Horse racing is considered to be an equestrian performance sport. In it, two or more horses, ridden by jockeys, race over a certain distance for competition. We can safely say it’s one of the oldest sports to ever exist in the world. Racing horses has been an activity that can take us back to the times of kings and queens.

Horse Racing Intro
Welcome to Horse Racing

Horse races vary widely in format and many countries have developed their own particular traditions around the sport. Variations include restricting races to particular breeds, running over obstacles, running over different distances, running on different track surfaces and running in different gaits. However, we have to mention that even though these races are of a sporting nature, there is an economic aspect to them.

A huge part of gambling all over the world directly depends on horse racing. Sports betting is hugely associated with it. Back in 2008, this sport generated around $115 billion in the worldwide gambling market.


As we mentioned above, horse racing has a vast history behind it. According to archaeological records, this sport first appeared in Ancient Greece, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. Even old stories in Norse mythology suggest races between god’s steeds. The modern version we know today evolved from what was known as chariot racing.

Chariot racing was one of the most popular ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine sports. Both chariot and mounted horse racing were events in the ancient Greek Olympics by 648 BC and were important in the other Panhellenic Games. It continued although chariot racing was often dangerous to both driver and horse, which frequently suffered serious injury and even death.

Horse Racing History

The same goes for the Roman Empire who even continued their tradition later in their empire. Up until the end of the 19th century, the spring carnival in Rome was closed with a horse race. Last but not least, we have to mention the British empire. Their kings, starting from somewhere in the 17th century often held races. With time,Thoroughbred racing became, and remains, popular with aristocrats and royalty of British society, earning it the title “Sport of Kings.

Types of Horse Racing

There are various different versions of this sport. However, four of them are more popular than the rest and are known all over the world.

  • Flat Racing
  • Jump Racing
  • Harness Racing
  • Endurance Racing

It’s important to note that different breeds of horses are used for each different race. We will mention the breeds and how they are used below. Last but not least, ponies have their own race categories as well. They are used for flat, jump, and harness racing.

Flat Racing

This is the most common way of racing. Flat racing tracks are typically oval in shape and are generally level. However, in Britain and Ireland, the variations for the races are much greater. The Windsor and the Epsom Racecourse can show you those variations. Most of the races are on turf in Britain while dirt is preferred in North America and Asia. Additionally, designed synthetic surfaces are the newest trend and can be seen at certain race tracks.

Flat Racing
Flat Racing

Individual flat races are run over distances ranging from 400 meters up to 4 km. Short races are generally referred to as “sprints”, while longer races are known as “routes” in the United States or “staying races” in Europe. The most prestigious flat horse races in the world, such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Melbourne Cup, Japan Cup, Epsom Derby, Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup, are run over distances in the middle of this range and are seen as tests of both speed and stamina to some extent.

Jump Racing

In Britain and Ireland these races are known as National Hunt Racing. They are divided in steeplechasing and hurdling depending on the obstacles. Typically, horses progress to bigger obstacles and longer distances as they get older, so that a European jumps horse will tend to start in National Hunt flat races as a juvenile, move on to hurdling after a year or so, and then, if thought capable, move on to steeplechasing. The last one is obviously the hardest of the horse races, when it comes to jump racing.

Jump Racing
Jump Racing

Harness Racing

In this type of horse racing, the horses go around a track and pull a sulky with a driver behind them. The horses are separated in two categories, known as trotters and pacers. Pacers move the legs on each side of their body in tandem, while trotters move their diagonal legs together. Sometimes a horse might lose his cool and start galloping which can result with a disqualification.

Harness Horse Racing
Harness Racing

Endurance Racing

As the name suggests, endurance horse racing means longer races. They can be a minimum of 10 miles up to 100 miles. However, there are versions where the races last for several days. That’s why they are divided in 5 categories: pleasure rides (10–20 miles), non-competitive trail rides (21–27 miles), competitive trail rides (20–45 miles), progressive trail rides (25–60 miles), and endurance rides (40–100 miles in one day, up to 250 miles (400 km) in multiple days.

Since the races are long, natural terrain is always used. The longest endurance race in the world is the Mongol Derby, which is 1,000 km long.

Horse Breeds

Each race type allows only certain breeds of horses. For a horse to be eligible to enter, several things have to be in order. For instance, the horse must have a sire (father) and a dam (mother) who are studbook-approved individuals of whatever breed is racing. There are 4 main breed types:

  • Thoroughbred
  • Standardbred
  • Arabian Horse
  • Quarter Horse

Any racing horse is known as a stallion. A stallion who has won many races may be put up to stud when he is retired. Artificial insemination and embryo transfer technology (allowed only in some breeds) has brought changes to the traditions and ease of breeding.


It is believed that this breed started from the horses known as the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerley Turk. They were taken to England and mated with English mares. With time, their lineage get the name thoroughbred. Additionally, thoroughbreds may be bay, black, dark bay/brown, chestnut, gray, roan, white or palomino.


This breed of race horses is used for various different races. However, they are mostly bred for harness racing. Standardbred horses are direct descendants from thoroughbreds.

Arabian Horse

The Bedouin people developed these horses for stamina, so they could outrun their enemies. However, it wasn’t until 1725 that Arabian horses were introduced in the USA. Arabians must be able to withstand traveling long distances at a moderate pace.

They have an abundance of type I muscle fibers, enabling their muscles to work for extended periods of time. Also, the muscles of the Arabian are not nearly as massive as those of the Quarter Horse, which allow it to travel longer distances at quicker speeds. Nevertheless, the Arabian is primarily used today in endurance racing, but is also raced over traditional race tracks in many countries.

Quarter Horses

These horses were a blend of Colonial Spanish horses crossed with English horses that were brought over in the 1700s. Quarter horses are known for their big muscles which means they are not good for long endurance races. However, that makes them perfect for shorter races where speed is essential.

Nevertheless, quarter horses weren’t really accepted as an official breed for a long time. It was in 1940 with the forming of the American Quarter Horse Association, that they were finally recognized as an official breed.

Horse Racing Countries and Organisations

Unlike most sports, horse racing doesn’t have one or several organizations that control all the events. Each race has it’s own body which help with planning and execution. Keep in mind that each race also has a place where gambling occurs before the race. Even though, most gambling is now done online, those race parlors are still very active.

However, there are organisations that are in charge of horse racing. Instead of focusing on the events, they focus on the actual horse breed. For instance, the biggest organisation is the NTRA. The abbreviation stands for National Thoroughbred Racing Association. You can find more information about it on their official website.


Horse Racing is popular all around the world and each country organizes its own races. Nevertheless, Great Britain, Ireland, United States, and Australia are the predominant countries when it comes to horse racing.

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