|Thursday 22nd September 2022
Horse Racing is One of the Oldest Sports to Bet On: is it Still as Popular Today?
Horse racing is arguably the oldest sport still in existence, with evidence of organised races being held as far back as 700 BC. The Ancient Greeks and Romans held numerous prestigious races, either with jockeys or chariots. While it’s difficult to verify 100% accurately, most historians agree that some kind of betting was taking place back then. It’s almost impossible to separate horse racing from placing bets, especially nowadays.
Nowadays, punters have countless other events to wager on, with sports such as football or tennis often being more popular. Still, betting on horse races is prevalent across the UK, especially at prestigious events like Royal Ascot or the Grand National. But is horse race betting as popular as it once was? Keep reading for a deeper exploration into the roots of this celebrated national pastime and how it holds up compared to other sports.
A quick history of horse racing betting
Horse racing has its roots way back in antiquity, being a vital component of the ancient Greek Olympic Games and various other civilizations. Spectators would almost certainly place bets in some capacity during these early races, but not in the same regimented manner as today. In fact, most historians argue that organised horse race betting didn't truly begin until the 1600s, under King James I.
Between 1660 and 1685, King Charles II further reinforced the infrastructure and rules surrounding horse race betting. It began to take off over the channel in France, too, as Louis XIV popularised gambling at the races from 1643 to 1715. By the 1800s, horse racing betting was extremely common worldwide, especially in North America, France and the UK. Legally, it often stays slightly separate from other forms of sports betting. For example, in the US, racebooks are legal in far more states than sportsbooks.
How does horse racing betting compare to other sports?
Horse racing is still inextricably linked with betting in the 21st century. As many as 98% of horse race viewers will place bets on the sport, exemplifying how deeply the two are associated. Nevertheless, looking at annual UK horse race betting turnover shows a slight decline since 2008, from £5,743m to £3,972m in 2020. There are a few reasons for this, with the main factor being the legalisation of online gambling in 2005.
Horse race betting in the UK has always revolved around in-person wagers at racetracks more than anything else. On the contrary, broader sports betting exploded in popularity when punters no longer had to physically visit the bookies to place their predictions. Sports betting websites and apps made it much easier to bet on sports like football, thereby reducing the popularity of horse race betting over time.
Nevertheless, going to the races and placing bets is still incredibly popular. While there are slightly fewer bets being placed than before, the main difference is the huge increase in betting on football and other sports. Nowadays, both forms of wagering co-exist, although horse race betting will likely see gradually reduced revenue over the next decade.
Some of the most significant horse racing events worldwide
Looking at horse race fixtures can be overwhelming, as there are countless events going on in the UK alone. While some enthusiasts place stakes on smaller races alongside larger ones, most people wait for the significant dates in the annual calendar to roll around. You can find some of the most iconic horse racing events worldwide below:
- Royal Ascot: Royal Ascot has its roots in 1768 and is one of the oldest horse racing events still going today. Over 600,000 spectators visit every year, solidifying Royal Ascot’s status as the most prestigious racing weekend in the world.
- The Grand National: Established in 1839, The Grand National is often called “the ultimate test of horse and rider”. Horses and jockeys must jump 30 fences during the race, making for an unrivalled test of skill and endurance.
- Kentucky Derby: The Kentucky Derby is arguably the most famous horse racing event in North America. Its inaugural weekend was in 1875, and it has since become a globally renowned thoroughbred event. First prize can hit almost $1,900,000, making the Kentucky Derby one of the most lucrative races in history.
- Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe: A jewel of the French horse racing calendar, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe started in 1920. Taking place on the first Saturday of October in Paris, it has an even bigger top prize than the Kentucky Derby, at €2,857,000.