Horse Racing in Great Britain
Horse racing is a major sport in Great Britain with a long history. In this part of the world, horse racing is known as the sport of kings, basically because of its strong association with royalty and nobility. Betting on horse racing is also very popular and an important part of the sport as well as the main foundation of the gambling industry in Great Britain. Racing takes place every day in Britain, with the exception of Good Friday and Christmas Day. The sport is governed by the British Racing Authority, and some of the most famous horse races in the world take place at regional racecourses.
History of Horse Racing in Great Britain
Organized horse racing in Great Britain took off under the reign of King Charles II in the 17th century, but horse races were taking place long before. The earliest horse races in Great Britain are believed to have been held in Yorkshire around 200 AD, arranged by soldiers of the Roman Empire. In subsequent years, there were regular horse fairs throughout Great Britain, and it's widely believed that horse races often occurred at these events. The first official record of a horse race dates back to 1174 at a horse fair in London.
Early in the 17th century, James I played a key role in introducing horse racing in Newmarket: now known as the home of horse racing in England. Later in that century, regular race meetings were being held at Newmarket, and the first Gold Cup event took place there in 1634. When Oliver Cromwell was in charge of the country, he banned all forms of horse racing (1654) despite being a keen horse breeder. Just a few years later, Charles II came to the throne and horse racing was resurrected and began to flourish. The importing of foreign stallions from overseas for breeding with native mares, a practice that had been started by Henry VIII in the 16th century, led to the creation of the Thoroughbred horse; and to this day this breed is the most prominent in horse racing.
Horse racing continued to increase in popularity over the years, and in 1740 the Parliament introduced an act aimed at curtailing the growth of the sport. However, this didn't have much effect, and a few years later it became the first sport to be formally regulated in Great Britain. In 1752, the Jockey Club was established that introduced the first official rules of racing. Later in the century, a number of races that are still held today were founded, such as the St. Leger Stakes and the Epsom Derby.
The following century saw horse racing establish itself as a leading sport with a huge following. Audiences were increasing, and the sport was getting coverage in all major newspapers. Perhaps more significantly, horse racing betting was increasing dramatically and professional on-course bookmakers had arrived on the scene.
Such was the popularity of horse racing that it was of the only sport that continued through both world wars in the 20th century, although the number of races held was much lower during these periods. In the 1960s, there were two major developments that were to affect horse racing in Great Britain forever. First, televisions became common household appliances and the sport was regularly broadcast. Second, off-course horse betting was legalized and bookmaking shops began to open around the country making it far easier to bet. Today, football is the only sport that receives more television coverage than horse racing in Great Britain, and betting on horse racing is a very common pastime.
Modern Day British Horse Racing
Every year in Great Britain, around 10,000 horse races take place at well over 1,000 race meetings. Tens of millions in prize money is awarded. Many millions attend these races and even more watch them on television. Many racecourses have ceased to exist over the years, for one reason or another, but there are still around 60 licensed racecourses, some of which date back hundreds of years. Horse racing takes place, broadly speaking, in two forms: flat racing and jump racing.
Flat racing, as the name suggests, is racing on a flat surface. This is usually grass, but some other surfaces are used such as synthetic ones suitable for all-weather racing. Jump racing is done over obstacles and is officially known as National Hunt racing. National Hunt racing itself is divided into two separate forms: hurdles and steeplechases. The majority of jump racing takes place during the winter as the ground is softer at this time and therefore less dangerous for the horses.
As mentioned above, the Jockey Club was originally responsible for governing the sport of horse racing. In 1993, the British Horseracing Board was formed; and these two organizations shared the governance of horse racing. In 2006, the Jockey Club formed the Horseracing Regulatory Authority to continue the regulation of the sport while they shifted their main focus to the racecourse and gallops they owned. The following year, the Horseracing Regulatory Authority and the British Horseracing Board joined forces to form the British Horseracing Authority (the BHA). The BHA is responsible for the sport of horse racing today.
Betting on Horse Racing
Betting on the sport is just as important as the sport itself in Great Britain. Bookmakers and betting firms play a big role and are responsible for a great deal of the prize money awarded in addition to spending significant sums of money on the sponsorship of race meetings. The vast majority of horse racing spectators enjoy betting on the outcome of a race. For many, this is purely recreational and a simple way to make the races a bit more exciting. Some, however, take their horse racing betting very seriously and spend a significant amount of time studying the form and researching the horses.
There are a number of ways you can bet on horse racing in Great Britain. If you are actually at the racecourse, you will have the choice of a number of on-course bookmakers as well as the Tote. The Tote is the official horse racing pari-mutuel betting organization in Great Britain, which used to be state- owned before being sold to the private sector in 2011. If you aren't at the racecourse, it's still very easy to get to bet. Retail bookmaking shops are very common, and it can be found in most towns and cities. Additionally, most major bookmakers will offer a telephone betting service.
In recent years, more and more people are doing their betting online. There are number of benefits such as the convenience factor and the fact that most betting sites incentivize customers with bonuses and loyalty programs.
Major Racecourses & Races in Great Britain
Great Britain is home to some of the most famous horse races and racecourses in the world. As mentioned, Newmarket is considered the home of British horse racing and is well known in horse racing circles across the world. The Grand National, which takes place at Entree in Liverpool, is without a doubt one of the biggest horse races to take place each year. You also have the Royal Ascot Festival and the Cheltenham Festival, which attract worldwide audiences.
There's also the three flat races which make up the United Kingdom Triple Crown. The 2,000 Guineas Stakes takes place at Newmarket, the Epsom Derby is held at Epsom Downs, and the St. Leger Stakes is run at Doncaster Racecourse. Other classic races include the 1,000 Guineas Stakes and the Epsom Oaks.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2015
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