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Thursday 30th June 2022

Why is Horse Racing Known as the Sport of Kings?

Houses of Parliament

Archaeological records have shown that throughout the world since ancient times, horse racing has been practiced in various civilisations, the earliest of which date back several peoples including the Sumerians and the Babylonians. Some of the first evidence of selective horse breeding was also found in ancient Egypt and across the Middle East, then later within the Greek and Roman era throughout the Mediterranean region.

Horse racing was actually an event in the Greek Olympic Games, dating back to 664 BC and open to all who demonstrated the skill to compete. But in recent centuries, horse racing is often referred to as the “Sport of Kings” in literature and general conversation, begging the question: where does this phrase originate from and why does it still remain relevant in modern times?

The origins of an expression

According to The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the “Sport of Kings” is a proverbial phrase for hunting and (now, most usually) horse racing, although the earliest uses of the expression related to warfare. The latter is understandable and particularly when considering the Age of Absolutism, the period of the 17th and 18th centuries when Europe was mostly ruled by powerful monarchs, who maintained absolute control of their countries.

The first known literary use of the phrase can be found in the 17th century English opera King Arthur, composed by Henry Purcell. This featured a libretto (written text of lyrics) penned by John Dryden in 1691, based on the battles between King Arthur’s Britons and the Saxons, rather than the legends of Camelot which featured jousting competitions.

Knights jousting

Subsequently, various mounted activities on horseback were referenced by the “Sport of Kings” phrase, including thoroughbred horse racing. The sport began to grow in popularity during the 18th century, especially amongst the British aristocracy, when some of the first organised races and venues were emerging.

The breeding of thoroughbred horses also became a passion amongst British royalty, partly as a way to express their superiority, given that few others in society had either the time or wealth to fund such extravagant pursuits. This underlines the “Sport of Kings” phrase in a more practical sense.

Regal ties continue to remain strong

Interestingly, the breeding thoroughbred horses can almost be viewed as a reflection of royalty itself, in many regards, given the important emphasis on pairing aristocratic bloodlines throughout history. Likewise, the ancestry of some of the most successful horses can be traced back through numerous generations, even dating back centuries in some cases.

British royalty has also maintained a strong affinity towards thoroughbred horse racing. Indeed, while covering the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, various media outlets highlighted the monarch as having been around horses her entire life. She has always ridden and bred thoroughbred horses, many of which have enjoyed great success over the years.

Royal Ascot carriage

Due to mobility issues, 96-year-old Queen Elizabeth II was unable to attend all the events forming part of her jubilee celebrations, including The Derby at Epsom Downs, which remains one of the classics of British horse racing. This was first run in 1789 and named for the Earl of Derby, forming the origin of where all other “Derbys” around the world have taken their name, such as the Kentucky Derby in the United States.

Given that British royalty remain so deeply involved in owning and breeding thoroughbreds, it’s no surprise the “Sport of Kings” phrase has remained within our language, while monarchs in other countries are also owners of some of the finest racehorses around. This includes many in the Middle East, such as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who founded the prestigious Godolphin thoroughbred horseracing and breeding operations.

Horse racing is now enjoyed by the masses

Although the “Sport of Kings” expression remains highly prevalent in horse racing language, the sport itself is now enjoyed by millions of ordinary people around the world. This ranges from direct participation in the breeding and ownership of horses, to simply attending races and having fun wagering on the biggest global events.

These days, the “Sport of Kings” isn’t limited to just royalty or the aristocratic elites. We can all attend the races and genuinely feel a part of this magnificent equestrian activity. While betting on horse races is an established part of Western culture, in some countries the options remain somewhat limited, largely due to religious or political reasons.

For example, in the home country of Sheikh Mohammed, almost all forms of gambling are considered illegal. Nevertheless, many people in these locations are keen to seek out ways to wager securely and safely, looking for the best betting sites in the Middle East and North Africa, via the latest Arabian Betting guide to gambling in complete privacy.

So, you don’t have to be royalty to enjoy the “Sport of Kings in all its glory. Just remember to bet responsibly and manage your funds responsibly, given that most of us don’t have the wealth of aristocrats to play with. But there is absolutely no denying that we can feel just like kings and queens, whenever we back winning horses, which is one of the best sensations in the world.