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History of Horse Racing in Europe

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Horse racing, the now global sport with billions of fans, wasn't globally popular in the past. Both ancient and modern-day horse racing come from Europe. The first traces of horse racing were seen in Ancient Greece in the Olympic games, and then in moved to Rome with the Roman Empire, to finally transition to Great Britain where we had the birth of the closest relative to modern-day horse racing.

So, we are talking about humanity's oldest sport which has quite a rich and intricate history. But how did horse racing, the sport that we all know and love today, become a globally popular sport?

Let's dive into the history of horse racing in Europe and find out more about how this sport came to life and why it was really popular at that time.

Birth of modern-day horse racing

If we go back thousands of years to the time of Ancient Greece, horse racing events weren't anything like the ones we have today. Most of them at that time were chariot races that included horses, but the real overhaul of the sport came from England in the 17th century.

Bear in mind, this was only the birth of horse racing as a sport, and the magnitude of those events wasn't even close to some of the popular events we have nowadays like the Kentucky Derby. Just go through the latest Kentucky Derby winners by TwinSpires and you'll have an idea about the competition that this race brings every year.

However, horse racing in the UK quickly became popular, and even US citizens attended the races. In fact, the birth of the Kentucky Derby was because of a man named Meriwether Lewis Clark, who was inspired by the Epsom Derby in England.

This was the time when horse racing became one of the most popular sports in the country. The first known racecourse in England was Chester, and it dates back to 1539. This racecourse laid the groundwork for the world-renowned institutions of Ascot and Newmarket.

But the real change for the sport came with the creation of the Jockey Club of Britain. This was the first time that the sport established clear rules that would dictate its form and popularity up until today. The Jockey Club of Britain was founded in 1750 and set clear rules about horse racing as a sport.

The French

After horse racing became an integral part of British society, it quickly spread across Europe, with France being one of the first countries that adopted the sport from the British. And since they are so close to each other, this shouldn't surprise us.

The French horse racing scene bloomed in the 19th century with the inauguration of the Prix du Jockey Club in 1836, which laid the groundwork for the country's rich horse racing heritage.

French races are known for their impeccable style and elegance, which is why it is no surprise that they've become a highlight in the European racing calendar.

Other countries where horse racing was popular in Europe

Britain and France weren't the only two countries that laid the foundation of the horse racing industry that is so popular today. There were other countries that contributed to the success of horse racing, such as:

Ireland has a deep equestrian root and has some of the most iconic racecourses in Europe (Punchestown and Leopardstown). Throughout history, Ireland has been quite good at breeding horses and organizing attractive racetracks, and there are many Irish jockeys that have made a name for themselves in the world of horse racing.

Here we have another country with a rich horse racing history. After all, the Roman Empire was big on chariot races, as well as gambling, which sort of explains why this sport caught on with the locals.

Did you know that Italy hosts the oldest horse race in the world? Yes, Palio di Siena is estimated to date back 800 years, which shows how much horse racing was popular in Italy throughout history. This race is older than the beginnings of modern-day horse racing in England.

Italy nowadays is the third country in Europe by number of bets placed on equestrian events, right after the UK and France.

Yes, horse racing even got to Poland, and they've managed to build quite a relationship with this sport. Primarily Warsaw, with the Sluzewiec Horse Racing which is the country's most popular racetrack that cemented the sport into the culture of the locals.

Horse racing as a sport in Poland dates back to 1777 when an informal match was staged between a local and a horse owned by an English diplomat. The first formal races were conducted in June of the same year in Pole Mokotowskie, now known as Lublin's Union Square. The track was one kilometer long.

Final words

As you can see, horse racing sort of became popular with everyone in Europe around the 17th century, but the UK managed to build the best horse racing culture with many popular events that attracted some of the fastest horses and tourists from every corner of the world.

Nowadays, Europe has a rich horse racing culture with many horse racing events organized every year. There are some countries where horse racing isn't popular, but most of Europe knows a lot about horse racing as a sport.

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