Horse racing, a sport that has had its roots in tradition and history, being played since ancient times, continues its reign in the sports world and remains as popular among the modern-day royalty and aristocracy worldwide as it used to a millennium ago!
Long dubbed the “Sport of Kings”, this sporting spectacle has had a long history and its journey from its origin to the modern day can make a pretty interesting read as we trace its amazing evolution over the centuries.
Horse racing is one of the oldest sports in the world, originating in Middle Asia around 4500 BC. As it spread to other cultures, it grew in popularity and became a common sport from the Roman Empire through the Europe of 1750s (when the first Jockey Club was created)!
However, the first formal documentation of horse racing as a sport can be traced back to the Pan-Hellenic games and the ancient Greek Olympics held in 648 BC. Popular among the wealthy people, because of the high cost of breeding horses, horse racing was strictly a men’s sport with women not allowed to participate as jockeys or even horse trainers.
Evolution of horse racing
Over the years, horse racing has, however, evolved into several different forms – from the most popular flat racing that involves horses galloping all the way between two points on either a straight or oval track in a bid to win, to jumps racing or steeple-chasing, a more popular form in the UK and Ireland, to harness racing that involves the horses pulling the driver in a lightweight, two-wheeled cart (sulky), and endurance racing where horses travel over extreme distances often spanning 40-160 km across country tracks!
While back in the 1920s, horses would just be lined up across the track with a tape barrier, today horses start a racing event from a starting gate. Even the riding styles have evolved from every rider -whether a show jumper, hunter or jockey- riding almost the same way to the new slightly crouched uncomfortable position that the jockeys assumed as the game evolved and specific equipment came into being for each side of the sport.
Changes it has witnessed!
This equestrian sport has been witness to some dramatic changes in several areas over the years. As time rolled by, the import of horseracing significantly shifted. Here are some of the major changes that this sport has been through since its origin.
The horse racing community has opened up. While earlier, during the 1920s, this was majorly a sporting event for affluent, the interest in the sport has now become more widespread, irrespective of the class or the stature and race tracks are now more accessible to common people than in the earlier days, taking on a commercial face.
The sport has also opened up to females and is as much a women’s sport today as men’s, with plenty of female jockeys and trainers competing across the globe. This equestrian sport is fast spreading its wings, reaching new avenues with many countries opening up to the game and more tracks being commissioned. Today, an average race horse travels more across countries for races than it could in earlier times, with options to even fly them over for different races in the same season.
Horses & breeding
Horses have become more versatile, with thoroughbreds now being used for a variety of equestrian sports as opposed to just being used as main race horses. They are being put through careful and professionally-managed breeding processes. Breeding horses are shuttled across the world breeding as many as 400 mares in a single year- a straight uptrend from the mere 40 mares being bred by a shuttle stallion in the 1920s! -peaking the registered number of foals to close to 35,000-50,000 a year!
Today’s race horses are better fed using premium food, raced on aluminum racing plates in contrast to steel, with proper equipment to reduce risks of injury to the animal.
Better veterinary practices
Better veterinary practices have evolved with the evolution of the game that enable better health management for the horses. Back in the 1920s, an injured horse was meted with a dire fate, being euthanized right on the tracks! Better vet care has reduced this risk, saving many horses and helping them receive proper care, especially for breathing problems that are now resolvable through surgery.
Equipment, too, has become more modern and of far better quality and hence much more comfortable for both horse and riders. Modern-day softer leather or nylon bridles have replaced the blankets and metal strips, heavy saddles have been done away with paper-light and barely visible ones, making the rides comfortable for the horses. For the riders, too, it means lower risk of injury.
Betting in horse racing has evolved over these years. While the 1920s saw racing jurisdictions wagering through bookmakers, the later years witnessed pari-mutuel wagering. Punters are today endowed with a variety of betting options -from betting on a horse to show, to betting on a horse to place, or even betting on a trifecta or quinella -as against the single option of punting on the horse to win. Further, access to information and racing statistics became more readily available for better and calculated bets.
Drug use and testing
Given the scandals and allegation of corruption and drug use, much effort has been put to evolve drug testing over the years. The primitive testing has been proactively done away with, to clean up the bookmaking aspect of horse racing. Drug usage has also undergone change and while earlier all drugs were considered illegal for a horse, nowadays a lot of drugs are legitimate for use on horses.
The Changing Face of Horse racing!
Today, horse racing is not as much about affluence, but hard work as well, even though money is still a very big piece of the sport. Horse racing, today, focuses on breeding one’s own horses and going from the big win rather than dabbling in betting activities.
The horse trainers of the modern-day focus on training colts and fillies to become racehorses. You may not hear as much of this sport as of others given its exclusivity that is maintained even to this day. However, people continue to participate in horse racing events and wager, raising the stakes of the sport.
In truth, whether people flock to these events to watch, bet or to simply show off their presence, it all adds up to horseplay!!
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