In the early 1900s, however, racing in the United States was almost wiped out by antigambling sentiment that led almost all states to ban bookmaking. By 1908 the number of tracks had plummeted to just 25. That same year, however, the introduction of pari-mutuel betting for the Kentucky Derby signaled a turnaround for the sport. More tracks opened as many state legislatures agreed to legalize pari-mutuel betting in exchange for a share of the money wagered.
At the end of World War I, prosperity and great horses like Man o’ War brought spectators flocking to racetracks. The sport prospered until World War II, declined in popularity during the 1950s and 1960s, then enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s triggered by the immense popularity of great horses such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed, each winners of the American Triple Crown–the KENTUCKY DERBY, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. During the late 1980s, another significant decline occurred, however. Thoroughbred tracks exist in about half the states. Public interest in the sport focuses primarily on major Thoroughbred races such as the American Triple Crown and the Breeder’s Cup races (begun in 1984), which offer purses of up to about $1,000,000. State racing commissions have sole authority to license participants and grant racing dates, while sharing the appointment of racing officials and the supervision of racing rules with the Jockey Club. The Jockey Club retains authority over the breeding of Thoroughbreds.
Although science has been unable to come up with any breeding system that guarantees the birth of a champion, breeders over the centuries have produced an increasingly higher percentage of Thoroughbreds who are successful on the racetrack by following two basic principles. The first is that Thoroughbreds with superior racingability are more likely to produce offspring with superior racing ability. The second is that horses with certain pedigrees are more likely to pass along their racing ability to their offspring. Male Thoroughbreds (stallions) have the highest breeding value because they can mate with about 40 mares a year. The worth of champions, especially winners of Triple Crown races, is so high that groups of investors called breeding syndicates may be formed. Each of the approximately 40 shares of the syndicate entitles its owner to breed one mare to the stallion each year. One share, for a great horse, may cost several million dollars. A share’s owner may resell that share at any time.
Farms that produce foals for sale at auction are called commercial breeders. The most successful are E. J. Taylor, Spendthrift Farms, Claiborne Farms, Gainsworthy Farm, and Bluegrass Farm, all in Kentucky. Farms that produce foals to race themselves are called home breeders, and these include such famous stables as Calumet Farms, Elmendorf Farm, and Green-tree Stable in Kentucky and Harbor View Farm in Florida.
Betting on the outcome of horse races has been an integral part of the appeal of the sport since prehistory and today is the sole reason horse racing has survived as a major professional sport. All wagering at American tracks today is done under the pari-mutuel wagering system, which was developed by a Frenchman named Pierre Oller in the late 19th century. Under this system, a fixed percentage (14 percent-25 percent) of the total amount wagered is taken out for track operating expenses, racing purses, and state and local taxes. The remaining sum is divided by the number of individual wagers to determine the payoff, or return on each bet. The projected payoff, or “odds,” are continuously calculated by the track’s computers and posted on the track odds board during the betting period before each race. Odds of “2-1,” for example, mean that the bettor will receive $2 profit for every $1 wagered if his or her horse wins.
At all tracks, bettors may bet on a horse to win (finish first), place (finish first or second), or show (finish first, second, or third). Other popular wagers are the daily double (picking the winners of two consecutive races), exactas (picking the first and second horses in order), quinellas (picking the first and second horses in either order), and the pick six (picking the winners of six consecutive races).
The difficult art of predicting the winner of a horse race is calledhandicapping.
The process of handicapping involves evaluating the demonstrated abilities of a horse in light of the conditions under which it will be racing on a given day. To gauge these abilities, handicappers use past performances, detailed published records of preceding races. These past performances indicate the horse’s speed, its ability to win, and whether the performances tend to be getting better or worse. The conditions under which the horse will be racing include the quality of the competition in the race, the distance of the race, the type of racing surface (dirt or grass), and the current state of that surface (fast, sloppy, and so on).
The term handicapping also has a related but somewhat different meaning: in some races, varying amounts of extra weight are assigned to horses based on age or ability in order to equalize the field.
Harness Racing dates back to ancient times, but the sport virtually disappeared with the fall of the Roman Empire. The history of modern HARNESS RACING begins in America, where racing trotting horses over country roads became a popular rural pastime by the end of the 18th century. The first tracks for harness racing were constructed in the first decade of the 19th century, and by 1825 harness racing was an institution at hundreds of country fairs across the nation.
With the popularity of harness racing came the development of the STANDARDBRED, a horse bred specifically for racing under harness. The founding sire of all Standardbreds is an English Thoroughbred named Messenger, who was brought to the United States in 1788. Messenger was bred to both pure Thoroughbred and mixed breed mares, and his descendants were rebred until these matings produced a new breed with endurance, temperament, and anatomy uniquely suited to racing under harness. This new breed was called the Standardbred, after the practice of basing all harness-racing speed records on the “standard” distance of one mile.
Harness racing reached the early zenith of its popularity in the late 1800s, with the establishment of a Grand Circuit of major fairs. The sport sharply declined in popularity after 1900, as the automobile replaced the horse and the United States became
more urbanized. In 1940, however, Roosevelt Raceway in New York introduced harness racing under the lights with pari-mutuel betting. This innovation sparked a rebirth of harness racing, and today its number of tracks and number of annual races exceed those of Thoroughbred racing. The sport is also popular in most European countries, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
2- to 4-mi (3.2- to 6.4-km) course that includes such obstacles
as brush fences, stone walls, timber rails, and water jumps.
The sport developed from the English and Irish pastime of fox hunting, when hunters would test the speed of their mounts during the cross-country chase. Organized steeplechase racing began about 1830, and has continued to be a popular sport in England to this day. The most famous steeplechase race in the world is England’s Grand National, held every year since 1839 at Aintree. Steeplechase racing is occasionally conducted at several U.S. Thoroughbred race tracks. The most significant race in the history of Steeplechasing is the U.S. Grand National Steeplechase held yearly at Belmont Park.
Hurdling is a form of steeplechasing that is less physically demanding of the horses. The obstacles consist solely of hurdles 1 to 2 ft (0.3 to 0.6 m) lower than the obstacles on a steeplechase course, and the races are normally less than 2 mi in length. Hurdling races are often used for training horses that will later compete in steeplechases. Horses chosen for steeplechase training are usually Thoroughbreds selected for their endurance, calm temperament, and larger-than-normal size. And finally, Point-to-point races are held for amateurs on about 120 courses throughout the British Isles. Originally run straight across country (hence the name), these races are now conducted on oval tracks with built-in fences, often on farmland.
The history of horse racing is rich in royalty, respect and the art of gambling. It is recognised as a multi-classed sport that has evolved from the sport of kings to a diversely entertaining hobby.