Throughout history, many different cultures have held horse races. It is likely that racing was first documented in the Middle East, Arabia, or North Africa. Archeological records indicate that it also happened in Ancient Greece, Rome, Babylon, and Syria. The oldest known race was a match race between two noblemen. It took place in France in 1651. The race was documented by John Cheny, who published An Historical List of All Horse-Matches Run in 1729.
Racing was organized in the colonies in the 1600s. The first races were standardized, heats of four year-olds carried a maximum of 126 pounds at four miles. After the Civil War, speed became a major goal. Several races became sponsored and included a second prize. The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes are example of sponsored races.
The Jersey Act was designed to protect British Thoroughbreds from the racial influences of the North American sprinting blood. It was rescinded in 1949. Until 1949, Thoroughbreds bred outside of England and Ireland were not allowed to compete.
During the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), racing was based on gambling. Gambling was encouraged in this period, and racing rules were established by royal decree. Horses were required to have certificates of origin. In addition, extra weight was placed on foreign horses.
The first organized racing in North America occurred with the British occupation of New Amsterdam in 1664. The first racecourse in the United States was built on Long Island by Col. Richard Nicolls. He laid out a two-mile course and offered a silver cup to the best horse.
Horses were allowed to win only if they did not win more than a certain amount. The richest events in the United States are funded by the stakes fees of owners. This means that only people with connections can get a seat on Millionaires Row.
In the United States, most races are run over distances of two to two and a half miles. In Europe, they are known as “staying races,” because they are considered to test stamina. Several race meets use timber fences, which are wooden post and rail obstacles. Cracked hooves are common in racing.
In modern times, horse racing is influenced by technological advances. In addition, MRI scanners are used to detect minor health problems before they become more serious. X-rays are also used to detect major health problems. In some races, a photo finish is used. When two horses cross the finish line together, a steward will study a photo and declare the winner.
In the United States, the classic race is the Kentucky Derby. Northern Dancer won the 1964 Derby, becoming the most successful Thoroughbred sire of the twentieth century. The Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes are also American classic races.
In the United States, the best Thoroughbreds are trained to have excellent stamina. This is evident from the fact that the American Thoroughbred raced until the Civil War. After the Civil War, speed became regarded as the benchmark for equestrian success.