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horse racing ,  sport of running horses at speed, mainly Thoroughbreds with a rider astride or Standardbreds with the horse pulling a conveyance with a driver. These two kinds of racing are called racing on the flat and harness racing . Some races on the flat involve jumping. This article is confined to Thoroughbred horse racing on the flat without jumps. For jumping races, see steeplechase , point-to-point , and hurdle race s. For racing on the flat with horses other than Thoroughbreds, see quarter-horse racing . See also harness racing .

Although horse racing is one of the oldest of all sports, its basic concept has undergone virtually no change over the centuries. It developed from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses into a spectacle involving large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and immense sums of money, but its essential feature has always been the same: the horse that finishes first is the winner. In the modern era horse racing developed from a diversion of the leisure class into a huge public-entertainment business. Derby Day at Epsom, England, where the public is admitted onto parts of the grounds at no fee, has drawn as many as 500,000 spectators. Attendance at both flat and harness racing in many countries is the highest or among the highest of all sports.

Early history

Knowledge of the first horse race is lost in prehistory. Both four-hitch chariot and mounted (bareback) races were held in the Olympic Games of Greece over the period 700–40 bce . Horse racing, both of chariots and of mounted riders, was a well-organized public entertainment in the Roman Empire. The history of organized racing in other ancient civilizations is not very firmly established. Presumably, organized racing began in such countries as China, Persia, Arabia, and other countries of the Middle East and in North Africa, where horsemanship early became highly developed. Thence came too the Arabian, Barb, and Turk horses that contributed to the earliest European racing. Such horses became familiar to Europeans during the Crusades (11th to 13th century ce ), from which they brought those horses back.

Racing in medieval England began when horses for sale were ridden in competition by professional riders to display the horses’ speed to buyers. During the reign of Richard the Lion-Heart (1189–99), the first known racing purse was offered, £40, for a race run over a 3-mile (4.8-km) course with knights as riders. In the 16th century Henry VIII imported horses from Italy and Spain (presumably Barbs) and established studs at several locations. In the 17th century James I sponsored meetings in England. His successor, Charles I, had a stud of 139 horses when he died in 1649.

Organized racing Charles II

Charles II (reigned 1660–85) became known as “the father of the English turf” and inaugurated the King’s Plates, races for which prizes were awarded the winners. His articles for these races were the earliest national racing rules. The horses raced were six years old and carried 168 pounds (76 kg), and the winner was the first to win two 4-mile (6.4-km) heats. The patronage of Charles II established Newmarket as the headquarters of English racing.

Ben Jones Beryl Markham Beryl Markham Bill Hartack Bill Hartack Bill Shoemaker Billy Haughton Charles Ferdinand Pahud de Mortanges Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney D. Wayne Lukas Dick Francis Dick Francis Earl Sande Eddie Arcaro Eddie Arcaro Edward Riley Bradley Frederick Archer George D. Widener Hans Gunter Winkler Hans Gunter Winkler Henri Saint Cyr Henri Saint Cyr Herve Filion Hirsch Jacobs Isaac Burns Murphy Isaac Burns Murphy James Winkfield Jerry D. Bailey John D. Campbell John D. Campbell John Hay Whitney John Hay Whitney Johnny Longden Julie Krone Julie Krone Lester Piggott Sir Gordon Richards Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons Tod Sloan Warren Wright William Woodward Willie Simms Lexington Lexington Assault Bahram Belmont Stakes Belmont Stakes Blue Peter Brigadier Gerard Citation Derby Derby English Classics Exterminator Fairway Fifinella Gainsborough Gallant Fox Grand Circuit Grand National Hambletonian Stake Hambletonian Stake harness racing harness racing horse horse hurdle race hurdle race Irish Sweepstakes Jersey Act Kentucky Derby Kentucky Derby Kincsem Kincsem Mahmoud Man o' War Man o' War Melbourne Cup Native Dancer One Thousand Guineas point-to-point Preakness Stakes Preakness Stakes Pretty Polly Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Prix du Jockey Club quarter-horse racing Saint Leger Seattle Slew Secretariat Secretariat Spectacular Bid sports sports steeplechase steeplechase sulky sulky the Palio the Palio Triple Crown Triple Crown Triple Crown trotting trotting Two Thousand Guineas Two Thousand Guineas Washington, D.C., International Whirlaway

In North America Richard Nicolls , governor of the colony of New York, in 1665 offered a silver cup, the first known North American racing trophy, to be run for at Hampstead Plain, Long Island. Thus began course racing in North America.

In France the first documented horse race was held in 1651 as the result of a wager between two noblemen. During the reign of Louis XIV (1643–1715), racing based on gambling was prevalent. Louis XVI (reigned 1774–93) organized a jockey club and established rules of racing by royal decree that included requiring certificates of origin for horses and imposing extra weight on foreign horses.

Match races

The earliest races were match races between two horses, or at most three, the owners providing the purse, a simple wager. An owner who withdrew commonly forfeited half the purse, later the whole purse, and bets also came under the same “play or pay” rule. Agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties, who came to be called keepers of the match book. One such keeper at Newmarket, John Cheny, began publishing Cheny’s Horse Matches (1727), a consolidation of match books at various racing centres; and this work was continued annually with varying titles, until in 1773 James Weatherby established it as the Racing Calendar , continued thereafter by his family.

Open field racing

By the mid-18th century, the demand for more public racing had produced open events with larger fields of runners. Eligibility rules were developed based on the age, sex, birthplace, and previous performance of horses and the qualifications of riders. Races were created in which owners were the riders (gentlemen riders); in which the field was restricted geographically to a township or county; and in which only horses that had not won more than a certain amount were entered. An act of the British Parliament of 1740 provided that horses entered had to be the bona fide property of the owners, thus preventing “ringers,” a superior horse entered fraudulently against inferior horses; horses had to be certified as to age; and there were penalties for rough riding.

Contemporary accounts identified riders (in England called jockeys—if professional—from the second half of the 17th century and later in French racing), but their names were not at first officially recorded. Only the names of winning trainers and riders were at first recorded in the Racing Calendar , but by the late 1850s all were named. This neglect of the riders is partly explained in that when races consisted of 4-mile heats, with two heats won needed for victory, the individual rider’s judgment and skill were not so vital. As dash racing (one heat) became the rule, a few yards in a race gained importance, and consequently so did the rider’s skill and judgment in coaxing that advantage from his mount.

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