The world’s most famous horse racing events

Horse racing is a hugely popular spectator sport, attracting massive crowds around the globe. In countries like the United Kingdom, with a long horse racing tradition, it’s the second most popular sport by attendance, with around six million people going to the races each year—and many more tuning into television and radio broadcasts, and keeping abreast of the results in printed media.

Each day, dozens of races are scheduled internationally but there are certain events in the calendar earmarked as unmissable by horse racing aficionados. We take a look at some of the world’s most famous races and the history behind them.


Horse racing in the British Isles can be traced back to the Roman Empire but the first modern meeting took place in 1712 at Newmarket.  Nowadays there are 60 racecourses across the country and a packed yearly timetable of festivals, meets and derbies. Two types of racing exist in the UK—Flat races are run on the level and feature no obstacles, and National Hunt races, which require jockeys and their horses to negotiate a series of jumps on the track.

● Cheltenham Festival

The prestigious Cheltenham Festival dates back to 1860 and is one of the country’s most notable events. Taking place over four days in rural Gloucestershire and usually coinciding with St. Patrick’s day—the patron saint of Ireland—the event attracts many Irish enthusiasts as well as being regularly patronised by Royalty.

The Cheltenham festival is well known for sports betting across the world with over €450 million being placed by the Irish alone. Its culmination is the three-mile National Hunt, Cheltenham Gold Cup. Irish jockey Ruby Walsh dominated at Cheltenham until his retirement in 2018, winning seven separate races over the four days on two occasions.


Racing in the US dates back to 1665 and the inauguration of the Newmarket course in Salisbury, New York on what is now Long Island’s Hempstead Plains. Racetracks in the country currently number more than 300. Parimutuel betting is legal in the USA and wagering on the horses is big business.

● Belmont Stakes

Of the three Triple Crown races—including the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes—the Belmont Stakes is the oldest and the longest in distance. Named after the diplomat August Belmont in 1867, the race has grown to become the pinnacle of the American racing calendar.

Nicknamed The Test of the Champion, the American Grade I stakes race is the final leg of the Triple Crown and takes place in June. 1973 winner Secretariat, also known as Big Red, holds the fastest time record at all three courses and is also a world record holder at the same distance on dirt.


Organised racing in mainland China was outlawed in 1945 but in recent years, the Chinese government has worked on promoting the sector with localised exhibition races. The British brought the sport to Hong Kong in 1841, which at the time was a dependent territory, and four years later the Happy Valley Racecourse opened its doors. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, established in 1884, is responsible for organising events in the region—at Happy Valley and also Sha Tin Racecourse which opened in 1978.

● The Hong Kong Cup

Horse racing is Hong Kong’s most popular sport and fervour reaches its peak for the Hong Kong Cup in December at Sha Tin. The race is run over roughly 10 furlongs or 2 km and is a Group 1 race, open to thoroughbreds aged three years and older.

The Hong Kong Cup represents the climax of the four annual Hong Kong International Races and in 2021 offered a purse of HK$30,000,000 which make it the richest 2000m turf race in the world. Japanese thoroughbred Normcore set a course record of 2:00.50 in 2020 and superstar jockey Frankie Dettori has won the event on three separate occasions.


Horse racing was quickly established in Sydney in the 1790s, not long after the colony was settled. Initially workhorses were used for racing but in the 1800s thoroughbreds were imported to the island and the country has had a rich horse racing heritage ever since.  Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, Victoria, home to the Melbourne Cup, was first used as a horse racing venue in 1840.

● Melbourne Cup

Taking place on the first Tuesday in November—at the end of Australian springtime—The Melbourne Cup is the most hotly anticipated annual thoroughbred event in Australia.  Conducted by the Victoria Racing Club and held at Flemington, the 3200m race is part of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.

With a purse of A$8,000,000, the race is the richest two-mile handicap race in the world and hence attracts a lot of attention from tipsters. Known locally as ‘the race that stops the nation’, the event has a long tradition, dating back to 1861 and regularly receives crowds in excess of 100,000 people. Trainer Bart Cummings was the most prolific at the meet, accruing 12 wins that span a 40-year career.

Horse racing continues to thrill fans across the continents drawing huge spectatorship numbers and even bigger bets. And with current technology, you don’t need to be in the host country to catch the excitement. You can now tune in live to any of the most famous horse racing events in the world and you’ll never miss a beat.



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