Horse racing, Britain’s second-favourite sport after football, boasts an illustrious history spanning over thousands of years. Its origins are lost in the shadow of time, and the sport has gathered a remarkable heritage of intriguing tales and statistics, as well as having some of the most prestigious sporting events of the year, from people spectating the Grand National or going to the Cheltenham Gold Cup to see the horse selection of the day on The Winners Enclosure. Here are 10 of our favourite racing facts that aren’t common knowledge.
- Racing is much older than you might think
Many consider Britain the home country of horse racing, but the sport has much older origins. Historical evidence suggests horse racing was a thing as far back as 4500 BC, and the first actual records of horse racing come from Ancient Greece through both literary references and images depicted on pottery.
- Most jockeys are short in height
Since horse racing has no height limit for the jockeys, it may come as a surprise that most jockeys are short in height. This phenomenon, however, is related to the horse racing rules that set a weight limit. Flat racing jockeys usually can’t weigh more than 8 stones, while jump racing jockeys typically have a weight limit of 9 stones. As a result, most jockeys are short in height.
- Jockeys can’t ride a horse that they own
Due to the lucrative nature of the sport – aka gambling – jockeys are forbidden to ride a horse they own or have a share in, to prevent cheating.
- Aintree is Europe’s most valuable horse race
Aintree’s Grand National is more of a Grand European horse race, as it’s the most valuable horse racing event in the entire Old Continent. A staple of British culture, the race has a £1 million purse.
- The most yielding horse racing event is held in the USA
While horse racing is universally considered a staple of the British culture, the Pegasus World Cup in the United States is the highest paying horse racing event in the world. Despite its rather short history, the Pegasus World Cup had a purse of $12 million (about £9.3) million in 2017 and $16 million (£12.3 million) in 2018. The prizes went down since then, but the prize still exceeds £2 million.
- The British Triple Crown was only won once since WWII
The Triple Crown championship is attributed to a colt or filly that wins the Derby, the Two Thousand Guineas, and the Saint Leger races in a single season. However, the title was only won once since WWII, in 1970 by Canadian-bred colt Nijinsky.
- Grand National horses are richer than you’ll ever be
Jockeys usually get prize money when winning races, but the true stars of a horse race are the horses. Typically, the horse winning the Grand National gets a prize of over £500,000, a life-changing amount for its owner.
- Flat racing is much more valuable than jump racing
Thinking of getting into horse racing? Then know that you should train your horse for flat racing rather than jump racing. That’s because most prestigious races are on the Flat, meaning that is where the money is. Indeed, the average prize money in Flat racing is almost £18 million, compared to about £11 million for Jump racing.
- Oliver Cromwell banned horse racing
One can hardly dissociate horse racing and the British culture, but the truth is that Oliver Cromwell banned the sport during his protectorate. First, he believed men should follow “manlier” sports, and second, he needed horses for his army. Luckily, the sport was brought back by King Charles II in 1664.
- The original race horses were bred for war
Cromwell wasn’t so wrong to recruit racehorses to fulfil his military ambitions. Indeed, the original race horses were bred for war rather than racing. The sought-after Thoroughbred lineage finds its origins in the Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian, and Byerley Turk, three breeds of fast, powerful horses originally bred for war overseas.