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A Primer on Thoroughbred Racing:  the United States, United Kingdom and Australia

The sport of horse racing has been a source for entertainment and joy for thousands of years, in virtually every culture around the world. Now, in the 21st Century, trainers take great care to plan the racing career of every horse, considering carefully which races will fit each horse's potential and talent. It isn’t uncommon to see the best horses in the world racing at many tracks in the United Kingdom, or travel to Australia and the United States to take on worthy competitors.

Each country has its professionals and noteworthy races, of course: technology such as television, simulcasting and the Internet make it possible for race fans to watch thrilling races somewhere on the planet virtually every day of the year. (i.e., you don't have to be in Hong Kong to watch, bet and enjoy the races at Happy Valley.) Here are some of the best locations to watch racing across the globe.

United States

The love of the sport in North America dates back to 1665, when the first race was run in New York. (Very close to present-day Belmont Park, in fact.) Since then, the sport in North America has grown by leaps and bounds: the most popular races are big betting occasions, even for people who don’t usually bet.

The first Saturday in May every year is much-anticipated internationally, as the Kentucky Derby—the first leg of America's Triple Crown--is run that day. Even people who know nothing about horse racing plan their own Kentucky Derby parties, and celebrate with friends if they win the big race.

Other prestigious races in North America include the Preakness and Belmont Stakes (the second and third Triple Crown races); the Travers, Pegasus, Arlington Million and the Whitney. The prestigious events that take place throughout North America also include the Breeders Cup Classic.

In the 354 years since that first race on Long Island, America has established itself as a major player in the sport of racing Thoroughbreds.

American racing features a wide variety of races throughout the year, ranging from jump racing (Steeplechase) to flat (dirt and turf). The most prestigious series in the United States is the aforementioned Triple Crown.

United Kingdom

Not many countries have taken to horse racing more than the UK. Here the sport dates back further than 1665 and racing is considered the second-most-popular sport following football (known as soccer in the United States). That puts into perspective just how popular horse racing is in the United Kingdom, as it attracts more viewers than both rugby union and cricket. The wild popularity that racing now enjoys in the UK really started to grow with the introduction of televised races and legislation, allowing for off-course betting. The latter especially has allowed racing to flourish as punters (bettors) can put money on the races without being at the track.

Much like the United States, flat racing and jump racing are the common themes, each have their own meets. The flat races generally are more lucrative, but the jump events are often more entertaining due to the unpredictability that comes with the National Hunt fences. This is particularly showcased in the Grand National, a race that features 40 horses entered to run.

The Grand National dates back to 1839. Stars such as Red Rum and Tiger Roll have attracted new fans to the Grand National. Both horses are in prestigious company, as back-to-back winners of the race.

The most lucrative flat races are the British Classics. These include the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas, the Derby, Epsom Oaks and the St Leger.


Thoroughbred racing in Australia is the third-most popular sport, behind rugby league and Aussie Rules football/soccer. Australia boasts of over 300 racecourses—more than any other in the world.

The first race in Australia took place in 1810 at Hyde Park, Sydney. While jump racing also is on the calendar Down Under; it has nowhere near the popularity of the flat races.

The most attended event of the season is the Melbourne Cup. Much like the Grand National and the Kentucky Derby, the whole country pauses for the event, and those who don't usually place bets, do so on Melbourne Cup Day. The next-most popular races are the Australian Cup and Australian Derby.

There you have it, the main equestrian events happening in three of the biggest countries in the world, where horse racing in a largely popular leisure activity. The sport is also widely popular in other English-speaking countries, like Ireland and India, but that is definitely the subject for another article.

Find other interesting articles in our section on Horse Racing


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