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10 Funny Retro Photos of Horse Racing

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Are you looking for funny antique photos and prints of horse racing from the early 1900’s and late 1800’s? While working on the website DerbyCraze.com, I frequently come across free stock photos at the Library of Congress online. Oftentimes, they show scenes that are anything from bizarre to humorous. Listed in this slideshow, there are graphics from as far back as the 1850’s. In many ways, these funny retro images of horse racing from the 1800’s and early 1900’s tells us a little bit about the differences between gambling in the past and in today’s online world.

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Gambling in America in the 1800’s

The first Kentucky Derby was in 1875. However, before that, gambling was alive and well in the United States. The exception was that the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs had adopted a new form of betting called pari-mutuel gambling. Pari-mutuel betting was invented in France and Churchill Downs founder, Meriwether Lewis Clark, hoped it would help make horse racing more respectable.

Previously, horse racing was very susceptible to gambling mobsters that controlled the jockeys to their advantage. This meant that the horse racing gamblers were dealing with dangerous criminals. Alternatively, pari-mutuel betting involves taking all of the betting money and placing it with one third-party until the race is finished. This adaptation of pari-mutuel betting is the same system that is used today.

What to wear to a racetrack in the Edwardian Era

Each year, parties are thrown throughout the world to celebrate major events like the Kentucky Derby. In addition to getting the perfect hat, completing your Kentucky Derby party look includes the difficult task of finding the right outfit. When you look at race day photos of the past, you can see that wearing your finest clothes to the racetrack has been a tradition for over a century and a half. While the clothing styles change each year, the bright colors worn by a jockey have not. In fact, it is believed that the first jockey silks were worn around 1515 in England.

History of horse racing and graphics

When you attend the Kentucky Derby, it is easy to take the printed booklet they give you at the gate for granted. Regardless, layered color printing was one of the popular ways artists once depicted horse racing in the 1800’s. Long before photography became common, reproducing scenes from horse racing tracks came in the forms of ornate and colorful chromolithographs.

In the 1800’s, many feared that these vibrant multi-layer printed chromolithographs would replace the need for artists that were dependent on hand-coloring lithographs. Sadly, this fear became reality and the chromolithograph took off for several decades until it was replaced in popularity by the photograph. As the 1800's drew to a close, chromolithographs and horse racing would continue to have a close relationship. In fact, the first full-colored advertisement in history was a chromolithograph that depicted horse racing. It was presented in the January 1880 magazine “Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly.”

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