If you’ve never watched horse racing before, it can be difficult to explain the appeal of it. A horse race can be a thrilling, tense experience, but just like any other sporting discipline, the uninitiated just won’t quite understand what makes it so special. One of the best ways to appreciate horse racing is to learn about all the weird and wonderful stuff that goes on both on and off the track, so without further ado, here are 10 fun facts about horse racing throughout the ages.
1. The Queen of the United Kingdom owns racehorses
Did you know that the Queen of the United Kingdom actually owns racehorses? It’s true – she’s owned hundreds throughout the years and still owns them today. In this year’s Royal Ascot, which took place just a little while ago, the horse King’s Lynn, which was described by jockey Andrew Balding as “right up there with the best of [the European sprinter horses]” in an interview with Betway, was owned by the Queen. Unfortunately, King’s Lynn wasn’t able to claim victory this year. Better luck next time, eh?
2. The first US horse racing track was built in the 1600s
The very first ever horse racing track in the United States – which was not, at the time, actually called the United States – was built in New York. Constructed in Salisbury, the Newmarket course shares its name with a famous course in the UK. That course would become the basis for American horse racing, which would eventually blossom into one of the country’s most popular and well-liked sports. By the time of the 1800s, there were more than 300 American horse racing tracks!
3. Horse racing goes back a long, long way
You might think that the noble art of horse racing was invented in modern times, but that’s simply not the case. Horse racing actually goes back as far as 4500 BC, when nomadic tribespeople would race their horses for fun. The horse is pretty much a mainstay when it comes to civilisation, so it’s no surprise that these creatures, which have historically been prized for their speed and grace, would be the subject of a sport that focused on racing them.
4. “Thoroughbred” is actually a specific breed
You may hear the term “thoroughbred” used to denote a horse that’s been bred for racing or that has a “pure” bloodline, but the fact is that “thoroughbred” is actually a term that refers to a specific breed of horses. Thoroughbred horses come from the original British racehorses, which were actually originally bred for war and which were brought to the country in the 1600s and 1700s. That line continues to this day, spawning powerful racehorses who can easily win races!
5. All thoroughbreds have the same birthday
Speaking of thoroughbreds, did you know that every truly thoroughbred horse has the same birthday? It’s true – it’s a way to keep track of those horses’ ages, which is an extremely important metric in the world of horse racing. Thoroughbreds aren’t actually bred to ensure this birthday; this would be extremely tricky to pull off. Instead, the birthdays are set simply to make tracking them easier. All northern hemisphere horses have a birthday of January 1st, and all southern hemisphere horses are born on August 1st.
6. Horse racing is the second most popular British spectator sport
While horse racing is certainly popular in other countries around the world, there’s a special affection for it in Britain, likely thanks to the connection between horse racing and British royalty. It’s actually the second most popular spectator sport in the UK (no prizes for guessing what the most popular one is), bringing in millions upon millions of attendees and viewers to each major racing event. Many viewers will make a day of racing, bringing snacks and supplies with them.
7. There’s no height limit for jockeys
If you look at the majority of professional jockeys, you will note that they are usually fairly short. The average jockey height actually comes in somewhere between 4ft 10 and 5ft 6, so even the tallest jockey is shorter than the UK national average. This is because shorter jockeys are usually lighter (not always, of course, but a smaller frame usually means a lighter normal weight), and weight is a very important statistic when it comes to riding a horse.
8. The fastest ever racehorse hit 43.97mph
Incredibly, the highest speed ever recorded by a racehorse is a staggering 43.97mph, which breaks the speed limit in most English cities. The horse in question was Winning Brew, who managed to hit this incredible speed in 2008 when racing around the Penn National Race Course in Pennsylvania. This is still the world record today, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Trainer Francis Vitale is likely extremely proud of this wonderful horse!
9. There’s a horse racing Grand Slam, and only one horse has won
The coveted Grand Slam of horse racing refers to winning four different events within a single year: the Preakness Stakes, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Belmont Stakes, and the Kentucky Derby. Only one horse has ever achieved this feat: American Pharoah (sic), a horse who managed to take this prestigious title in 2015. Over the course of his lengthy and illustrious career, American Pharoah managed to earn his owners almost $8.7 million.
10. No horse older than 18 has ever won a major race
Throughout the entire history of horse racing, no horse over the age of 18 has ever managed to win a major race event. This is because racehorses tend to hit their peak much earlier than this. Some estimates suggest that racehorses aged around 4 to 5 are at their peak physical condition, and while there’s certainly a range over which horses are still effective, it’s also true that racing an older horse against a younger one will likely spell disaster.