It is thought that the first horse races in Britain took place around 200 A.D. and were organized by Roman soldiers in the Yorkshire area. The first recorded race meeting, which was a four mile race, took place long after that during the reign of King Henry II (1154 – 1189). All of today’s Thoroughbred race horses can be traced back to three stallions from the Middle East, Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian and Goldophin Arabian, that were imported into England between the 1680`s and 1720`s.
During the 17th century, Newmarket in Cambridgeshire became the home of British horse racing. King James I introduced the sport there in 1605 and in 1634 the first ever Gold Cup race meeting was held. Horse racing was briefly banned by Oliver Cromwell in the 1650`s, but became very popular again when King Charles II was reinstated as the King of England and also because of his introduction of the prize, the Newmarket Town Plate in 1664.
With the sport gaining royal support under the reigns of King Charles II and Queen Anne of Great Britain, public interest grew and in 1727 and the Racing Calendar was founded, a newspaper solely dedicated to horse racing.
In 1752, the Jockey Club was established and was made up of race course owners, wealthy breeders and general aristocracy. It was responsible for the day-to-day regulations applied to British horse racing until 2006, when the Club gave up its governing power in an attempt to broaden the image of UK horse racing as a sport for everyone, not just for the rich.
These days, the governing body of British horse racing is the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), which was formed in 2007 by integrating two existing regulatory bodies: The British Horseracing Board (BHB), founded in 1993, was responsible for finance, race planning, politics, training and marketing, while the Jockey Club was still in charge of the regulations. Then the Horseracing Regulatory Authority was established in 2006 to replace the Jockey Club and now the Horseracing Regulatory Authority and the British Horseracing Authority are working as one and are known as the BHA, taking care of all racing matters in the UK.
Royal Ascot Racecourse is one of the most famous English racecourses, located in the small town of Ascot in Royal Berkshire and was founded with Queen Anne’s help in the early 18th century. The ‘Queen Anne Stakes’ is still one of the most important races on Ascot’s Horse Racing weekend.
Of course, these days, horse racing is a multi million pound industry and includes an infinite number of items of horse racing collectables and memorabila. Great Britain has got as many as 500 professional jockeys, who compete in around 8,500 races on 1,300 racing fixtures every year. Over 14,000 horses are trained in Britain to compete for around ten million pounds worth of yearly prize money and they are watched by approximately 6 million horse racing enthusiasts around the world.