Horse Racing

People have been racing horses ever since one guy said to another, “I bet my horse is faster than your horse.” No one is exactly sure when that happened or what language it was said in. Most historians agree that it happened around 4,500 years ago somewhere in Central Asia. Good thing that guy didn’t say “I bet my horse can poop more than your horse.” Horse racing would have been a completely different thing.

The ancient Greeks loved racing! Chariot racing was the event that founded the first Olympics. They were very different from the Olympics today. One country won all the medals. Actually, there was only one country in the games. There were no commercials. And strangest of all, athletes competed without wearing clothes! To drive a chariot one had to be strong and brave. There were lots of crashes.

During the 12th century, many English knights went to the Middle East to fight in wars called the Crusades. When the Knights returned to England they brought back dirty armor and fast Arabian horses. Racing was so popular among the royal families of England that it became know as “the sport of kings.”

Jack says:

The first racetrack in America was built on Long Island, New York in 1665. This is 111 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Racing has been going strong ever since.


Horse Laugh:

What is the difference between a horse and a duck?
Answer: One goes quick and the other goes quack!



What’s in a name?

Chances are you will never meet a racehorse named John. Most racehorses have creative names like Hambletonian 10, Kissin George and the world famous Seattle Slew.

Racehorses have interesting names for a reason. Many grownups bet money during horseraces. For that reason it is important that people know which horse they are betting on. Horses with similar names can cause confusion. So finding a unique name is important.

You can’t name your racehorse just anything. And you absolutely can’t name it “Horse.” There are strict rules. The name can only be 18 characters long and has to be completely new. Most owners try to create a name that people will never forget.

Baby Doll Combs
Colonel Freckles
Go Man Go
Hard Tack


Grace says:

If you ever have the chance to go to a racetrack to see a real horserace you might not understand what people are talking about. Horseracing has a language all its own. Below are some fun terms that will make you sound like an expert:

Filly: A female horse
Break Maiden: When a horse or rider wins for the first time
Bug Boy: An apprentice jockey
Dead Heat: Two or more horses finish a race in a tie
Look of Eagles: A horse that has a confident look
Spit the bit: When a tired horse stops running hard
Post: Starting gate




Types Of Racing

There are many different types of horse races. Follow the links below to learn more about each one.

Match Racing
Steeple Chasing
Harness Racing
American Quarter Horse Racing
Thoroughbred Racing


Match Racing

A match race is a race between just two horses. Match races are very exciting. The two horses dash around the track side-by-side trying to be the first to cross the finish line. Match racing is one of the oldest kinds of horse racing.

Jack says:

One of the most famous match races was between Seabiscuit and War Admiral in 1938. The race was called the “Match of the Century.” 40,000 people came to watch at the track and over 40 million people listened on the radio. At the time of the race America was struggling through the Great Depression. Seabiscuit was an underdog when he began his career. No one thought he would be a champion. Yet through hard work, he became one of the greatest racehorses of all time. His determination gave people hope.



No one is being chased here. Steeplechase takes its name from its first race. This race was held in 1752 in Ireland. A man named O’Callaghan said to a man named Edmund Blake, “me thinks my horse is faster than yours!” The race was on.

The two men decided on a match race that began at the church steeple of Buttevant Church and ended 4 miles later at St. Leger Steeple. The course was full of fences and hedges and the horses had to jump these things to win. No one remembers who won that day, but steeplechase was born.

Modern steeplechasing races are run on a course, but it is filled with all the jumps that made it so popular. There are two kinds of steeplechases called hurdle and timber:

Hurdle races use plastic and steel fences and live hedges. The obstacles that the horses must jump are a little over 4 feet high. The horses run about 2-3 miles.

In timber racing the fences are solid wood rails. Timber fences are higher, sometimes as high as five feet. The course is also longer, about 3-4 miles.


Harness Racing

Harness racing is sort of like chariot races. Horses pull a driver around the course in a two-wheeled cart. If you go to a harness race you’ll see a lot of sulky people. This doesn’t mean they are in a bad mood. In harness racing, the special cart the rider drives is called a sulky.

Grace says:

The word sulky started as a nickname for carriage drivers. The carts could only fit one person, and people joked that drivers liked to be alone because they were always grumpy.

Harness racing is different in another way. In most horse races the horses gallop around the track. In harness racing, galloping is not allowed. Horses in harnesses can use only two gaits. They can trot or pace. Most races are pacing races.

Harness racing takes a lot of strategy. Horses must keep their stride and try to make it around each other on the track to win.

Grace says:

When a horse can no longer move around the other sulkies and is stuck in the middle it is known as boxed in. Boxed in horses never win.


American Quarter Horse Racing

WHOOSH! That was the sound of an American Quarter Horse flying by. American Quarter horses are some of the fastest horses in the world. How fast? Some can run up to 55 mph. From a standstill they run a quarter mile in less than 21 seconds. All this speed makes Quarter Horse racing exciting.

The American Quarter Horse is an expert sprinter. It can run one-quarter mile faster than any other horse. That is why these strong speedy horses were called Quarter Horses.

Jack says:

The first record of a quarter mile length race dates back to 1674 in Henrico County, Virginia.

In American Quarter Horse races, the clock begins as soon as the buzzer sounds and the horses run out of the gate dashing toward the finish line like bolts of lightning.

Jack says:

In 1978, the American Quarter Horse All American Futurity Race was the first race for any breed with a $1 million total purse – 3 years before the Arlington Million for Thoroughbred Racing.


Thoroughbred Racing

If horse racing makes you think of the Kentucky Derby, you’re thinking about thoroughbred racing! Many thoroughbreds have famous names. Seabiscuit, Man O’War and Secretariat were all thoroughbreds.

Thoroughbred races take place on flat courses. The horses start at an electric gate or a moving gate. The buzzer sounds and the horses take off from the gate and gallop around a course.

Raising and training a thoroughbred horse is very expensive. For those who win races, it’s worth it. A winning thoroughbred can make millions of dollars.

The dream of every horse owner and jockey is to win the Triple Crown. The Triple Crown is like the World Series, Super Bowl and Stanley Cup all rolled up into one. To win this famous title a horse must win three separate races.

  • Kentucky Derby, run over the 1 1⁄4-mile dirt track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Preakness Stakes, run over the 1 3⁄16-mile dirt track at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Belmont Stakes, run over the 1 1⁄2-mile dirt track, at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

In the last 114 years, 96 horses have won two of the three races of the Triple Crown Only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown.

Grace says:

The rainbow colored clothes a jockey wears are called silks. Silks are bright and festive for a good reason. Horses can look very similar. The wild uniforms of the jockey help people in the stands know who is winning the race.


Jack says:

Jockeys are very superstitious. They believe certain colors will help them win their race. Is it true? No one knows why, but in England’s Grand National race over 40% of winning riders have worn either blue or green.