So much importance is given to horse racing in the United States that many people forget about the history of horse racing in the UK. The United Kingdom has played perhaps the most significant role in the development of thoroughbred horse racing. One could even go so far as to state that without the UK there would be no thoroughbred racing today. Here is a look at the rich history of UK horse racing.
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The Origins of the Thoroughbred
Did you know that every race horse that competes in thoroughbred racing today can trace its lineage to one of three original stallions? It’s true. The Byerley Turk, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Darley Arabian were all selected specifically to create the thoroughbred breed. Detailed records are maintained to verify the bloodlines of race horses. Without the proper pedigree, a horse is not permitted to compete.
The thoroughbred as it is recognized today was born in the UK. In 17th and 18th century England the decision was made to breed native mares to one of the three imported studs. The offspring of these pairings became the very first thoroughbreds. Without England’s decision to embark upon this breeding program, the breed would not exist. That alone is enough to place the UK at the pinnacle of horse racing history.
The creation of the thoroughbred is not the precise beginning of UK horse racing history. One has to go back much farther than that to get an appreciation for the role the UK has played in racing.
12th Century Knights and UK Horse Racing
Horses have always been a prominent part of English culture. It is believed that racing may have got its unofficial beginning thanks to the English knights who participated in the 12th century Crusades. When these knights returned from the Crusades they brought Arab horses with them. The Arabians were known for breeding fierce war horses that were the strongest and fastest the world knew at that time. Ultimately, these horses would become the founders of the thoroughbred line.
Charles II reigned as the English monarch from 1660-1685. He apparently had an affinity for horse racing competitions. The King constructed private courses, and sometimes the races were held in open fields. This is likely how horse racing came to be called the Sport of Kings. One can only imagine the glory that was bestowed upon the winner of a horse race in the King’s presence. Rich prizes were awarded to those who could demonstrate superiority in these racing contests. Most of these early races were eventually held at Newmarket which became the site of organized race meetings or festivals that were conducted over many days.
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Queen Anne was no less a fan of horse racing than Charles II. The Queen sat the throne from 1702-1714, but she is responsible for leading some of the fundamental developments of horse racing as we know it today. It was during the reign of Queen Anne that spectators of the races first began to place bets amongst themselves. This was also the period of time in which match races between two horses gave way to larger fields that involved multiple horses.
During Queen Anne’s reign horse racing became a professional sport that could be enjoyed by everyone and not just the privileged few who received invitations from royalty. The Queen even saw fit to create the first professional racing venue in England, Ascot. Royal Ascot is still one of the primary race tracks that is in operation in the UK today, and many prestigious racing events are held there and attended by members of the Royal Family. Royal Ascot was created in 1711.
The Formation of the UK Jockey Club
Those who were able to afford the horses that participated in the big racing events were part of the elite families of England. In 1750 these highborn families got together and decided that they needed some type of oversight for their racing endeavors. They met at Newmarket, the location preferred by Charles II, to form an organization that would be tasked with creating rules and maintaining records for horse racing in the UK. They called this organization the Jockey Club. Does that sound familiar? The US also adopted a similar organization to oversee certain racing conditions, and they also named it the Jockey Club.
One of the foremost responsibilities of the Jockey Club in the UK and the US is to preserve the records of thoroughbreds. The most important record is the one that pertains to lineage. It must be recorded and verified that a horse is one of the descendants of the three original stallions. The Jockey Club in England also created an accepted set of rules that all those who participated in racing had to agree to follow. This helped to standardize racing throughout the kingdom, and it also promoted fairness to all.
The Jockey Club was also responsible for sanctioning official racecourses. Only those race tracks that had approval from the Jockey Club were allowed to host racing events. This also led to the creation of special racing events like the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. These races are still a part of UK horse racing to this day. They are among the most important events, being regularly compared to the Triple Crown in the United States.
James Weatherby is not a name that many horse racing fans will be familiar with. He should be a common name to everyone that likes UK horse racing. Weatherby was an accountant for the Jockey Club. It fell upon Weatherby to create a system by which the breeding of thoroughbred race horses could be regulated. The first task that the accountant had to undertake was to trace the pedigree and family history of all the race horses that competed in England. Can you imagine what a daunting task this was? Weatherby took the task seriously and ultimately created the Introduction to the General Stud Book in 1791. Since that time, every thoroughbred race horse that has ever been born has received an entry in the General Stud Book.
Think about this for a moment. Horse racing is one of the only sports where you can literally touch and witness the history of the sport. When you put your hands on a thoroughbred horse you are touching history. Many will point out the inbreeding that was required to create such a bloodline. This cannot be disputed, but the lines have evolved so much today that inbreeding would need to be traced back many generations.
Today the Jockey Club is still involved to a large degree in both UK and US horse racing, but other authorities have been established in the UK to govern racing operations. The British Horseracing Board was established in 1993, and the National Hunt Committee was created in 1866. This is another area in which UK horse racing has provided something of an important example to the racing world. The US does not have any such sole racing authority, and many believe that racing in the States would benefit from it.
Having a central committee helps to clarify the rules from one racing jurisdiction to another. This would mean that horse racing trainers that were found guilty of medication violations in one racing jurisdiction would not be permitted to race in any area of the United States. A sole authority would do much to shore up the integrity of US horse racing.
The Earliest Examples of Race Meets
You will note that in the US thoroughbred racing is conducted according to race meetings. A race meet is the period of racing dates that are assigned to a specific race track. The track is only permitted to host racing events on the specified days. This gives all racing venues in a certain jurisdiction the opportunity to conduct a profitable carnival of horse racing. What many may not know is that credit must be given to the UK for the establishment of race meetings as we have come to know them.
There is a record of a race meeting that was held during the reign of Henry the II. An account of the event was published sometime after 1174, proving that race meets were a uniquely English concept. Race meets serve important purposes in horse racing. They make it easier for record of race results to be maintained by the various racing circuits.
How Racing in the UK Affected Race Horse Betting
Another unique aspect of UK horse racing is how betting has been conducted at the race meetings. In the earliest days when it was common for two owners to match their horses in a race, the owners would simply bet among themselves. This tradition eventually made its way to other parts of the world. As recent as the 1970’s it was common to find match races in Louisiana in the United States. Two owners would gather on a makeshift track and race their horses against one another. Each owner was required to put up a certain sum of money. The winner would receive the entire purse.
In time the spectators of racing events also wanted to make bets on the outcomes of races. They, too, would bet among themselves, but soon the bookmaker emerged to make it possible for everyone to bet. Before the bookmaker was introduced you had to find someone that was willing to take the bet that you wanted to make. This was no longer necessary when bookies came to the game. They were willing to accept a bet from anyone that was willing to accept the bookie’s odds. The odds that the bookie gave were not always in the favor of the bettor.
This method of betting continues today at almost every race track in the UK. When you attend the live races you will find the bookies all lined up beside the race track ready to take bets. They still manipulate the odds in their own favor, but some fans of UK racing would not dream of making a bet any other way. Tote board betting has started to become popular in the UK. This type of betting is similar to that form of betting which is done in the United States, but it is unlikely that the bookmaker will ever be replaced as a part of UK horse racing culture.
The State of UK Horse Racing Today
It is good to know that horse racing still thrives in its birthplace. Horse racing in the UK is one of the most popular betting events that you can find in a jurisdiction where many forms of gambling are legal. The spectacle of UK horse racing is still as grand as it was during the time of the great monarchs, and that is just one reason why so many people love to attend racing events in the English countryside.
We can thank UK horse racing for preserving the class and dignity that is associated with horse racing. It has always been a sport where the men and women dress up in their finest clothes just to attend a racing event at a small racing circuit. To this day there is a dress code at Belmont Park, and this is a direct reflection of the UK influence on the sport.
Sadly, UK racing is often overshadowed by its US counterpart. The races in the United States seem to get all of the attention. More media coverage is given to the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup than any other racing events. This is unfortunate when you consider that some of the largest races in the UK have a much deeper history that is steeped in rich tradition.
Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family are known to be fans of horse racing. They have attended many important racing events in the UK, and the Queen has even made her way to the United States for the Kentucky Derby. She seems to respect the traditions of horse racing in a way that the governing authorities of the United States does not.
It may not be possible for every racing fan to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of horse racing. EZ Horse Betting certainly recommends that you make the trip if you can afford such a venture. There is another way, however, that you can immerse yourself in UK racing culture. That way is to create an account with an online racebook.
Online Race Betting in the UK and Abroad
Just a few short years ago it would have been unthinkable for someone in the United States to watch races from the UK live and make bets on them. Even watching them on a simulcast feed at a local race track was not really a possibility given the time difference between the two continents. Today all that has changed. The horse race bettor can sit in the comfort of their living room with a cold beverage and make all the bets they desire on UK horse racing.
All it takes is an online racebook account. Most racebooks that are recommended by EZ Horse Betting give the players access to UK horse racing. These online betting venues will have the biggest races to choose from, and they will also have races from smaller racing meets that are conducted in the UK. You could wager on some form of UK horse racing every day if that is what you wanted to do, and you can even wager with US funds. Some racebooks even accept Bitcoin as a form of deposit.
The greatest advantage that you would have as a bettor at an online racebook is that you would not have to deal with the bookmakers. The online racebooks all use tote board betting, also known as parimutuel wagering. This form of betting allows the betting public to determine the odds that are given to the bettor on each horse. All you have to do is pick the horse that you want to bet on, make a few clicks, and prepare to collect your winnings when the race is over.
It doesn’t stop there. Once you have placed you bet you will be able to watch the race live from the UK as it takes place in real time. Online racebooks stream the same signal that is used to broadcast the race at the track. That means that you have access to every race in the UK on your computer screen. Racebooks will also provide you will valuable handicapping tools that you can use to pick the winner of a race.
These tools are important because the handicapping process in the UK can be a little bit different than it is in the US. The biggest difference is that in the UK there are no speed figures that are comparable to the ones that are used in the States. Instead, the UK uses something that is known as a Timeform Rating. This number is meant to be an indicator of ability just like the speed figure is in the US, but many bettors consider it to be a more accurate representation of a horse’s ability.
We encourage you to begin exploring the world of UK thoroughbred racing today by creating an account with one of our recommended online racebooks, but we do so with another interest that goes beyond betting horse online for real money. When you play the race tracks in the UK you are helping to support this rich history of thoroughbred horse racing.
As fans of the sport we should all take time to pause and recognize the contributions made by the UK to the sport that we all love. Racing can only continue to thrive if we as fans give it the respect that it is due. The next time that you watch a race from the UK on your computer, think about all of the history that has gone into providing you with this wonderful moment.
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