History of racing


Horses are fast animals and their speed and stamina has helped them to survive. Since humans first started keeping written records, there is proof that they have used horses for racing. Among the first recorded events that took place were races at the Ancient Greek Olympics, with horses being ridden by jockeys or pulling chariots (around 800 years BC, or 2,800 years ago.)


Ancient Greek Racing


Records show that around seven hundred years later, the Romans first brought racing to Great Britain.


Modern racing began in the 12th Century when English Knights returned from the Crusades with Arab horses, which were then bred to the strong, sturdy English mares to produce a horse that had could run fast and keep going for a long time! (See our breeding history page for more information).


Early races took place on “The Roodee” which is now Chester racecourse and at Smithfield market in London.


Racing started to become popular when King James I (1603-1625) (pictured below) had a palace built in Newmarket. The Royal Court moved there and used the wide open spaces and the hill (Warren Hill) to race on.


King James 1

As the King enjoyed it so much, racing and the breeding became a very popular pastime. However after King Charles I (1625-1649) was overthrown and England became a Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, racing was banned until Charles II (1660-1685) came to the throne. Charles II was very passionate about racing and spent a lot of time in Newmarket - so much so that the House of Commons petitioned him to spend more time running the country!! This is why racing became known as the “Sport of Kings.”


His favourite horse was called Old Rowley. There are two racecourses in Newmarket and one of them is named after Old Rowley and is known as the Rowley Mile. The other is called the July course.



Charles II introduced the Newmarket Town Plate, one of the oldest races run under rules and still run to this day. The prize to the winner is eight pounds of Newmarket sausages!




Racing first became a professional sport during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). She introduced racing at Ascot where the main meeting became known as the Royal Meeting (Royal Ascot). The Queen Anne Stakes was named after her. Below is a picture of Darley stallion Cape Cross winning the race in 1999.



In 1740, Parliament introduced an Act for racing but it wasn't until 1752 that the Jockey Club was formed to run racing. The Jockey Club still exists but in 2006 the Horseracing Regulatory Authority took over the running of racing.


As Australia was colonised by Great Britain, racing was and remains a significant aspect of Australia’s character.


Thoroughbred racing has become the third largest spectator sport in Australia, behind only Australian Rules Football and Rugby League. 


The first auction of horse bloodstock took place in 1805, and racing was well established around Sydney by 1810 with the first official race held at Hyde Park. It is estimated that the Thoroughbred population of the entire country was around 1100 horses at the time.  Today, there are more than 36,000 registered racehorses.


Flemington is Australia’s best-known and oldest continuing metropolitan racecourse.  Flemington was first known as the Melbourne Racecourse.  The first race meeting was held on the rough river flats beside the Maribyrnong River in March 1840 when the town of Melbourne was barely five years old. This was just two years after Melbourne's first race meeting. 


The oldest racing authority in Australia was the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) formed in 1842.  In Feburary 2011 the (AJC) and the Sydney Turf Club (STC) were merged to form the Australian Turf Club (ATC).


Today there are more than 386 race clubs registered throughout Australia.


Australia loves horse racing and every day of the week, somewhere in Australia, there’s horse racing on metropolitan (capital city area), provincial (regional) or country racecourses. The two forms of Thoroughbred horseracing in Australia are flat racing, and races over fences or hurdles in Victoria and South Australia. You might think it’s funny, but racecourses in Australia don’t all run in the same direction. In Victoria, South Australia, Northern Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia the horses race in an anti-clockwise direction (left handed), while in Queensland and New South Wales they

run clockwise (right handed).