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The history of Horse Racing

Last Updated: May 23, 2014 02:22PM CEST

Even though archaeological findings indicate that horse racing started with the prehistoric tribesmen of central Asia in 4500 B.C, modern horse racing as we know it today begun as the English Knights returned from the Crusades with beautiful Arabian stallions in the 12th century. These majestic horses were then bred with English mares in order to combine the two most important characteristics for a successful race horse: Speed and endurance. Centuries later, horse racing has become a major sport across Europe, USA, India and many other countries throughout the world. Horse racing is currently the 2nd biggest spectator sport in the UK attracting thousands of enthusiasts to watch the sport every week.

The three most well-known Arabian thoroughbreds from which all modern thoroughbred race horses are said to have descended, known as the ‘foundation sires’ were named after their owners:

  1. The Byerly Turk, foaled in 1679, named after Captain Robert Byerly.
  2. The Darley Arabian foaled in 1700, named after Thomas Darley.
  3. The Godophin Arabian foaled in 1724, named after Lord Godolphin. 

Since then, horse racing has grown rapidly into a professional sport. Horse racing and betting as we know it really kicked off during the reign of Queen Anne in the 18th century when spectators were allowed to wager on several horses involved in a race. Race courses were built all over England and horse breeding became a lucrative business, luring spectators with bulging purses to bet on the best horses. Due to the increasing popularity, a regulating body was needed, which led to the formation of ‘The Jockey Club’. The Jockey Club did not only write the complete rules of racing but it also started to regulate horse breeding.

In order to decrease the occurrence of error in breeding, a man known by the name James Weatherby was assigned the task to trace the family history of every single racehorse which was racing in England at this time. This noble task led to the publication of the first ‘General Stud Book’ in 1791. Subsequent volumes were published as the Weatherby family continued recording the name of every foal born to a race horse. The purpose of this task was to decrease the occurrence of error in breeding.  By the late 18th century, only horses that were descended from horses registered in the General Stud Book were called ‘Thoroughbreds’ and were entitled to participate in horse racing. These horses were inbred in a way that the bloodline of every single horse can be traced back to one of the above mentioned Arabian foundation sires. 
Weatherby’s General Stud Book is still being published and maintained by the Weatherby family in England in order to continue the long held tradition of recoding the bloodline of every British racing horse.

The first Thoroughbreds setting foot in the United States were brought over by British settlers, making horse racing a popular sport among the rich and famous. In the following 50 years over 186 Thoroughbreds were exported from the British mainland to the New World. These Thoroughbreds have built the foundation of the American Thoroughbred. Colonel Sanders Bruce of Kentucky was the first to publish the American Stud Book in 1873. Later on it was taken over by The Jockey Club. Today, the Jockey’s Club database contains around 3 million horse names, which can be traced back to the 1800’s.

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