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Beginner’s guide to horse racing

Horse racing is a unique sport, and along with baseball and boxing, were among the three most popular sports in North America at the turn of the 20th century.
Horse racing is a unique sport, and along with baseball and boxing, were among the three most popular sports in North America at the turn of the 20th century.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Horse racing is a unique sport, and along with baseball and boxing, were among the three most popular sports in North America at the turn of the 20th century. However, this equestrian sport boasts a much long history. According to archaeologists, horse racing occurred in ancient Babylon, Syria, and Egypt, and both chariot and mounted horse racing were events in the ancient Greek Olympics by 648 BC.

In the U.K., the equine industry as a whole provides direct and indirect employment to about a quarter of a million people, which is roughly the same size as those employed by farming. Over six million racegoers attend meetings each year, making horse racing Britain’s second most popular spectator sport and more popular than rugby, fishing, or cricket.

Britain's horse racing industry has an economic impact of over £3.7 billion with £325m in taxation revenue. The ratio of urban to rural horse riders is around 50:50. A major part of the sport’s economic importance lies in gambling, which has a global market worth around £80 billion.

Thus, the commercial activities of bettors, punters, and tipsters contribute greatly to the industry’s ability to thrive and expand around the world at racecourses and through media and online outlets. Today, horse racing is followed by fans in the United States, Europe, Middle East, Australia, Japan, South Africa and, to a lesser degree, South America.

There are three major types of racing: flat racing, hurdles and steeplechasing. Breeds used for flat racing include the Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, Arabian, Paint, and Appaloosa. Steeplechasing breeds include the Thoroughbred and AQPS.

In Britain, races that involve obstacles (either hurdles or fences) are referred to as National Hunt racing. British racing has rules that stop the jockey from using the whip too much, while regulations in other countries offer more lenient protections on the runners. In the United States, trainers are known to use more race day medications that may boost the short-term performance of the racehorse but also pose health risks.

In Britian, flat races vary in distances from five furlongs to over two miles. The surface can either be a natural grass surface (turf) or on a synthetic surface (all-weather). There are conditions races and handicaps. Conditions races are classified into the following races: Group 1 (classics and other races of major international importance), Group 2 (less important international races), and Group 3 (domestic races). Listed races have less prestige than the group races but are still more important than handicaps. Handicap races are where horses are given a different weight to carry according to their ability.

Flat racing is run without obstacles and the events take place all year. However, most of the elite meetings occur between April and October. In jump racing, the big races take place between October and April. At the tracks, there are usually between six and eight races a day and placed at intervals of about half an hour.

During the summer, racing starts in the early afternoon and ends around 6:00 p.m. However, organizers also host evening racing which typically starts at 5:30 p.m. and typically finishes before 9 p.m.

A Hurdles race is when the horses jump over hurdles that are usually over three and a half feet high. They are typically made of brush that has some flexibility and there are a minimum of eight hurdles with a minimum distance of two miles.

Hurdles races are divided into several categories, determined by age, experience and distance:

· 2 mile Juvenile

· 2 mile Novice

· 2 mile Open

· 2½ mile Novice

· 2½ mile Open

· 3+ mile Novice

· 3+ mile Open

Punters have two main ways to place a wager. A bettor can go to a bookmaker and place a stake, or go make a wager with the Tote. The bookmakers price odds on each horse in which the bettor can earn a potential return from his stake. As an alternative, the Tote offers pool betting in which bettors potentially get a return on their money after expenses and taxes are deducted from the pool of funds. In Tote wagers, all bets on a race are entered into a pool and shared out amongst the winners. Punters don’t know exactly how much they might win until after the race.

According to the British Horse Racing Confederation, there are around one million horses and ponies kept by over 550,000 horse owners or primary carers. Britain has 59 racecourses that are situated around the country, ranging from Premier (or Club or Members) Enclosure, Grandstand (or Tattersalls or Paddock) Enclosure to the Course Enclosure (or Silver Ring).

At the racecourse, spectators are able to purchase a racecard for around £3, and the guide contains information on the runners and riders in each race. The Premier Enclosure is the top option and offers the best viewing and facilities with a daily rate usually between £16 and £30. A Grandstand and Paddock Enclosure is usually the largest enclosure and costs between £10 to £22, while the Course Enclosure is the least expensive and least formal with tickets costing around £5.