The First Horse Race – How Everything Started

History of Horseracing

Old History

Its quite difficult to pinpoint the exact date of the first horserace but we do know that there were chariot and mounted races in the Olympic Games of Greece over the period 700–40 BCE. Both forms of racing were well organised and supported as a form of public entertainment in the Roman Empire. 

Organised Racing


Charles II who reigned from reigned 1660–85 was known as “the father of the English turf” and inaugurated the King’s Plates, races for which prizes were awarded to the winners. The horses used in these races were six years old and carried 168 pounds with the winner being the first to win two 4-mile heats. The patronage of Charles II established Newmarket as the headquarters of English racing, which remains the case today.

During the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714), horse racing began to become a professional sport. Match racing evolved into multi-horse races on which the spectators wagered. Racecourses emerged all over England, offering increasingly large purses to attract the best horses. The purses made breeding and owning horses for racing more profitable. The rapid expansion of the sport created the need for a central governing authority. In 1750 racing’s elite met at Newmarket to form the Jockey Club. 

By the early 1800s, the only horses that were allowed to race were those who descended from the horses listed in the General Stud Book. These horses were called “Thoroughbreds”. Every thoroughbred can be traced back to one of three stallions, called the “foundation sires.” These stallions were the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian.


In France, the first known horse race was held in 1651 as the result of a wager between two noblemen. During the reign of Louis XIV (1643–1715), and then Louis XVI (reigned 1774–93) organized a jockey club and established rules of racing by royal decree that included requiring certificates of origin for horses and imposing extra weight on foreign horses.

North America

Horseracing in North America began with the British occupation of New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1664. The British troops established racing in the colonies by marking out a 2-mile course on the plains of Long Island and offered a silver cup to the best horses in the spring and fall seasons. 

Although the sport was a popular local sport for some time, organised racing did not exist until after the Civil War in 1868 (when the American Stud Book was started). For the next several decades, during the industrial expansion, gambling on racehorses, and horse racing itself exploded. By 1890, there were 314 racecourses operating across the United States.

Point To Points
Runners in a point to point

The match race between Cornelius O’Callaghan and Edmund Blake in 1752 is credited as being the first recorded steeplechase run in Ireland. The steeple of St.John’s Church in Buttevant was the starting point, and just over 4 miles later jumping a course made of natural obstacles was the finish at St. Mary’s Church in Doneraile.

The first official recognition of Point-To-Point races was in the National Hunt Rules of 1889, although they were staged many years earlier in both Ireland and England. These races were run under the stewardship of the Master of each hunt in the area. At the beginning, they were run all year round, over all distances, as well as on the flat and over hurdles.

Oldest Horse Race In History

The oldest horse race still in existence is the Kiplingcotes Derby which was first run in 1519. The Carlisle Bells is said to be the oldest sporting trophy in the world which was first won in the 16th century and the race still bears this name.

First Racetrack

In 1665, the first racetrack was constructed on Long Island. It is the oldest Thoroughbred race in North America

First Winners of Top Races


Derby: Diomed – 1780

2000 Guineas: Wizard – 1809

1000 Guineas: Charlotte – 1814

St Leger: Allabaculia – 1776

Diamond Jubilee: King’s Company – 1971

Epsom Oaks: Bridget – 1779


Grand National: The Duke  – 1836

Gold Cup: Red Splash – 1924

Champion Hurdle: Blaris – 1927

Champion Chase: Quita Que – 1959

Stayers’ Hurdle: Aftermath – 1912

King George: Southern Hero – 1937

Irish National: Golden View II – 1946


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