US Horse Racing
Horse racing in the US is not really as much a part of the national character as horse racing in the UK or Australia. Nevertheless, as with everything in the US, if it’s worth doing right, it’s worth doing big, and US horse racing is massive. The second most widely attended spectator sport in the US, horse racing is a multi-billion dollar industry with big prizes on offer to successful owners and trainers.
US horse racing has a fascinating and rocky history. First established on a racecourse on Long Island during the early European occupation of the Americas in 1655, it did not become widely popular for quite some time. Industrialization, and therefore higher pay for the working masses, led to an explosion in the popularity of US horse racing during the 19th century.
Times have not always been good for US horse racing, though. The earliest days of horse racing’s popularity were not overseen by a unified authority. This allowed criminal forces to dominate and possibly contributed to an anti-gambling backlash in the early 20th century. As with so many things that suffered from some form of prohibition or another, bookmaking was banned in many states of the USA for long periods of time. Horse race betting and public sentiment changed, however, and US horse racing now benefits from the regular booms of popularity seen in most businesses and professional sports.
Horse racing is somewhat unique compared to many other professional sports in that it can have many major events. There is a small selection of horse races in the US that stand out particularly, with the US Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing representing the three most prestigious races in the USA. The Triple Crown consists of the world-famous Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Winners of the Triple Crown are consummate champions, having bested their competition in some of the most fiercely contested horse racing events in the world.
The Kentucky Derby is known to anyone who has even a casual knowledge of horse racing. It is held each year on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. At 1 and a quarter miles long, the race is not particularly long, with the Kentucky Derby often referred to as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sport”. The purse for victory is usually very handsome and the breeding prospects for winners are absolutely encouraging for trainers to aim their strongest thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Derby.
The Preakness States is an even shorter race than the Kentucky Derby at 1 and 3-16th miles. It is the second event that makes up the US Triple Crown, held on Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland on the third Saturday of May. The purse for the event is not as impressive as that for the Kentucky Derby, but it is still a very competitive event.
The Belmont Stakes is the final race of the US Triple Crown and also the longest, at 1 and a half miles. The race is run each year at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York three weeks after the Preakness Stakes. With the length of this race being so much more than the others, the Preakness Stakes is known as the “Test of the Champion” for the challenge that a contender for the Triple Crown must overcome in order to win.
Other important races in the US horse racing calendar include the Breeders’ Cup series and the Kentucky Oaks. The Breeders’ Cup series has increasingly become one of the most closely watched set of races, with some commentators even claiming that multiple Breeders’ Cup wins can be competitive with a Triple Crown win in determining the quality of a champion. Purses for some of the events are massive and the total worth of the Breeders’ Cup is constantly rising, with new events occasionally being added with large prizes.
The Kentucky Oaks is the biggest race for fillies and in terms of attendance it could be considered the second biggest thoroughbred event in the USA. It currently sees attendance in excess of 100,000 people, an incredible number that even exceeds such important races as the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. The race takes place annually on the Friday preceding the Kentucky Derby, at Churchill Downs, over a distance of 1 and 1/8th miles.
The excitement of horse racing in the US is not just restricted to a handful of major events, however. Races are being run all the time and wagering on horse races is a very popular pastime. Anyone interested in learning more about horse racing has a long path ahead of them, as this fascinating sport offers a panoply of areas in which an interested fan can gain expertise.