When it comes to placing bets, horse racing is one of the most popular sports in the UK. It’s also one of the most frequent, with over 20 races each day in the UK alone, according to redbet. But despite its immense popularity today, the sport hasn’t always had the same mainstream recognition. Let’s take a look back at where it all began.
The first horse races are thought to have begun in 200 AD in Yorkshire, with Romans racing Arabian horses at Wetherby. However, from ancient reports and findings, the English didn’t start to saddle their horses until around 631 AD.
The first recorded race meetings took place during Henry II’s reign, at the annual St Bartholomew’s horse fair. There are numerous recordings suggesting that, for the next three centuries, the Kings of England kept ‘running horses’, continuing into the reign of Henry VIII.
During Henry VIII’s reign, there are more substantial recordings of horse racing. He himself passed various laws relating to the breeding or horses for racing purposes, as well as importing a number of horses for his own breeding. The King also kept a training establishment at Greenwich and housed a horse at Eltham.
It is believed that the first trophy – a wooden bat covered in flowers – for winning a race was awarded in 1512. Just seven years later, the Kiplingcotes Derby, the oldest horse race still in existence, was first ran in 1519.
Highs & lows
Just like all other entertainment sectors, horse racing has had its fair share of highs and lows, with interest dipping significantly during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. But that changed again in 1605, with James I’s discovery of Newmarket, widely considered as the home of England’s horse racing.
The first Gold Cup event took place at Newmarket in 1634, with the racecourse being firmly established in 1636. After the founding of Newmarket racecourse, racing started to take off around the country, with runners competing for silver bells. Racing rules were created, and the weights of jockeys started to be diligently measured and recorded for a fair race.
Horse racing suffered another drastic dip in 1654, however, when Oliver Cromwell banned racing and all horses were commandeered. But this ban only lasted a decade, with racing being restored in 1664 and three foundation breeds being brought into England to establish a key line of thoroughbreds.
Introduction of Ascot
In the early 18th century, horse racing gained a renewed level of prestige when Queen Anne, who owned a number of horses herself, founded the Royal Ascot racecourse. Even today, the opening race of each Royal Ascot is named the Queen Anne Stakes.
Today, the Royal Ascot is Britain’s most popular race meeting. It also has the largest prize fund, giving out around £7.3 million in prize money each year.
In the 19th century, the first steeplechasing races were organised, shaping racing into the sport we know today. The world famous Grand National race was established at Aintree towards the end of the 19th century, starting the annual tradition that saw around 600 million people tuning in to watch the race last year.
Today, horse racing is as popular as ever, making around £4.3 billion between April 2017-March 2018 from off-course bets alone. There are a number of races taking place every day at the 60 courses across Britain. So, whether you’re a lifelong racing supporter or just tune in for the big events, you’re sure to find something for you.