The Brits are very passionate about their sporting events and horse racing is a very popular example. From Royal Ascot and Cheltenham Festival to The Grand National and Champions Day at Newmarket, horse racing events dominate the sporting calendar and attract thousands of spectators from around the country.
Not only do people enjoy watching the races, but many also go to these events to place wagers. Let’s take a look at the origins of the sport, how it developed in Britain and the impact the betting industry has had.
The history of horse racing in Britain
Horse racing has been taking place throughout all of history, as far back as the chariot and mounted racing that took place in the 700-40 BCE Olympic games in Greece. It was also a source of public entertainment in the early Roman Empire.
Horse racing in the United Kingdom can be traced back as far as the 12th century, when English Knights bred Arab horses with English horses to produce the breed of horse that is still used in racing today.
By the 16th century, King Henry VIII had introduced a number of laws in regard to horse racing and stallions and mares were brought in for breeding from Spain, Italy and beyond. Formal race meeting began around this time with the first trophy for a race thought to have been presented in Chester in 1512.
James I in the 17th century was known to sponsor meetings and events in England and his successor Charles I maintained a stud of around 140 horses until his death in 1649. Following on from him Charles II established races with prizes for the winner and introduced national racing rules.
Charles II and his associates were responsible for establishing the town of Newmarket as the headquarters of modern English horse racing.
From the early 19th century, handicap races that took into account the weights started to become popular. The steeplechase distance race was first run in the early 1830s and the first Grand National was run at Aintree.
Now, Wolverhampton Racecourse holds around 50 evening race meetings a year and governance of the sport in the UK has been handed to the British Horseracing Authority. Presently there are 60 registered racecourses in Britain and two in Northern Ireland.
There are two operating groups that manage horse racing events in the country, these are the Jockey Club Racecourses and the Arena Racing Company.
Betting is now a core part of the sport
These days horse racing betting is extremely popular, with a huge number of people betting online or in-person at events across the year. In fact, it is now the most popular type of sport to bet on and the majority of spectators watch events with the intention of betting on horses.
There are different ways that individuals can bet on horse racing with the most popular options being fixed odds betting, parimutuel (or tote betting) and exchange betting.
Fixed odds are the most common type of betting, with this type you place a wager with a bookmaker at specified odds. If successful, the payout is based on these odds.
However, with parimutuel betting, there are no odds involved. Instead, the payout is based on how much was wagered on a race in total and how many people placed bets on the winning horse.
Exchange betting is also an option, in this instance, the individuals place bets with one another rather than with a bookmaker.
Many individuals place bets based on what they have seen from a horse’s performance in previous races, many also listen to tips given by professionals with knowledge of the sport and the horses in the race.
So also bet purely for fun and base their decision on the name of the horse or completely at random.
Horse racing spectatorship
Horse racing is now the second largest spectator sport in Britain behind football. Estimates suggest that up to six million people attend a horse racing event in person in the country each year.
These events are not just popular for horse racing, many enjoy some of the larger events for a day out and make use of the socialising spaces at the race course. There are usually restaurants, bars and tearooms running services at these events while the action takes place on the track.
Some of the most anticipated events in the calendar have very specific dress codes and people really enjoy getting dressed up for the occasion. For example, Ascot has its famous Ladies Day which is known to be particularly glamorous and hosts a Best Dressed competition.
While visiting the grounds is an exciting occasion, spectators can now also enjoy the races online and the larger events are also broadcast on popular television channels. This has made the sport accessible to much wider audiences and various technology such as streaming services, therefore we can expect its popularity to continue to grow.