Horse Racing History: Is It Still As Popular As It Used To Be?

Horse racing in the UK has a history as powerful as the animals on which it depends. There have been many changes over the years. Starting from the rules, the overall legality of racing, and ending with betting on races.
So, how did it start? How has it changed? And is it still as popular as it once was?
Let’s look back and find out if we can see the way forward.

Horse Racing – The Early Years

Horses have always been extraordinarily valuable. They bridged the gaps between civilizations and allowed every globe-spanning empire to function.  This happened thanks to their extreme speed and endurance as compared with humans. They brought not only letters from one end of the empire to the other but also critical political announcements, military intelligence, and news. Now we get to find out if a hurricane is coming days ahead of time. However, back then, it took weeks on a fast horse to deliver the news that a whole city had been wiped out by a natural disaster.
Given the critical nature of ensuring the best horses were available when needed, you can imagine that the priority regarding horses was one of commerce rather than recreation.
This didn’t stop the wealthy from setting up the occasional race between riders and horses they thought to be superior.
There are records of horse racing dating back to the 3rd century in the region where Yorkshire is currently located. The original races were, of course, done without saddles. Horses wouldn’t don saddles until at least the 7th century.
It wasn’t until far later in the 12th century that the first record of horse racing can be found. William Fitzstephen wrote of the first horse race meeting at St. Bartholomew’s in 1174.
From then, the sport grew with the support of laws governing breeding and record keeping under the interest of King Henry VII. There was a drop off in interest in the late 16th century, and the reason is generally unknown. Except perhaps that Queen Elizabeth I did not enjoy horse racing, thus others lost interest as well.
In 1605, however, James I brought horse racing back with a passion. There are records of nobles begging the King to return to London to run the country instead of spending all of his time horse racing. The fervour grew until 1634 when the first Gold Cup even was held at Newmarket.

Betting and Horse Racing

Gambling, in general, has just as spotty history as horse racing itself in the UK. There are peaks and valleys spanning decades or even centuries with each passing ruler. Gambling on horse races possibly began in the 1600s under King James I. Though it was never legalized until the 1928 Racecourse Betting Act. This Act allowed betting to take place on the courses during races.
Skipping ahead a few decades, betting on horse races became even more complex. Eventually, there were underground bookkeepers handling bets away from the courses. This was mostly illegal until the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 when off-course betting was also legalized. Today fans can easily bet on any of the horse racing sites UK 2021. While legalized, on course and off course betting were still heavily regulated to varying degrees over the years.
These two pieces of legislation were key to our current digital age of betting. so that online horse race betting sites can operate and offer both spectators and fans who aren’t able to watch the ability to place bets at any time. 

Cromwell Bans Everything

Horse racing experienced a bit of a slide after Oliver Cromwell banned horse racing in 1654. His stated reason was that horse racing “encouraged wicked, and secret Plots and Devices.” Horses were also quite valuable for military reasons, so many of the former racing horses were requisitioned to be trained.
However, horse racing brought together many aristocratic individuals at the same place on a regular schedule, so the importance of maintaining the tradition weighed heavily on the ban. When Oliver Cromwell died only 4 years later, King Charles II was raised to the throne again, and he wrote the rules for the Newmarket Town Plate that took place in 1664.

The Foundation Sires

Horse racing provided recreation for aristocrats as well as the average citizen. However, the early recognition of Arabian thoroughbreds provided a need to maintain close ties with rules in the Middle East.
Whether it was the ban of horse racing and requisition of horses by Oliver Cromwell, the noticeable advantage that Arabian horses had over other breeds, or a combination or the two, there are currently only three horses to which all recognized thoroughbreds can be traced. Byerley Turk from 1680 to 1696, Darley Arabian from 1700 to 1733, and Godolphin Arabian from 1724 to 1753.
The Jockey Club was created in 1750 to regulate the rules and breeding for horse racing. The Club found that these three original studs, or “Foundation Sires,” were the end of the pedigree for every thoroughbred.  Starting in the early 1800s, the Jockey Club required only thoroughbreds listed in the General Stud Book would be allowed to race professionally.

Horse Racing Is Still Quite Popular Among Fans

Horse racing has a very colorful history and, as mentioned before, it’s as powerful as the animals themselves. The history of horse racing was directly related to the level of interest that the current ruler had in the events, and so it grew and crashed at various times since it first began almost 1800 years ago. 
However, horse racing is still the second most popular spectator sport in the UK next to football. The history only lends support to its popularity, not to mention the sheer excitement of each and every race where massive and mighty beasts thunder around the course. Now in our digital age, computers and mobile phones offer access unlike anything in history, and fans are that much closer to the action because of it.