Horse racing is a popular equestrian sport where horses and jockeys race around a track. It dates back thousands of years and today generates billions in global horse racing betting revenue. Some of the most prestigious races attract worldwide attention and bring international fame and fortune to winning horses and jockeys.
In this article, we’ll discuss the major horse racing events around the world, and famous races held there.
The Triple Crown Series (United States)
The Triple Crown Series (United States) is a set of three races that are considered the most prestigious events for three-year-old thoroughbred horses to win. Comprised of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, winning all three races is a major accomplishment in horse racing.
The Kentucky Derby, held annually in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in May, is the longest continually held major sporting event in the United States (since 1875). It is the first leg of the American Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. Winning all three races is considered a major accomplishment in horse racing.
Notable Kentucky Derby winners include Secretariat (1973), who set a still-standing track record, and Justify (2018), who went on to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. Other famous winners include Barbaro (2006), who suffered a catastrophic injury in the Preakness Stakes, and Mine That Bird (2009), a 50-1 longshot winner.
The Preakness Stakes, held annually in Baltimore, Maryland two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, is the shortest of the three Triple Crown races at 1 3/16 miles. It is the second leg a horse must win to capture the Triple Crown.
Triple Crown winners that won the Preakness Stakes include Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and American Pharoah (2015). Other notable winners are Rachel Alexandra (2009), the only filly to ever win the Preakness, and Rombauer, the most recent winner in 2021.
The Belmont Stakes, nicknamed “the test of the champion,” is held annually in Elmont, New York three weeks after the Preakness. At 1.5 miles, it is the longest and most grueling of the Triple Crown races. Winning it completes a Triple Crown sweep.
Thirteen horses have won the Triple Crown by capturing the Belmont Stakes, most recently Justify in 2018. Other notable Belmont winners include Man o’ War (1920), the first horse to purse over $100,000, and Sarava (2002), who ended War Emblem’s bid for the Triple Crown.
The Grand National (United Kingdom)
The Grand National is a National Hunt horse race held annually in Liverpool, England. Now in its 181st running in 2023, the race was first held in 1839 and is the most prestigious jump racing event in the UK. The race is run over 4 miles and half a furlong with horses jumping 30 fences over two laps of the famous Aintree course.
The race gained popularity in the mid-19th century and is a cultural institution in Britain, attracting worldwide interest and attention. It’s a notoriously challenging race for both horse and rider due to the size and difficulty of the fences. The race has also had its fair share of equine and human fatalities over the years.
Some of the most famous races and winners include Red Rum, who won the race three times in the 1970s in a remarkable show of stamina and skill. The 2013 winner Auroras Encore is the only horse to have won the race as a 100/1 outsider, capturing the hearts of the nation. Other notable winners include the only female jockey to win the race, Katie Walsh aboard Papillon in 2000.
The Melbourne Cup (Australia)
The Melbourne Cup is a prestigious international Group 1 Thoroughbred horse race held annually on the first Tuesday of November. First run in 1861, it is a 3,200 metre race and one of the richest turf races in the world, with a prize pool of over $7 million AUD.
Dubbed “the race that stops a nation,” the Melbourne Cup has a significant cultural impact and public holiday status in Australia. Viewing and participation is a national tradition and the race attracts huge international interest. Over 80,000 spectators attend Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne each year, with millions more watching on television around the world.
Some famous races and winners include the legendary Makybe Diva, the only horse to ever win the race three times, in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Other top winners were Americain in 2010, the first international horse to win the Cup, and Vintage Crop, who took out the 1993 race. In recent years, the 2017 winner Rekindling and 2020 winner Twilight Payment have also captured the public’s attention with their gutsy performances.
The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (France)
The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is one of the most prestigious horse races in the world. Established in 1920, it is held each October at the Hippodrome de Longchamp racecourse in Paris. The race commemorates soldiers who died in World War I. It is considered the most important flat race for thoroughbred horses at age 3 and up. Winning this race is a major accomplishment in a horse’s career and solidifies their status among the racing elite.
Some of the most memorable editions include Ribot winning in 1955 and 1956, making him the only horse to win the race in consecutive years. Alleged won in 1977, setting a new race record that still stands today. More recently, Golden Horn won in 2015 and Enable became the first horse to win the race twice, in 2017 and 2018. Other notable winners include Sea Bird, Dancing Brave, Treve and Enable.
The Dubai World Cup (United Arab Emirates)
Established in 1996, the Dubai World Cup is the world’s richest horse race with a purse of $12 million. Held annually in late March at the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, it brings together top horses from around the globe. The race has increased tourism and established Dubai as a premier destination for horse racing. It is owned by the Dubai Racing Club and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the UAE.
Curlin won the inaugural running in 2007. California Chrome won in 2014 and 2016, becoming the first horse to win the race twice. Arrogate won in 2017, setting a new world record for highest prize money earned in a single race. Thunder Snow won in 2018 and 2019, making him the first horse to win the race twice. Other notable winners include Well Armed, Invasor, and Mystic Guide.
The Japan Cup (Japan)
First run in 1981, the Japan Cup is one of the most prestigious races in Asia. Held annually in November at the Tokyo Racecourse, it attracts top international horses. With a purse of over $3 million, it is the richest race in Japan and one of the top ten richest races globally. The race has helped promote thoroughbred racing and tourism in Japan. It is owned and organized by the Japan Racing Association.
The first two editions were won by British horses, Shergar in 1981 and Kairyu K in 1982. Orpen won in 1985, becoming the first Japanese horse to win the race. Alkaased won in 1998, the first American horse to win. Zenno Rob Roy won a record four times between 2002-2005. Other notable winners include Verxina, Gentildonna, Just A Way, and Churchill.
These events showcase the global popularity and prestige of top-class horse racing. Winning horses become household names and cement their places among the all-time greats. While the specifics vary in each country, the thrill of competition and sportsmanship connects racing fans worldwide.