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HorseShowCentral > Riding Styles & Disciplines > Thoroughbred Racing

Thoroughbred Racing - Riding Styles & Disciplines

Two Thoroughbreds and jockies racing along the rail. Thoroughbred Racing Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below

Thoroughbred racing is by far the most popular and most important type of horse racing in the world. There are the flat races, beginning at two furlongs, five in England, up to historical distances or four miles although the distance races are dwindling, and flat races are run over grass (turf), over dirt, or over the new man-made surfaces. Then there are jumping races, which may be over moderately low hurdles, or steeplechasing over rather higher hurdles.

Again, by far, the largest numbers of thoroughbred racing are flat races, which is the subject of this article


The Thoroughbred horse was first developed and selectively bred in Britain, and all Thoroughbreds in the word derive from three foundation stallions in England: The Darley Arabian, The Godolphin Barb, and the Byerly Turk. The ongoing success of the breed was then traced through three main descendants: Eclipse, a great-great grandson; Matchem, a grandson; and Herod, a great-great grandson. By the mid-1800’s there were perhaps a few thousand Thoroughbreds registered in the English General Stud Book, with a few here and there in other countries. With the popularity of Thoroughbreds today, there are hundreds of thousands spread throughout the entire world.


The Oaks, the first classic race for three year old fillies was first run in England in 1779 and the first Derby (for colts) in 1780. The word derby stands the world over for a race synonymous for an event that pits the highest competition against itself. The English Derby was soon imitated in Ireland and Scotland, then traveled to Britain’s colonies and outside the empire. Today there is a Derby run in Australia, Bermuda, France (from 1836), Germany (since 1869), Austria (1870), Chile (1886), Argentina, Peru, Brazil and the Untied States classic (1875).

Thoroughbred racing derbies in the United States, other than the famous, early classic in Kentucky, include the Santa Anita Derby, Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby, New Jersey Derby, California Derby, American Derby, Arkansas Derby and others.


It is surely no surprise that Thoroughbred racing also began in England and the earliest report of racing dates from 1074!

Without the establishment of the English Jockey Club (1750), with its assumption of fair regulations and the ultimate indisputable authority over England’s racecourses, it I doubtful that thoroughbred racing as we know it today would have developed as tremendously as it has in the past two centuries and more.

The earliest documentation of racing in France goes back to 1370 and Saumur, but this was a local event. More properly, the fist recorded even in France was in 1651 but races as we know them came into being under Louis XVI along with the French Jockey Club in the 1800’s and the Longchamp racetrack was founded in 1859 which became the model for tracks throughout the country.

Regular thoroughbred racing activity began in 1837 in Italy, with the establishment of a Florentine racing society. In 1904 the Premio Ambrosiano was established, the Premio Sempione in 1906 and the Oak in 1910 and the famous San Siro was inaugurated in 1920 along with the Italian association SIRE.

In Germany the oldest German Thoroughbred stud Oppenheim was in the first rank of producers as early as 1874. At first Ireland’s interest was in her jumpers and they enjoyed and enjoy a huge reputation in the world but since World War II flat racing breeding, training and production has exploded.

In South American Thoroughbred racing and breeding are given particular attention by both public and private interests and the establishment of the South American Horse Federation (FIS) led to high levels of racing and international events with very rich purses.

In the United States all statistics connected with Throughbred racing are basically incredible, from breeding to exporting, record holders, and purse money. The classic Triple Crown for three year olds is comprised of the Kentucky Derby (mile and a quarter), The Preakness Stakes (mile and a sixteenth) and the Belmont Stakes (mile and a half). In England flat racing, two year olds run in the five furlong flat races until July 1; they can run six furlongs until September 1, and seven furlongs or more beyond that date.

Just as in the United States, Thoroughbred racing was the first sport historically in Australia so it’s about as old as the country’s history and there are a huge number of tracks, large and small. The Melbourne Cup is virtually treated as a national holiday.

The Japan Racing Association founded in 1955 has built an ever growing public and a tremendous industry. In South Africa Thoroughbred racing is one of the country’s most lucrative activities and every part of the country prides itself on the horses it raises, and the classic races attract the attention of the entire country.

For many years the major Thoroughbred racing countries were England, American, Ireland and Australia, but now other areas have grown and are rich in racing, like Japan and Dubai.


Generally speaking, in thoroughbred racing, there are handicap races, where horses carry varied weights according to their recent racing history; and weight for age races where weight is scaled according to the age of the horse and races are at various distances. Some races are limited by age or sex of horse, and some open to all ages. In American, a majority of most major races are still run on dirt, or the man-made materials, while in Australia, the larger races are run of grass (turf). In Asia and in South American, the use of dirt and grass surfaces are about equal.

With the great increase in Thoroughbred breeding in the past century, changes in the relative quality of Thoroughbred racing has also occurred. England still produces top race horses, exported world wide, but now the market in top racers is global, both in horses produced and sold. France ships horses to a large number of countries, Italy exports include its outbred studs; Argentina, Brazil and Chile furnish horses to other Latin American nations and the United States; Australian horses are exported to Asia and the Untied States and other countries; and the United States exports to Japan and globally.

The growth of thoroughbred racing has seen the Thoroughbred horse itself modified, differing from one age to the next, one place to the next and from one climate to the next. Certain countries or regions have a long history of being great Thoroughbred breeding areas, like Ireland and America’s State of Kentucky. The lime rich regions of England, France and Italy are time proven areas in which to raise Thoroughbreds because of the temperature and degree of humidity, the nature of the soil and the fine hay and oats grown. The same geologic and climatic conditions occur in the United States in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee; in the River plate basin in Argentina; and to a certain extent on the shores of Lake Maggiore, near Dormello, Italy.

The Thoroughbred horse has become an instrument of idealized perfection and Thoroughbred racing remains, as has long been stated,the test of champions.

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