Horse Races and Thoroughbreds: Why the Sport Has Endured Throughout the Years

June 28, 2022 5 min read

Horse Races and Thoroughbreds: Why the Sport Has Endured Throughout the Years

Thoroughbreds clearly dominate any horse race more than any other breed out there. While other breeds are not completely excluded from becoming a racehorse, the most famous racehorses in recent memory have always been Thoroughbreds. The most expensive horse ever sold at auction was a Thoroughbred; Fusaichi Pegasus was sold for a cool $70 million. Fusaichi Pegasus wouldn’t have fetched such a steep price if it weren’t for his winnings, including finishing first in the 2000 Kentucky Derby.

Horse racing has endured throughout history due to the thrill and excitement that always came with it. It has also evolved into a business that spans across the continents.

Thoroughbreds: A Brief History

Dating back to 3rd century England, Thoroughbreds originated from a stock of Arab and Barb horses. Through natural selection and breeding, specific horses were chosen to enter races. Thoroughbreds are only considered as such if their pedigree can be traced to the 43 “Royal Mares” that were imported into England during the reign of James I and Charles I, or to one of the three equines: Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian and Godolphin Barb, all imported between 17th to 18th century. The three horses were named after their owners: Thomas Darley, Lord Godolphin, and Captain Robert Byerly.

Thoroughbreds in the United States came from Bulle Rock, sired by Darley Arabian, who was brought to Virginia in 1730. 186 Thoroughbreds were then imported from England within the span of four decades, making those equines the foundation of Thoroughbred breeding in the United States.

Did you know that to be considered as a Thoroughbred, the foal must have been created from a “live cover?” Artificial insemination or embryo transfers are considered banned with Thoroughbreds. Why is this so? This is to control the population and, with the law of Supply and Demand, the less the supply of them, the higher the monetary value. Each Thoroughbred born has the same birthday—January 1—no matter when they were born, to streamline age groups in races. Because of this, Thoroughbreds are usually foaled early in the calendar year to give time for the foal to develop before they train to race.

Why Thoroughbreds are Racing Champions

Thoroughbreds stand a little over 16 hands and show the appearance of their Arabian ancestry—slim bodies, broad chests, and short leg bones. Because of the structure of their legs, it allows for them to take long strides without effort or strain. Along with these Thoroughbred characteristics, they are also known for their speed and stamina, which is why they’re renowned on the racetracks. The usual age of a Thoroughbred ready to race is 3 years old, but some say that their ability peaks by 5 years old.

Training Thoroughbreds to race happens not only when they are in the best possible condition to run. They should also be able to reach their peak condition and development on the actual day of the race. That’s terribly difficult, even for the most experienced trainers in the world!

Thoroughbreds not only earn through the races they enter, but also through breeding. They have been combined with other breeds either to improve their lot or in hopes that they might sire the next generation of fast racers and winners.

What is horse racing, anyway?

The simplicity of horse racing is perhaps why it has endured throughout the centuries. Whoever has the fastest horse wins, and whoever crosses the finish line first is the winner—plain and simple. The earliest horse races ever recorded were done in the Olympic Games in Greece between 700 – 40 BCE.

The earliest known national racing rules originated from the “Father of the English Turf”, King Charles II. He inaugurated the King’s Plates, which were races with prizes given to the rightful winners. Nowadays, technology has made it easier with monitoring equipment to determine speed, the rightful winner, and other statistics. Jockeys, the riders who mount and race their horses, are nowadays almost as famous as their equine partners, but that wasn’t initially the case. It was once thought that the individual rider’s efforts and skills were not vital when it came to races consisting of 4-mile heats. It was only in the late 1850s when dash racing became the norm that jockeys were acknowledged to contribute to their equine’s performance, and along with the winning trainers and riders, the jockeys’ names were recorded.

The modern age of racing happened because of the inauguration of the English races: St. Leger, the Oaks, and the Derby, all in the 18th century. These races were considered the best and the most elite. Two out of these three races were included in what is called the “British Triple Crown” of horse racing, which is comprised of St. Leger’s, the Derby, and another race from the 19th century, the One Thousand Guineas. It was also in the 19th century when the United States created their own “American Triple Crown”, consisting of the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness Stakes, and the ever-famous Kentucky Derby.

Thoroughbreds clearly dominate any horse race more than any other breed out there. While other breeds are not completely excluded from becoming a racehorse, the most famous racehorses in recent memory have always been Thoroughbreds. The most expensive horse ever sold at auction was a Thoroughbred; Fusaichi Pegasus was sold for a cool $70 million. Fusaichi Pegasus wouldn’t have fetched such a steep price if it weren’t for his winnings, including finishing first in the 2000 Kentucky Derby.

Horse racing has endured throughout history due to the thrill and excitement that always came with it. It has also evolved into a business that spans across the continents.

Thoroughbreds: A Brief History

Dating back to 3rd century England, Thoroughbreds originated from a stock of Arab and Barb horses. Through natural selection and breeding, specific horses were chosen to enter races. Thoroughbreds are only considered as such if their pedigree can be traced to the 43 “Royal Mares” that were imported into England during the reign of James I and Charles I, or to one of the three equines: Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian and Godolphin Barb, all imported between 17th to 18th century. The three horses were named after their owners: Thomas Darley, Lord Godolphin, and Captain Robert Byerly.

Thoroughbreds in the United States came from Bulle Rock, sired by Darley Arabian, who was brought to Virginia in 1730. 186 Thoroughbreds were then imported from England within the span of four decades, making those equines the foundation of Thoroughbred breeding in the United States.

Did you know that to be considered as a Thoroughbred, the foal must have been created from a “live cover?” Artificial insemination or embryo transfers are considered banned with Thoroughbreds. Why is this so? This is to control the population and, with the law of Supply and Demand, the less the supply of them, the higher the monetary value. Each Thoroughbred born has the same birthday—January 1—no matter when they were born, to streamline age groups in races. Because of this, Thoroughbreds are usually foaled early in the calendar year to give time for the foal to develop before they train to race.

  • A history of Thoroughbreds
  • Why Thoroughbreds are the preferred breed for horse racing
  • Defining horse racing and its types
  • The horse tack for Thoroughbred racing
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