Horse racing is an international sport with a rich history. In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact origin of the sport, but it’s been around for centuries. There are a variety of cultures that have held races for horses, from Greek chariot races to Bedouin endurance races in the Arabian desert.
The first documented horse race took place in France in 1651, after a wager was placed between two noblemen. Unlike modern day racing, the races were arranged by horse owners rather than riders. Those who won were rewarded with a prize. Initially, the races were limited to townships and only horses that hadn’t won more than a certain amount were allowed to compete.
Early horses were bred from Middle Eastern sires, a development that helped establish the Thoroughbred breed. The Jersey Act disqualified Thoroughbred horses bred outside England and Ireland from competing in British horse races.
After the Civil War, speed became the goal. Horses were often raced before their full maturity, exposing them to a variety of developmental disorders. Some horses are also shipped all over the world for breeding.
Racing evolved into a spectacle with larger fields of runners. Many people bet on the outcome of the race. Owners of winning horses received a purse and the winner received a trophy. Bookmakers set the odds to their advantage. Earlier, most wagers were made privately. However, the 19th century saw the expansion of private bets to bookmaking.
By the early 1700s, the horse industry had expanded to North America. The British had occupied New Amsterdam in 1664, and organized racing was instituted. Col. Richard Nicolls laid out a course on Long Island, where he offered a silver cup to the best horses.
Maryland and Virginia horse owners believed their racing was superior to their neighbor’s. As a result, the state’s breeding laws were circumvented. Maryland’s breeders would bring pregnant mares to Virginia to deliver foals, thereby enabling them to race.
Maryland’s horse industry was a prosperous one, and in the mid-17th century, its races were considered to be the best in the nation. A Maryland Gazette report on the race referred to the event as a “great” race.
Rich Strike was the first horse to cross the finish line, scooting up the rail and passing pre-race favorites Zandon and Epicenter. On May 1, Rich Strike finished first. His speed in the first half of the race benefited him.
In the late 1700s, a new type of Thoroughbred was born. These horses were bred in England, where they developed a reputation for stamina and speed. Their popularity attracted many gawkers in the colonies. They were known as blooded horses.
Before the 1860s, heat races for four-year-olds were common. These races were typically run on a four-mile course. During this period, the average handicapping weight was 140 pounds, including the jockey’s riding tack.
At that time, the average speed rating over the last four races was considered the most important factor in determining the winner. The age of the horses was also considered important.