Thoroughbred Horse Racing Guide

The thoroughbred is an immensely popular horse breed that the horse racing industry predominantly uses.

Even though thoroughbred is usually a reference to a purebred horse, it should technically only refer to the thoroughbred breed.

The thoroughbred horse was initially developed in England during the 17th century. The hot-blooded horse is renowned for its spirit, speed and agility.

The pedigrees of all modern thoroughbreds that roam the world today can be traced to one of three stallions that were initially imported into England during the 17th and 18th centuries. 

At the turn of the 19th century, the thoroughbred breed managed to spread around the globe, including South America, Japan, Europe, Australia and North America.

Today, there are millions of thoroughbreds in existence, and approximately 100,000 foals are registered worldwide every single year.

Thoroughbreds are also used for crossbreeding to improve existing horse breeds or to create brand-new ones. They have played a significant role in the creation of several warm-blood breeds, the Anglo-Arabian, the Standardbred and the quarter horse.

Here, we discuss thoroughbred horse racing and its influence across the US, Canada and other regions. 

We also give insight into the breed that makes up a thoroughbred horse and discuss the differences between a thoroughbred and Standardbred horse. 

We conclude with a look at the history of thoroughbred racing.

What is thoroughbred horse racing?

From all the horse racing events that take place around the world, there’s no doubt that thoroughbred racing is the most popular and prestigious of them all.

In this racing form, a horse must compete against other runners over a predetermined distance. The courses are often in an oval shape, and the surface can vary between all-weather synthetic, grass (turf) and dirt. 

The racetrack doesn’t include any obstacles, as the race itself is primarily for testing stamina and speed.

In the United Kingdom, most horse racing enthusiasts refer to thoroughbred racing as “flat racing” because it distinguishes thoroughbred racing from other horse racing forms.

The UK is home to thoroughbred racing as the horses were initially bred there.

Most horse racing enthusiasts consider thoroughbreds to be the superior equine athlete.

The races are usually the most exciting events when compared to other horse races where thoroughbreds do not feature. Thoroughbreds not only excel in horse racing events but are also ideal in a wide range of other sports from around the globe.

In most regions across Europe and the UK, thoroughbred horse racing comes with different classifications when compared with the US. 

In the UK and Europe, the races are divided into two categories, including handicap and condition races

In condition races, weights are carried by the runners according to the conditions at each racetrack. 

In handicap races, varying weights are allocated to each horse by the handicapper. It depends on the sex, age and weight of the horse.

Condition races come with a bigger purse and are available on an international scale.

Both handicap and condition races are considered the foundation of horse racing and run daily. In the US, you will find the same classifications to horse racing events, but the names will differ. 

For instance, a condition race is known as a graded stakes race in America.

There is a maiden stakes race for horses who have yet to win their first race.

Also, there are allowance races, which are similar to maiden races but impresses with a bigger purse. 

You can even look forward to claiming races in the US, which allow you to purchase someone else’s horse.

Several other factors can significantly influence thoroughbred horse racing events, such as track surfacegender, proximity to the inside barrier and weight

The trainer and the jockey play a significant role when it comes to the overall performance of the horse.

Most thoroughbred horses retire between three to five years. If the horse had an excellent racing career, they usually stand as a stud to produce champion offspring, while lesser-known thoroughbreds are often gelded and bought as sports horses.

Thoroughbred horse racing in the US

Thoroughbred racing in the US is an enormous spectator sport that dates back to 1665 when it was first introduced in the state of New York

Since its inception, it has managed to explode in popularity across the country with racetracks accommodating more than 100,000 spectators at a time.

Below, we include a list of the most popular thoroughbred racing events in America, including the state and the racetrack where the event takes place every year.

KentuckyChurchill DownsKentucky Derby
Kentucky Oaks
MarylandPimlico Race CoursePreakness Stakes
New YorkBelmont Park
Saratoga Race Course
Aqueduct Racetrack
Belmont Stakes
Travers Stakes
Cigar Mile Handicap
IllinoisArlington International RacecourseArlington Million Stakes
Beverly D. Stakes
Secretariat Stakes
CaliforniaSanta Anita Park
Del Mar Fairgrounds
Breeder’s Cup
Santa Anita Handicap
Santa Anita Derby
Pacific Classic Stakes
Del Mar Oaks
Bing Crosby Stakes
LouisianaFair Grounds Race CourseLouisiana Derby
Fair Grounds Oaks
Rachel Alexandra Stakes
New JerseyMeadowlands RacetrackMeadowlands Cup
Cliff Hanger Stakes
Violet Handicap
Pegasus Stakes

Thoroughbred horse racing in the United Kingdom

Apart from the US, the UK and Ireland impress with some of the best thoroughbred horse racing events. 

The horse racing season in the UK and Ireland starts in March every year and ends in December.

Below, we list the most popular thoroughbred horse racing events in Ireland and the UK, complete with racetracks and events.

IrelandCurragh RacecourseIrish Derby
Irish 1,000 Guineas
Irish 2,000 Guineas
Irish Oaks
IrelandLeopardstown RacecourseIrish Champion Stakes
United KingdomNewmarket Racecourse1,000 Guineas Stakes
2,000 Guineas Stakes
United KingdomEpsom Downs RacecourseThe Oaks
Epsom Derby
United KingdomDoncaster RacecourseSt Leger Stakes
United KingdomAscot RacecourseThe Gold Cup
British Champions Day

Breeds that make up a thoroughbred horse

The thoroughbred is a horse breed that was initially developed in the UK for jump and flat racing events. 

The origins of the thoroughbred horse can be traced to a stock of Berber and Arabian horses, which arrived in the United Kingdom during the third century. 

The conditions across Great Britain were ideal for the development of the Berber and Arabian stock, which led to the introduction of selective breeding for racing.

Under the reigns of Charles I and James I, a total of 43 mares were imported into the UK and were widely known as the royal mares

Once the royal mares landed on the shores of the United Kingdom, a general stud book was created to only list the horses that could be traced to the royal mares, either through a direct line or through one of the three horses that were imported.

These horses included the Godolphin Barb in 1730, the Darley Arabian in 1700 and the Byerly Turk in 1689.

Bulle Rock, the son of a Darley Arabian, was exported from the UK to Virginia in 1730. 

Thereafter, more than 180 thoroughbreds were exported from Great Britain to the US for the next 45 years, which led to the foundation of thoroughbred breeding in America.

Differences between thoroughbred and Standardbred

Both Standardbred and thoroughbred horses are suitable for flat racing, jump racing and harness racing around the world. However, there are several differences when you compare a thoroughbred horse with a standardbred horse.

The thoroughbred horse originated in the UK and is the most popular horse breed when it comes to racing.

Thoroughbreds are hot-blooded and are renowned for their spirit, agility and speed. They have a slim and tall body and feature a long, well-chiseled pointed head. A thoroughbred horse has a deep chest, long neck, excellent hindquarters, a lean body, a short back and high withers.

The average height of a thoroughbred horse ranges between 157 cm and 173 cm. Thoroughbreds have a variety of colors, including brown, gray, chestnut, white and black.

The Standardbred horse is considered another popular racing horse but is predominantly featured in harness racing events. 

Many consider the Standardbred as the fastest harness racing breed on the planet.

A Standardbred horse comes equipped with a heavy and long body that features powerful hindquarters and shoulders along with muscular, solid legs. The most noticeable characteristics of a standardbred horse include large nostrils, broad forehead and a long tail.

The average height of a standardbred ranges between 142 cm and 163 cm. They have an array of colors, such as gray, chestnut, black and brown.

Thoroughbred horse racing history

The origins of thoroughbred horse racing can be traced to the 12th century when knights made their way back from crusades with several Arabian horses. 

Over four centuries, dozens of Arabian horses were imported and bred with mares in the United Kingdom to produce horse breeds that impressed with agility, speed and endurance. The nobles privately wagered on races to see which horse was the fastest.

During Queen Anne’s reign (1702-14), horse racing transformed into a professional sport and horse racing events included several races, allowing spectators to place an assortment of wagers on race day. As the sport grew in popularity, more racetracks were constructed, which increased the size of crowds and the purses for each event.

The popularity behind the sport expanded so rapidly that a governing body was created in 1750, known as the Jockey Club. This governing body was in charge of the rules and race meetings within the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Once thoroughbred horse racing was established in the United Kingdom, British settlers exported thoroughbred horses to the US.

The first race course was constructed in Long Island, New York, in 1665. However, thoroughbred horse racing only became popular in 1868 after the Civil War. Also, this was when the inception of the American stud book. 

After the Civil War, horse racing and horse betting exploded across the country for the next few decades.

The American Jockey Club was eventually formed in 1894 when the country’s largest stable and track owners gathered in New York.

During the 1900s, horse racing in America was nearly wiped out after the anti-gambling act banned bookmaking in all states. The ban was so devastating that only 25 racetracks were active across the country by 1908. 

Thankfully, pari-mutuel betting was introduced that same year and was first used during the Kentucky Derby. If it weren’t for the invention of the pari-mutuel betting system, horse racing wouldn’t be where it is today.

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