Horse racing is a sport that requires immense skill and insight from a jockey and enormous physical effort from the horse. The most prestigious races have huge prize purses that attract thousands of spectators. The ‘winner’ is declared when the horse crosses the finish line first. A second place finisher receives a percentage of the winnings, while a third place finisher wins less money. The game has a long history and is played all over the world.
The sport of horse racing began in 1664 when Colonel Richard Nicolls, a British soldier serving in the New Amsterdam colony, founded organized racetracks. He laid out a 2-mile course on the plains of Long Island and offered a silver cup to the winner. His system became the model for American Thoroughbred racing.
To race a horse, it must have a pedigree that includes its father and mother. The horses that compete in flat racing (not including steeplechases) and harness racing are called purebreds, and the pedigree is one of the key factors used to determine whether a horse is eligible for a particular race.
In the beginning, the race was a private event where only wealthy members of society were permitted to attend. As horse racing grew in popularity, it became more accessible and public. Rules for eligibility were established to limit the number of runners and limit the age, sex, or birthplace of a horse. A variety of betting methods were also developed to increase the stakes. The most common are bets to win, bets to place and bets to show.
For many racing fans the greatest race isn’t just a great moment in a great horse’s career, but one that reaches into the very fabric of history. To qualify for this status a race must have a special setting, be held on the most prestigious stage, and be of a certain magnitude.
It must also be a head-to-head matchup between two great competitors. The 1964 Gold Cup between Arkle and Mill House is a perfect example of this. The build-up to the race was feverish, and Dominic Behan’s boozy ballad ‘Arkle’ added to the tension. And the race itself lived up to expectations. Pat Taaffe rode Arkle into the lead, popped him over the last and sent him scampering up the hill to win.
Another contender for the title of ‘greatest race’ is the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. While it doesn’t quite reach the Derby’s lofty heights, it is one of the most prestigious races in the world and has a huge global fanbase. It is a truly epic contest that can take weeks to prepare for and will test the elasticity of a rider’s nerve.