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Horse Racing History in the UK


People have used horses for more than 50,000 years, and historians believe horse racing predates any written language. Horse racing is still popular today, as is horse racing betting.

Estimations show that horse racing is the second most popular spectator sport in the UK. What is more, it is believed to be one of the oldest sports in existence on UK ground. With a history of thousands of years, today’s horse racing industry amounts to £3.7 billion.

The UK is home to tens of major horse racing events, such as the Royal Acot and Cheltenham Festival, which attracts great numbers of horse racing wagerers.

Betting on horse racing is a major element of the British gambling industry. Moreover, the UK gambling industry is a major funder of horse racing in the country.

As you see, horse racing and betting on horse racing is important in the UK. In the following article, sportsbettingday will discuss the history of horse racing in the UK.

UK Horse Racing History: Ancient Times to Middle Ages

Before Roman times, the British used horses as burden animals. According to historians, the first horse races on the territory took place around 200 AD. Researchers believe Romans at the encampment near Wetherby raced against Arabian horses, brought to the land by Emperor Severus Septimus. Additionally, the Venerable Bede reports that the British began saddling their horses around the year 631.

The earliest written mentions of ‘running horses’ appear in a transcript of Hugh, where giving King Athelstan of England horses as a present is recorded. This happened around 9th/10th century and, by the way, while King Athelstan reigned in England, there was a ban placed on the export of English horses.

UK Horse Racing History: 16th Century

During the reign of King Henry VIII, a number of laws regarding the breeding of horses were passed. What is more, numerous stallions and mares for breeding were imported from all over Europe. In addition, historians say that King Henry VIII kept a horse training establishment at Grenwich as well as a stud at Eltham.

16th century Britain also saw the instigation of the first formal horse race meetings. Historians believe the first occurrence of a trophy being awarded to the winner of a horse race was in 1512 during a fair Chester. It is believed the trophy represented a small wooden ball decorated with flowers. Interestingly enough, the oldest horse race in the UK still exists today – the Kiplingcotes Derby was first organised in 1519 and its first known rules of racing date from 1619. Further, Carlisle Bells is believed to be the oldest sports trophy in the world, and the British have been racing horses for it since the 16th century.

UK Horse Racing History: 17th Century

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, horse racing declined in popularity for unknown reasons. However, all this changed when King James I discovered the village of Newmarket in 1605. Today, the village is known as the birthplace and global centre of thoroughbred horse racing.

The first recorded race in Newmarket was a match for £100 (£27,448.03 in today’s money) between horses owned by Marquess of Buckingham and Lord Salisbury in 1622. Subsequently, a racecourse was founded in Newmarket in 1636.

UK Horse Racing History: 18th Century

In 1740, Parliament passed an act to restrain and eliminate the excessive increase in horse racing. However, the act was ignored and the Jockey Club was formed in 1750. It was the job of the Jockey Club to create and apply the rules of horse racing. Due to scarcity of prizes to offer, individual horses rarely ran more than five or six times until the 1760s.

Horse races were largely held in Newmarket and York, where mature horses ran in matches or in best-of-three heats over a specified distance.

UK Horse Racing History: 19th Century And Now

The first national hunt races were organised by Tom Colman in the 1830s. These events took place at St Albans. Subsequently, William Lynn organised the first Grand National in the beginning of the 1840s.

The British continued to indulge in horse racing throughout the First World War and the Second World War. What is more, the photo finish was an innovation introduced in 1947. Incidentally, 1947 also saw the organisation of UK’s first evening horse race meeting, held at Hamilton Park Racecourse. In modern times, Wolverhampton Racecourse holds the most evening horse race events – there are nearly 50 events each year.

The Jockey Club used to oversee and regulate the sport until the role was handed to the British Horseracing Board (BHB), formed in June 1993. Interestingly enough, BHB left regulation roles the Jockey Club and instead dealt with strategic planning, race planning, politics, training and marketing, and finance. In 2006, the BHB organised the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA) to deal with horse racing regulation. A year later, BHB merged with HRA.

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