History of racing


Horses are fast animals and their speed and stamina has helped them to survive. Since humans first started keeping written records, there is proof that they have used horses for racing. Among the first recorded events that took place were races at the Ancient Greek Olympics, with horses being ridden by jockeys or pulling chariots (around 800 years BC, or 2,800 years ago.)


Ancient Greek Racing


Records show that around seven hundred years later, the Romans first brought racing to Great Britain.


Modern racing began in the 12th Century when English Knights returned from the Crusades with Arab horses, which were then bred to the strong, sturdy English mares to produce a horse that had could run fast and keep going for a long time! (See our breeding history page for more information).


Early races took place on “The Roodee” which is now Chester racecourse and at Smithfield market in London.


Racing started to become popular when King James I (1603-1625) (pictured below) had a palace built in Newmarket. The Royal Court moved there and used the wide open spaces and the hill (Warren Hill) to race on.


King James 1

As the King enjoyed it so much, racing and the breeding became a very popular pastime. However after King Charles I (1625-1649) was overthrown and England became a Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, racing was banned until Charles II (1660-1685) came to the throne. Charles II was very passionate about racing and spent a lot of time in Newmarket - so much so that the House of Commons petitioned him to spend more time running the country!! This is why racing became known as the “Sport of Kings.”


His favourite horse was called Old Rowley. There are two racecourses in Newmarket and one of them is named after Old Rowley and is known as the Rowley Mile. The other is called the July course.



Charles II introduced the Newmarket Town Plate, one of the oldest races run under rules and still run to this day. The prize to the winner is eight pounds of Newmarket sausages!




Racing first became a professional sport during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). She introduced racing at Ascot where the main meeting became known as the Royal Meeting (Royal Ascot). The Queen Anne Stakes was named after her. Here is Cape Cross winning the race for Godolphin in 1999.



In 1740, Parliament introduced an Act for racing but it wasn't until 1752 that the Jockey Club was formed to run racing. The Jockey Club still exists but in 2006 the Horseracing Regulatory Authority took over the running of racing. Almost six million people attended the races in Britain in 2014, making it the second most popular sport in the country after football.