than contests take place on an artifical surface, which can be used all year round (hence the name All Weather). Many of the All Weather horse racing tracks also have floodlit tracks meaning they can offer night racing.

Horse Racing Categories - National Hunt

The third category is National Hunt where horses compete on turf over longer distances ranging from 1 mile 6 furlongs (very minimal number of junior bumper races) and 4 miles 4 furlongs. Within National Hunt there are further classification types, these are Bumpers (also known as National Hunt Flat races) where there are no obstacles and are aimed at giving horses the experience of competing on a race track, Chases where the competitors must clear fences and Hurdles where they must jump hurdles. This means for example that you can have a handicap chase or a maiden hurdle etc. The difference between a fence and a hurdle is quite significant with a fence being sturdier and higher. A hurdle race will only contain hurdles whereas a chase can contain a variety of obstacles including water jumps and ditches as well as fences.

Horse Racing Classification

Within each category of racing there are are different types of contests dependent on a horse's experience and ability. Generally races are categorised by an age group (for example 4 year olds+) and/or an official rating bracket (a score given to each horse by the handicapper based on its performance to date). Maiden races are for horses who have not yet won a race. Handicaps are when a horse is weighted dependent on its past ability - in an ideal world, a handicap should result in all horses crossing the finish line at the same time. Nursery races are handicap races on the flat/all weather for two year old horses. Non handicaps are when all horses carry the same weight (although this figure can be adjusted based on penalties applied as set out in the race terms - for example the rules may state that all horses will carry 9 stone but that an additional weight of 3 pounds will be applied to horses who have won in the last 6 weeks).

Horse Racing Tactics

In all types of race a jockey will ride the horse and try to guide it home in front of the others, to do so there are many styles of riding and tactics, which are utilised. These include holding the horse up and arriving late on the scene or riding the horse from the front and trying to keep it there. Every horse has an owner (the actual purchaser of the horse) and a trainer (who schools the horse in preparation for its races). It is the trainer who normally decides when and where to place a horse depending on how it has been performing at home and also in the races it has ran so far. Examples of tactically placing a horse to get the best from it could be changing the distance it runs over (eg - drop it in trip from 6 furlongs to 5 furlongs) or targeting a specific type of ground (eg - horse may only perform when it runs on a dry surface).

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