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A Potted History of Horseracing

The history of horseracing was something I was asked to look into by a friend, Roy, who was trying to understand the social elements which occured around the sport.

I am still seeking any references in literature about what activities went on around this spectacle so please let me know if you find any. It seemed quite interesting so I thought I would share it with a broader audience:

horse racing
horse racin

1500 BC The horse and chariot arrived in Eastern Europe and North Africa slightly before 1500 BC.  They came with the Hyksos, the mysterious conquerors who held brief sway over the Eastern Mediterranean.  In the 18th Dynasty the horse-drawn chariot appears in Egyptian monumental art.  The Linear Atablets of Knossos, horseless, give way to the Linear B, which abound in horses’ heads, chariots, whells, yokes, and whips.  The Greeks of Mycenae had two-horse chariots for war.

1000 BC The Sanskrit poet of the Rig-Veda hymned the sacred river Indus, which was ‘rich in horses and in chariots’.  He goes on to present us with an isolated, unique, and unambiguous reference to racing: The Sindhu has yoked her easy chariot with horses; may she conquer prizes for us in the race.  The Greatness of her chariot is praisd as truly great – that which is irresistible, which has its own glory, and abundant in strength.

753 BC Rome was founded.  The first race in Rome was run immediately after the founding of the city.  Romulus, in order to have loyal followers, settled a rabble on the Capitoline Hill and declared them all citizens. But he was unable to secure the right of intermarriage for his followers; consequently he proclaimed a horse-race, sacred to Neptune.  When a crowd, mostly of Sabini, had arrived, he told all his men who wanted a wife to seize the girls who had come to the race.  Neptune, as Poseidon, was the deity celebrated at the Isthmian Games, tutor of the great whip Antilochus, and sire of the winged Pegasus (foaled, significantly in Libya, out of the Gorgon Medusa).  Few paintings of the rape of the Sabines give much idea of the racecourse. The kings who followed Romulus raced occasionally.

616 BC to 579 BC Under Tarquinius Priscus the races become annual, and this king founded the Circus Maximus.  The Circus Maximus had room for 260,000 spectators seated and a stadium was 1/8th of a Roman mile, so a little under a furlong.

horse racing greek
horse racing

680 BC Chariot Racing, popular for centuries, is introduced into the ancient Olympic Games.

648 BC Racing on horseback is introduced at the 33rd Olympics.  Horses are ridden without saddles or stirrups.  The horses are lighter than those used in chariot racing, probably of Arab origin, introduced into Greece between 2000 and 1500 BC.

510 BC From Sicily, love of horses and racing spread North. A notable centre, as might have been expected, was Sybaris. The Sybarites trained their horse to rise on their hind legs and dance to certain tunes.  In this year spies from their enemy Crotona discovered this, enemy flute-players struck up one of the tunes before battle.  The Sybarite horses obediently reared up, off fell the knights, the horse danced over to the enemy, and Sybaris was destroyed.

480 BC Xerxes’ army included Bactrian cavalry and Punjabi charioteers.

443 BC According to tradition, the city of Thurii was founded on the ruins of Sybaris in this year.  The citizens revived the racing and breeding tradition, and from Thurii the Romans Learned horse racing.

400 BC At the Wester end of the civilize world, in Spain, horses were imported from Morocco.  They were crossed with the little native animals, the proportion of imported blood diminishing with latitude.  The result was a bigger, faster, handier horse, ancestor of the Lusitanian and Andalusian.

68 BC Soon after the transfer of the Olympic Games to Rome (80 BC) horse racing is dropped from the programme.

horse racing italian

37 AD to 41 AD Caligula was the first royal fanatic of the sport.  His races in the Circus Maximus went on from dawn until night. He built other circuses in several places, and himself drove in races. He backed the Greens. He ‘supped and lodged for some time constantly in the stable where their horses were kept.’  At a certain revel, he made a present of two millions of sesterces to one Cythicus, a driver of a chariot.  The day before the Circensian games, he used to send his soldiers to enjoin silence in the neighbourhood, that the repose of his horse Incitatus might not be disturbed. For his favourite animal, besides a marble stable, an ivory manger, purple housings, and a jewelled frontlet, he appointed a house, with a retinue of slaves, and fine furniture, for the reception of such as were invited in the horse’s name to sup with him.  It is said that he intended to make him consul.  Nero went further by instituting four camel chariot races and inventing the Neronia – a triathlon event involving music, wrestling and horse racing. (loads on Caligula….)

45 BC In the Circus Maximus, chariot races comprising 4 – 6 horses, raced from the square end to the round.  In the Cirus, the place where the horses start was called the ‘prison stalls’, carceres, because the horses are kept there until the moment the official gives the sign.  Caesar introduced safety precaustions where he surrounded the circuit with canals ten feet deep, to protect the spectators form the chariots. The start of the race was given by a dropped napkin or the sound of a trumpet. The course was left handed, there were six turning posts straddling the central spina and the chariots ran seven laps.  Eggs were placed on pillars as each circuit was completed so that spectators and drivers knew how far they had gone.

64 A.D (approx) Nero enjoyed driving a one-horse chariot, singing to the lyre, and poetry.  Nero forbade the revels of charioteers, who had long assumed a licence to stroll about, and established for themselves a kind of prescriptive right to cheat and thieve, making a jest of it.  The chariots were skeletal built for rigidity and lightness. Later they were sometimes of basketwork.  The reigns went back from the bit to a loop over the withers: they there joined, forming a Y, so that the charioteer had one ribbon for each horse.  The driver could not, like a modern rider, turn the horses heads; they turned the vehicle by reining in the nearside and giving rein to the offside horse, as Nestor instructed Anti-Antilochus under the walls of Troy.  The sport was wildly popular – to these diversions there flocked such crowds of spectators from all parts, that most of the stangers were obliged to lodge in tents erected in the streets, or along the roads near the city.  Several in the throng were squeezed to death, amongst whom where two senators.  Juvenal looked sourly at empty streets: ‘today the cirus take the whole of Rome’.  This popularity was both a cause and an effect of factions, to one of which every citizen was fiercely loyal.  These were Venata, Prasina, Albata, and Russata – the Blue, Green, White and Red – whose teams were identified on the track by the drivers colours.

200 AD The first hippodrome at Byzantium was built by Septimus Severus before AD 200.  Much of it was held up on vaults.  Its design followed the Circus Maximus but was slightly smaller.  Constantine finished it.  Constantine introduced the Kathisma, the royal box which was not previously a feature.  The four original factions were all represented at Byzantium, but the Red and White shrank into insignificance.  Everyone was a Blue or a Green.  The Blues sat on the emperors right, to the West, the Greens on his left, to the East.  The sport carried on for 400 years luridly.

AD 210 Horses at the Roman encampment at Netherby. In Yorkshire, are matched against Arabian horses brought to England by Roman emperor Severus Septimus.  At Netherby the racehorse are said to have been stabled separately from the others. There is also evidence for racing at Caerleon, Silchester, Rustborough, and Dorchester.  A 4th century mosaic in Lincolnshire shows two-horse chariots racing.

400s Charioteers were still making fortunes – neither Christian bishops nor satirical writers repressed them.  The 4th Canon of the Council of Arles excommunicated charioteers at the public games. Paritisan division went through society – Theodosius backed the Greens, Marcian the Blues, Leo and Zeno the Greens, Justinian the Blues; these loyalties were specifically political. Justinian made arrangements to get direct from his palace, by covered passage, to his royal box – at his appearance flags were raised.  Meanwhile, murder as a racing tactic became normal instead of exceptional; an din one riot after the races 30,000 people lost their lives.  Classical racing stumbled to a bloody end.

500 AD When the Franks conquered Provence they found the horses of the Camargue and the arena of Arles; they naturally raced the one in the other. A Breton poem describes a race for which the prize was the hand of the Princess Alienor, daughter of King Brodrick.

686 AD Herebald, later a monk, was travelling with a party led by Bishop John of York (later, uncanonically known as St John of Beverley) ‘We came to an open place, very suitable for racing our horses’.  The bishop allowed them to race, but forbade Herebald to take part.  Herebald, ‘not yet having quite restrained myself from youthful diversions’, watched as long as he could bear it, and then joined in. But at once my impetuous horse made a great leap over a ditch.  I fell, and lost all consciousness, as though dead.’

900 King Athelstan received a present, from Hugh the Great of France, of equos cursors plurimos:  Hugh being after the hand of Athelstan’s sister Ethelswitha. Cursores is generally rendered ‘running horses’, and racing thus inferred.

1540 Racing takes place at The Roodee, Chester, the oldest surviving course in England.

1580s Queen Elizbeth I attends races on Salisbury Plain.

1591 Earliest reference to racing in Scotland, at Leith in the memoirs of Earl of Huntley.

1595 A map of Doncaster shows a racecourse at Town Moor

1619 The earliest known rules of racing are drawn up, at Kilingcotes, Yorks

1622 The first recorded race at Newsmarket is a match for £100 between horses of Lord Salsbury and the Marquess of Buckingham

1636 Newmarket racecourse is founded

1640s Thanks to the patronage of King Charles II, Newmarket becomes the centre of racing in England

1671 Charles II becomes the first (and only) reigning monarch to ride a winner, in Newmarket’s Town Plate, a race he founded about six years earlier.

1689 William III founds the Royal Stud at Hampton Court

1689 The Byerley Turk, thought to be an Arabian and obtained by Captin Robert Byerley when fighting against the Turks in Hungary in 1687, is imported into England, and is to become the first of the three male-line ancestors of the Thoroughbred.

1704 The Darley Arabian is bought for Mr James Darley by his son, a merchant in Aleppo, and is the second of the male-line ancestors of the Thoroughbred, the paternal great-great-gransire of Eclipse.

1711 First meeting held at Ascot

1713 First use of the term ‘thro-bed’ to describe horses

1721 Flying Childers, the fastest horse of his day and the first to catch the public imagination, beat Speedwell over 4 miles in a match at Newmarket.

1727 The first account of all ‘horse matches run’, the model for the world’s facing annuals, is produced by John Cheny.

1729 The Godolphin Arabian, believed ott have been a present from the Sultan of Morocco to King Louis XV of Franc, is purchased in Paris by Edward Coke of Derbyshire, subsequently coming into the possession of Lord Godolphin and becoming the third of the founding fathers, the paternal grandsire of Matchem.

1730 Bulle Rocke, a son of the Darley Arabian, leaves for Virginia, the first export of a Thoroughbred to America, where racing is becoming increasingly poular.

1731 Three-year-old races are introduced in England, at Bedale, Yorks.

c. 1750 The Jockey Club is founded in London, at the Star and Garter, Pall Mall, originally as an association of gentlemen with the common interests of racing at heart.

1752 The first recofed steeplechase is held over 4 ½ miles of hunting country at Cord, in Ireland, the name deriving from the fact that it takes place between Buttevant Church and St Leger Church.

1758 The Jockey Club, with jurisdiction over Newmarket, passes its fist resolution, that all riders must weigh in after a race.

1762 Racing colours are registered at Newmarket

1766 Tattersalls is founded, as Richard Tattersall organises bloodstock sales at Hyde Park Corner.

1769 A 2-year-old raced for the first time and won at Newmarket

1773 James Weatherby, secretary of the Jockey Club and keeper of the Match Book at Newmarket, publishes the first Racing Calendar.

1776 The first running of the St Leger (not so-called until 1778), at Doncaster, is won by Allabaculia (1-2f).  There are 5 runners, and the distance is 2 miles (until 1812).

1779 First Oaks

1780 First Derby

1786 The Derby is run over a mile and a half for the first time

1786 Newmarket sees the first running of the July Stakes, now the oldest 2-y-o race in the world

horse racing 1800s
horse racing 1800s

1800s The development of the railways in the mid 1800s made racecourses more accessible to the general public – Ascot, Epsom, Goodwood and Newmarket in the south, Chester, Doncaster and York in the north, all flourished.  The active interest taken by the Prince of Wales in the Turf was a great boost for the sport.  He became a member of the Jockey Club in 1864, and two years later a patron of leading trainer John Porter.  Racing had become a respectable pastime, along with the betting that went with it

1853 Betting offices were closed down because of the flourishing activities of racing

1857 In France, Longchamp was opened. Emperor Napolean III opens the course on 27 April.

1858 From this year, horses celebrate their official birthday on 1st January

1859 The banning of yearling races

1865 The pari-mutual system for betting was devised, the year that the French colt Gladiateur came over to win the English Triple Crown.

1861 The first Melbourne Cup was held

1866 The First Irish Derby. The Grand Nation Steeplechase Committee was founded

1867 1875 In the United States the three races that make up their Triple Crown were inaugurated

1877 The introducuion of the draw for staring positions

1886 Fred Archer who had reigned supreme from the mid 1870s committed suicide as one of the sports most loved and respected personalities – so much so that everything else that happened on the Turf in the latter part of the century.

1889 The Grand National Committee becme the National Hunt Committee and the equine heroes included The Lamb and the Colonel, who shared the four Nationals between 1868 and 1871

1900 The Prince of Wales’s Ambush II became the first horse to carry royal colours to victory in the Grand National, and then Diamond Jubilee won the Triple Crown for the Prince, who was leading owner that year. Lester Reiff was the fist champion jockey from across the water (US).

1907 The first Irish victory in the Derby

1909 Minoru gave Edward VII the distinction of becoming the first reigning monarch to lead in a Derby winner.

1910 King Edwar VII passes away. George V surprised many by taking over the royal horses with as much enthusiasm for the sport as his father.

1913 Miss Emily Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse, Anmer, at Tattenham Corner at the Derby of the Blue Riband.  The horse was unhurt, the jockey recover, but the poor woman died for her cause. The favourite, first past the post, was disqualified, and the race awarded to the 100-1 shot Aboyeur.  The Jersey act, a protectionist measure that virtually prohibited American thoroughbreds was introduced, so the owners took their horses to France.  The Jockey club made 5 furlongs the minimum distance for racing and proclaimed that no horses over two years old could race unnamed.

1915 Racing was abandoned for the duration of the First World War with the exception of Newmarket in May.  All five Classics continued to be run but only at Newmarket and a substitute Grand National was staged at Gatwick.

1920s The first Prix de l’Arc de Triumphe and the first Cheltenham Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle, although none of these races enjoyed the prestige they were later to obtain.

1925 The Kentucky Derby was first broadcast, followed in England by the Grand National and the Derby two years later.

1926 Mr Churchill introduced a betting tax

horse racing

1929 The establishment of the Tote.  The monopoly of the English aristocracy and landed gentry as patrons of horse racing as broken for the first time, when the fame won by the ‘flying filly’ Mumtaz Mahal heralded a new, legendary owner – the Aga Khan – who was to be an important influence on the British racing scene for many years to come.  There was a sharp downward curve in the bloodstock market after the boom in the wenties, but the tend revesed, and the mid-thirties was a time of prosperity for horseracing in Britain.

The Aga Khan became the biggest owner to race in Britain, winning the Derby three times with Blenheim (1930), Bahram (1935), and Mahmoud (1936). And finishing leading owner on five occasions. Mahmoud set a Derby time record that remained unsurpassed until 1995..

1939 Aga Khan’s Blue Peter was deprived by the outbreak of World War II of his favourite’s chance of winning.

 

 If you can tell me more about the history of horseracing, especially the social history of horse racing please look me up on Facebook and let me know the info (https://www.facebook.com/alexander.dunedin)

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