The History of the UK’s Love for Horse Racing

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( — July 3, 2019) — Around the world, people have kept and raced horses for more than 50,000 years. It’s a sport that even pre-dates the written word and has provided us with entertainment for centuries. But the UK in particular has a long history and love affair with horse racing, dating all the way back to the 9th century to present day. 

King Athelstan’s Reign

The first recorded races in England took place in the 9th century under the reign of King Athelstan. While horse race meetings didn’t exist, informal horse racing was a popular activity at fairs and festivals, and it was often associated with kings and noblemen. As time progressed and weaponry and warfare changed in Britain, horses were used less and less for war and more for sport and status. 

The First Horse Race Meetings

In 1512, the first recorded trophy for a horse race meeting was awarded to the winner of the Chester Fair. By 1519, the world’s oldest running horse race at Kiplingscotes Derby in Yorkshire was held. It’s around this time in history that horse racing really started to be established as a popular sport and a great form of entertainment. In 1605, James I discovered the small village of Newmarket in Suffolk which is now renowned for being the home of horse racing. In fact, the king spent so much time here racing horses that there was a petition from parliament for him to return to London to focus on running the country instead of spending so much of his time racing! 

Queen Anne’s Passion for Racing

In 1702, Queen Anne took to the throne and really ignited the UK’s love of horse racing. It is well-known that the queen had a large number of horses which she raced and that she attended several races across the country, but in 1711 she was the drive behind setting up Royal Ascot when she identified the track and announced that it would be perfect for her first race – Her Majesty’s Plate. From this moment on, racing became a hugely popular sport and one which went beyond the wealthy and down to the lower classes. 

Modern Day Racing

Today, the UK is spoiled for choice when it comes to the availability and popularity of horse racing. On virtually any day of the year, we can tune in, visit or bet on horse races around the country and it’s remained one of the most popular activities for people of all walks of life. In the UK alone, the industry is believed to be worth more than £5 billion with people betting on horses they believe are better than others in their class and it’s a sport that is synonymous with British culture the world over. From Britain’s history as an empire, horse racing has spread in popularity around the world and with so many different types of races, distances and tracks to enjoy, as well as various breeds and rulings for races, there’s a race to suit every type of interest.