Horse racing is a sport that is older than a lot of people would think.
Horse racing It was an Olympic sport in ancient Greece and archaeological records have also dated the sports existence to Before Christ (BC) civilizations in Babylon, Syria and Egypt.
The sport, in its current format today sees jockeys ride on the back of the horse, and there are three alternatives; flat, jump or endurance.
Flat is the most common form of horse racing worldwide and is generally raced anywhere between 400m and two-and-a-half miles. The shorter the distance the more the race is a test of speed; the longer the race the more the stamina of the horse is put to the test.
Endurance races, in horse racing,
Can vary in length. Some are very short, only 10 miles, while others can be up to one hundred miles or more.
The longest endurance race is the Mongol Derby, which 517.7 miles in distance.
However, the most popular horse racing event in the world is the Grand National. It is a jump race at Aintree, near Liverpool, and sees horses jump 30 fences over a four miles and three-and-a-half furlongs. It is the most valuable jump race in Europe, with a prize fund of £1m in 2015.
Horse racing’s popularity is inexplicably linked with gambling
As punters turn up in the millions to watch races live and put bets on which horse is going to cross the line first.
Red Rum has won the Grand National three times and is one of the most famous horses in horse racing history. The 1967 Grand National horse racing event saw one of the greatest shocks as rank outsider Foinavon, at odds of 100/1, won after being the only horse to avoid a mêlée at the 23rd fence and jump it at the first attempt.
Desert Orchid was also one of the most popular race horses.
Known as Dessie, the grey horse achieved iconic status within national hunt racing, where he was much loved by supporters for his front-running attacking style, iron will and extreme versatility. He never won the Grand National, but was triumphant in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Irish Grand National and collected career earnings of £654,066.
Arkle was another legend on the UK horse racing scene.
He was the first true super-star of thoroughbred racing. While a lot of his predecessors and contemporaries were considered outstanding athletes in horse racing circles, Arkle was the first race horse ever to be considered newsworthy by people outside of the racing scene.
He was awarded a Timeform rating of 212 – the highest rating ever to be given to a steeple chaser. Teamed up with legendary jockey Pat Taaffe, Arkle went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup for three consecutive years (1964-1966), scored victories in more or less every single important steeple chase which came his way – including, the Hennessy Gold Cup, the Irish Grand National and the King George VI Chase – and was posthumously inducted into the British Steeplechasing Hall Of Fame in 1994.
Musician Dominic Behan paid tribute to the legend of the track in his song Arkle and the Republic of Ireland awarded him his own postage stamp in 1981.
Best Mate is one of the more modern horse racing legends.
Following Arkle and Red Rum, the national hunt scene desperately needed a new equine hero and Best Mate was happy to oblige. He burst onto the scene in 2000 as a five-year-old and began immediately to collect high honours, chasing records and precedents set by his famous predecessors.
Between 2002 and 2004, Best Mate won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times consecutively, thus drawing even with the legend of Arkle. However, Best Mate managed to do better than his great colleagues in some ways. Out of 22 career starts he never finished worse than runner-up, recording fourteen wins and seven second places – leaving his final race, which he did never finish.
Due to health concerns his connections decided to pull Best Mate from the race and retired him after a three-year rampage across the leader boards of the sport. After his 2005 death, Best Mate was cremated and his ashes were buried at Cheltenham’s winning post.
However, few race horses have inspired artists and biographers like United States legend Seabiscuit. A statue of Seabiscuit can be admired at Santa Anita Park, his biography ‘Seabiscuit: An American Legend’ was released in 2001; and two feature films – The Story Of Seabiscuit from 1949 and 2003’s Seabiscuit – celebrate the life of this outstanding race horse.
From 1937 to 1940, Seabiscuit won almost every big race the United Stated had to offer
Including the inaugural running of the Hollywood Gold Cup. He was named U.S. Champion Handicap Male in 1937 and 1938, and United States Horse of the Year in 1938.
However, there are other horses to consider when coming up with a list of the most memorable ones, such as Brown Jack, Man O’War, Nijinsky II, Phar Lap, Secretariat and Yeats.
Such is the popularity of horse racing, with British culture, that many phrases that have entered the British vocabulary are based on horse racing.
Across the board is a term used to describe when a punter wagers that his horse will finish in either first, second or third.
The phrase a dark horse comes from the fact that sometimes a favourite for race would have its identity concealed by being painted a slightly darker colour in order to fool the bookmakers before it went on to romp home, while the term ‘we’ll walk it’, comes from the fact that horses, when all the other competitors pull out of the race due to injury, are still made to walk around the track to take victory.
There are a few horse racing names that have gone down in folklore as well
Such as Foghorn Leghorn, Dontmentionthewar, Sorry About That and Aarrrrrrr, which can be amusing to hear commentators pronounce when describing races to their audiences.