With less than one month to go till the Kentucky Derby, who creates hype among horse racing enthusiasts, we look at the importance of the sport away at the land of the Queen. Horse racing has always been popular in the United Kingdom, no matter whether your preference is flat racing or jumps.

The stories and heritage that comes with both make it a sport that is unlike any other, with real connections made between man or woman and horse, and who can forget about the thrill that comes with betting on horse racing?

Most people have attended meetings whether it is at a hugely popular festival such as Cheltenham or Ascot, or just a day or night at your local race track. It has an essential and storied history with the love of the sport being passed down from generation to generation. But here are some facts that you may not have known about the competition.

1. It is Britain’s second most popular sport

Horse racing is so prevalent in the UK that it’s only beaten by football in terms of visitors. That shows the popularity of it that it can compete with the highest grossing football league in the world.

With over six million people entering racecourses around the country every year, the sport’s popularity is widespread, making it bigger than cricket, rugby and tennis.

2. It wasn’t invented in the UK

Many believe horse racing was created in the UK. However, although the modern-day sport did originate in Britain, horses have been racing for as long as they have been domesticated. Nomadic tribesmen ran the equine animals in Central Asia in 4500 BC. However, the first horseback competitions on British soil didn’t take place until around 200 AD.

3. It contributes billions to the UK economy

The British horse racing industry is a world leader and generates more than £3.7 billion for the country’s economy. This mainly down to the popularity and tourism that come with events such as the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National which is held in Liverpool. They gain worldwide viewers as well as the hundreds of thousands of people that attend the events in-person.

4. The most significant prices are in flat racing

The average prize money for winning a flat race is in the region £18,000, compared to £11,000 for the jump racing events. Some of the most prestigious meetings in horse racing are on the flat courses. These include the Qipco 1000 and 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby.

5. Royal involvement

King James I took a deep interest in horse racing during his reign in 1605. So much so that he was reminded by Parliament of his role of running the country.

King James established Newmarket as a royal place of luxury and introduced the sport of horse racing to the area. However, it was his son who helped develop the racecourse we know today.

6. Racing is better live

Despite its ever-growing popularity, there are only 5% of UK races that are televised on free-to-air television in the UK. This means that the best way to experiences all the thrills that come with the sport is by attending the meetings. Racing occurs all year round; with the most popular non-festival events taking place on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

7. Racing was once illegal

During the reign of Oliver Cromwell between 1653 and 1658, the sport was outlawed. The state removed the majority of horses after the Civil War, and the early proponents of British racehorse breeding were dealt a mortal blow.

8. The animals aren’t machines

While a human heartbeat on average is between 60 and 100 times per minute at a resting rate, Thoroughbred racehorses have a resting heart rate of just 40 per minute. This means that the horses are supreme athletes.

9. Racehorses were initially bred for war

The three original sires of Thoroughbred racing in England arrived during the 17th century, and racing was never part of the plans. They came having been bred for combat.

Byerley Turk, Godolphin Arabian and Darley Arabian were quick, and powerful animals that were bred with local mares to establish the Thoroughbred lineage that lives on in today’s racing.

10. The Jockeys

Many dreams of a career within racing, but only a few get the chance to ride for a living. In November 2017, there were nearly 450 professional jockeys in the UK and another 300 amateur riders.

Author: Alex Dudley

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