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The First Horse Race: A Look at the History of Horse Racing

Last updated: April 4, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

When I was with my grandson at the race track, we ran into an old friend who used to be a jockey. We reminisced about some of his favorite races and how things have changed in horse racing. After talking for a while, my grandson asked if horse racing has always been around; I explained it goes back to ancient times.

Horse racing is one of the oldest sports in the world. Archaeologists have found evidence of horse races dating back to 4000 BC in Central Asia, shortly after humans domesticated horses. Over the centuries, man and beast have raced together, developing a thrilling and dangerous sport.

Have you ever wondered when the first horse race took place? It’s a question that has intrigued historians for years. Surprisingly, there is no definitive answer to this question. Different cultures around the world have their own stories and records of horse races dating back centuries.

However, we can understand when horse racing began in different regions and find out about the earliest races from historical records. So, when was the first horse race? Let’s take a look!

Painting of one of the first horse races.

When was the first horse race?

The very first horse race is thought to have taken place in Kazakhstan, a region of Central Asia, over 4,000 years ago. This early form of the sport was likely a challenge between tribes.

The earliest recorded horse races occurred in China and Persia. These races were often used as a way to train military horses. In Persia, horse racing was first mentioned in the Avesta, a collection of sacred texts written in the ancient Persian language sometime between c. 1500-1000 BCE.

Horse racing quickly spread from Asia to Europe. The first recorded European horse race took place in Greece in 600 BC. It was not traditional horse racing but chariot racing. This form of racing became popular throughout the ancient world, with races taking place in Greece, Rome, and other parts of Europe.

While chariot racing was undoubtedly exciting, it did not involve riders. This changed in the Middle Ages when knights began to race each other on horseback.

These races were often held as part of medieval festivals or tournaments. Horse racing became increasingly popular in England, with the first recorded race taking place in 1174 CE.

When was the first horse race in Europe?

The first recorded horse race in Europe occurred in Olympia in 680 BC. The sport was known as chariot racing, and it was very popular among the Greeks. Chariot races were held in honor of the gods, and they were often used as a way to settle disputes between cities.

During the reign of Cyrus the Great (539–530 BC), a horse race was established between Persian and Greek horses in Greece. Xenophon, a Greek philosopher and horseman, supplied a vividly written account of the ancient horse race.

He details the riders of different tribes, their saddles, reins, chariots, the sacrifice of horses to the sun god, and the length of the racecourse.

Horse racing continued to be popular throughout the years. In the Roman Empire, horse races were often held in honor of the gods or celebrated military victories.

When was the first horse race in Great Britain?

In 1176, a horse race was held in Great Britain that is believed to be the first of its kind. The race took place at Smithfield, located in the City of London. It was a significant event, and many people turned out to watch the horses compete.

The race was won by a horse named Puce, who belonged to King Henry II. This was a significant event because it marked the first time a horse race was held in Great Britain. It is also believed to be the first recorded “modern horse race” in all of Europe.

This event helped popularize horse racing in Great Britain, and it soon became a popular sport among the nobility and commoners alike. And the development of the Thoroughbred breed increased interest in racing and the top speed of horses.

Horse racing continues to be a popular sport in Great Britain today, and people of all ages enjoy it. If you ever have the chance to visit Great Britain, be sure to check out a horse race. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Note: Even though the 1176 King Henry II race is credited with being the first horse race in England. Writings from the French House of Capet mention gifting “running horses” to King Athelstan of England in the 9th/10 centuries.

Picture of racehorses.

When was the first horse race in America?

If you’re a fan of horse racing, then you know that the sport has a long and storied history. But do you know when the first horse race in America took place? It turns out that the answer to that question is a bit complicated.

The first recorded horse race in America took place in 1665 on the Newmarket course in what is now Hempstead, New York. However, some historians believe that there may have been earlier races that were not documented.

Horse racing became increasingly popular in the Colonies throughout the 1700s, and by the early 1800s, it had become one of the most popular spectator sports in America. America’s first major horse race was held in 1823 at Union Course on Long Island.

The Union horse racing track in Brooklyn was a ground-breaking venue for its time. It was the first “dirt” or skinned course, an interesting novelty to see how this would play out with the racing community. And it initially lacked any grandstands.

Interestingly, horse races in America began to race counter-clockwise around this same time, which was in the opposite direction of the European races. Regardless of this tidbit, horse racing continued to grow in popularity throughout the 19th century, and some of the biggest races of all time were held during this period.

The Kentucky Derby, for example, was first run in 1875. Many other famous horse races were also established during the 1800s, including the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

The United States has produced some of the greatest racehorses of all time. Today, horse racing is still a popular sport in America, with races taking place all across the country.

When was the first Grand National horse race?

On February 26, 1839, the first Grand National horse race was held in Liverpool, England. This prestigious event has been held annually ever since and is now considered one of the most important horse races in the world.

The inaugural Grand National race was won by a horse named Lottery. Interestingly, Lottery was not originally intended to compete in the race – he was only entered after another horse named Jerry, who was favored to win, had to be withdrawn due to injury.

This meant that Lottery started the race as a rank outsider, with odds against him. Despite his long odds, Lottery proved to be a formidable competitor in a field of seventeen and crossed the finish line first, three lengths ahead of Seventy-four and Paulina.

His victory came as a surprise to many, but it cemented his place in history as the very first winner of the Grand National!

Since that fateful day in 1839, the Grand National has been run annually and is now considered one of the most prestigious horse races in the world. Every year, millions of people tune in to watch the event, becoming a key fixture in British culture.

Picture of horse racing over a cobblestone track.

When was the first-ever horse track made?

The first recorded horse track was made in 648 BC in ancient Greece. This early form of the sport was much different than the horse races we see today. The track was simply a length of roughly 600 feet in a stadium, and there were no horses specifically bred for racing.

In fact, chariot racing was more popular than horse racing during this period. But as society changed and breeding practices improved, horse racing became more popular and organized.

First flat track made for horse racing

Horse racing in England has been around a long time, and it’s difficult to say when the first official racecourse was established. But Chester, which was established as a racecourse in 1539, is universally recognized as the oldest horse race track in the world.

Today, you can find horse tracks worldwide, and the sport continues to be enjoyed by people of all ages. Whether you’re a casual fan or a die-hard enthusiast, there’s something special about watching horses test their speed in a battle to the finish line.

What is the oldest horse racecourse in the world?

There are many different horse racecourses in the world, but which one is the oldest? The answer may surprise you. The oldest horse racecourse in the world is located in England, and it dates back to Roman times.

The sport of horse racing became very popular among the nobility and royalty in England, and many famous races were held at various locations throughout the country. One of the most famous early racecourses was located at Newmarket, which is now considered the home of horse racing in England.

The Newmarket course is still used today, and it remains one of the most popular venues for horse racing in the world. However, it is not the oldest racecourse in existence. That distinction belongs to another course located in England, which dates back to the 16 century and is still in operation today.

The title of oldest horse racecourse in the world goes to the Chester Racecourse, which is located in the city of Chester in England. The course first opened its doors in 1539, making it almost 500 years old. It is also known for its short straightaways and one-mile length.

Despite its small size, Chester Racecourse has played host to some of England’s most prestigious horse races. It is truly a historic venue and one that any fan of horse racing should visit at least once in their lifetime.

The Five Oldest Continuous Running Horse Races in the World

There are many different types of horse races in the world, but only a select few can claim to be the oldest continuous running horse race. These five races have been around for centuries and continue to draw in large crowds of spectators.

1. Kiplingcotes Derby

The first race on our list is the Kiplingcotes Derby, held annually in the village of Kiplingcotes, England. The race has been run since 1519, making it the oldest horse race in the world that is still run today. The course is just under four miles long, and the race is open to any three years old or older horse.

2. Carlisle Bell

The next oldest continuous running horse race is the Carlisle Bell, which has been held in the city of Carlisle, England, since 1599. The race is run on a Tuesday in late May or early June and is open to any horse that is four years old or older. The course is just over two miles long, and the race is run clockwise around the streets of Carlisle.

3. The Palio

The Palio held in Siena, Italy, began in 1633. The race is run around Siena’s central square and is open to any horse that can make it through the rigorous qualifying process. It is run twice a year, and the competition runs for four days.

The course is 0.73 miles long, and the race is run bareback with jockeys dressed in traditional Renaissance-era clothing. There are many complicated rules. But, if you’re ever in Italy during the summer, be sure to check out the Palio. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

4. The Doncaster Cup

The Doncaster Cup is a horse race that has been held since 1766—having been first held at Cantley Common; it eventually moved to the Doncaster Racecourse. The course was initially four miles long, then reduced to two miles, and today it’s about one mile two furlongs.

The Doncaster Cup is a prestigious race and is one leg of the Stayers’ Triple Crown, along with the Goodwood Cup and Ascot Gold Cup.

5. St. Leger

The St. Leger is the next race on our list and is the oldest of the five classic English horse races. It was first held in 1776 at Cantley Common before moving to its current location at Doncaster Racecourse. The course is two miles six furlongs long, making it the longest of the five classics.