This article is a travel topic, and discusses watching an event. For the article about participating, see Horse riding.
Horse racing is an equine spectator sport with an international following. Although this form of racing is not considered to be in the same league as motorsports by many, it's an unforgettable experience that has some of the most die-hard fans around.
Racing has existed in some form since antiquity and has a long, seemingly timeless tradition in some regions. Horse racing in the 21st century has an old feeling and style that can appeal to travelers of all ages. Teams of horses and their handlers race side by side to see if they can master the track, defeat the others and take home the gold. Events in Great Britain, Hong Kong and the U.S. have particularly wide followings, and the sport finds support from crowds in many other parts of the world.
Modern Thoroughbred racing had its origins in 16th-century Britain. During that century, the rules began to be codified, and it gained immense popularity among the British royalty and nobility. The term Thoroughbred refers to a specific breed of horse that was bred for speed, which traces its origins to Middle Eastern horses that were brought back to Britain from the Crusades by English knights, and allowed to breed with local English horses. Thoroughbred racing would subsequently spread to the rest of the world with the advent of colonialism, and to this day, horse racing tends to be most popular and well-established in countries that were formerly part of the British Empire. That said, there are also a few other countries outside the former empire like France and Japan that have taken a liking to the sport and have well-established professional horse racing scenes.
There are generally two types of Thoroughbred horse races: flat races that do not have jumps, and jump races (called National Hunt in the UK and steeplechase in the U.S.) that require the horses to jump over obstacles. Most of the world's most prestigious races are flat races, though the United Kingdom in particular is also known for its long tradition of jump racing. Track surfaces were traditionally either dirt or turf, the latter referring to grass tracks, though an increasing number of racetracks are opting for synthetic surfaces. Distances of races vary, with distances under a mile being given in furlongs (1⁄8 of a mile). Races are often restricted to horses of a particular age and/or sex, while an open race has no such restrictions.
Although Thoroughbred racing is by far the most popular and lucrative internationally, there are also other breeds of horses that are used for racing. Standardbred horses are used for harness racing, which has a niche following in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and parts of continental Europe, especially France and Sweden. Arabian horse racing is most popular in the Middle East, where the breed originated from, though it is the breed of choice for endurance (long distance) racing throughout the world. The American Quarter Horse is used at some races in the United States.
Many of the larger events occur in the spring, although some occur all year. The Kentucky Derby occurs on the first Saturday of May, with the next edition set for May 3, 2020. It is necessary to prepare for all types of weather. Although the general joke is that it's too sunny or too rainy, one can expect any type of condition to occur. For example, the aforementioned Kentucky Derby has seen conditions ranging from high heat and humidity to single-digit (Celsius) temperatures to torrential rainfall (3 inches/75 mm on race day in 2018).
Horse racing Jargon
Pony: Surprisingly this term has nothing to do with the horse. A pony means a £25 bet or odds of 25-1.
Monkey: Once again, this is not referring to an animal, it means a £500 bet.
Favorite: This, of course, refers to horse with the shortest odds.
Form: This refers to how well the horse has performed in the past. A number next to its name in the programme shows where it has placed in recent races. 0 mean unplaced; P - pulled; R - refused to race; F - fell; U - unseated rider; SU - slipped up; BF - beaten favourite.
On/off the bridle: If a horse is 'on the bridle' it means it is running comfortably with enough energy to see through the race. 'Off the bridle' is obviously the opposite.
Stake: How much money you bet with per race.
Banker: A horse that is considered the most likely to win that day.
Colt: A young intact male horse (i.e., not castrated), less than four years old (less than five in Great Britain and North America).
Filly: A female horse less than four years old (less than five in Great Britain and North America).
Gelding: A castrated male horse of any age.
Maiden: A horse of any age that has not yet won a race.
Mare: A female horse more than three or four years old, depending on the country.
Stallion: An intact male horse more than three or four years old, depending on the country.
A more complete list can be found here.
While fashionable apparel is welcomed by many (see "Do" below), weather resistant clothing should be mixed in with the more dressy. Generally, sans hats, and a short sleeved shirt and pants is all that is required, though a jacket and a raincoat is recommended, just in case. At some prestigious events, a more formal dress code may be in effect. Many horse racing events are just as famous for the fashions on display by the spectators as they are for the actual races themselves. That said, dress codes vary widely from racecourse to racecourse, and the dress codes in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia tend to be a lot more casual than in the Western world and Middle East.
Much of the terminology used is actually metaphorical, and some can be the literal meaning and then the figurative definition! In general it is recommended to look for a phrasebook of horse-racing terms, found at most tracks.
The crowds may be a bit on the rowdy side for the first-timer, and thus provide an unexpected feeling of unsafeness; however, fans are generally kind people, and usually have not caused problems for travelers. It may be common to hear vulgar language at larger events, it's best to ask for the person to refrain, or just ignore it. For the kids, consider going in a large group to set some space between them and others.
Types of races
Handicap: A race in which horses carry different weights to even out the competition. The better a horse's results, the more weight it carries.
Stakes: A race in which at least part of the prize money is put up by the owners of participating horses.
Chase: Short for "steeplechase".
Derby: Usually a stakes race restricted to three-year-old horses of either sex, though there are exceptions. In some countries, geldings are barred from the most prestigious races of this class.
Oaks: A stakes race restricted to three-year-old fillies.
Sprint: A race of less than one mile in length.
Mile: A one-mile-long race.
1 People's Stadium Racetrack One of the few courses in Central America, this unconventional Belize-based grass course has many events with a local flavor. Also home to the Triple crown race and Castleton cub
Horse racing in Canada is regulated at the provincial level. The Jockey Club of Canada maintains a list of all of Canada's graded stakes races and their venues, with links to the relevant provincial racing authorities.
3 Woodbine Racetrack is Toronto's most notable course, and is home to the country's racing Hall of Fame. The Queen's Plate, Canada's premier horse race and the first race in the Canadian Triple Crown, is held here every year. Other notable races include the Breeders' Stakes, the final race in the Canadian Triple Crown, and the Canadian International Stakes.
6 Churchill Downs in Louisville is quite famously known for the Kentucky Derby, the biggest event on the American horse racing calendar and the first of the three races in the American Triple Crown; a nearly 150-year-old tradition where individuals from all over the world compete at this "Super Bowl" of racing.
7 Del Mar Racetrack, located in the Del Mar Fairgrounds near San Diego, was built by a partnership that included the late Hollywood legend Bing Crosby, who was a regular at the races here. Its richest and most prestigious race is the Pacific Classic. The fairgrounds also hosts the San Diego County Fair, the largest county fair in the United States.
8 Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida is an entertainment complex home to a casino, a racecourse, and numerous shopping and dining options. It hosts several important events on the American racing calendar including the Florida Derby, the Sunshine Millions and the richest race in North America, the Pegasus World Cup.
9 Keeneland Race Course is located in Lexington, Kentucky, which is known as the "Horse Capital of the World". It hosts the Blue Grass Stakes and Ashland Stakes, both prep races for the Kentucky Derby, as well as the Fall Stars Weekend, which includes several prep races for the Breeders' Cup. It is also home to the largest Thoroughbred auction house in the world.
10 Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey is home to the Haskell Invitational, a major event on the American racing calendar. Spectators at the Haskell International receive a complimentary commemorative baseball cap while stocks last.
13 Santa Anita Park in Arcadia near Los Angeles hosts several important races on the American horse racing calendar such as the Santa Anita Derby and Santa Anita Handicap. It is known for having the nearby San Gabriel Mountains serving as a scenic backdrop to the racetrack, as well as its Art Deco grandstand.
14 Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York is one of the oldest and most celebrated racecourses in the United States, and hosts both flat and steeplechase races. The flagship event of the racecourse is the Travers Stakes.
The Breeders' Cup and three Triple Crown races are considered to be the pinnacle of American horse racing. Unlike the other major races, the Breeders' Cup does not have a fixed venue, and rotates among the major racecourses in the United States (except for one year when it was held in Canada) every year.
Although less illustrious than the "Big Three" of the United Kingdom, Ireland and France, horse racing in the Czech Republic also has a long tradition. Horse racing is regulated by Jockey Club České republiky, which has a list of all races in the Czech Republic.
The web-site of France Galop has a complete list of racecourses and horse racing events in France.
17 Chantilly Racecourse is located in France's main horse training area, with the track passing right next to the majestic Grandes Écuries (Great Stables) of the historic Château de Chantilly. It hosts two of France's premier races, the Prix du Jockey Club and Prix de Diane. The Musée Vivant du Cheval (Living Museum of the Horse) is housed inside the Grandes Écuries.
Like many other sports, horse racing is governed on an all-Ireland basis. The web-site of Horse Racing Ireland has a complete list of racecourses and racing events in both the Republic and Northern Ireland.
19 Curragh Racecourse in County Kildare is the premier racing venue in Ireland and hosts all five Irish Classics, namely the Irish 1000 Guineas, Irish 2000 Guineas, Irish Derby, Irish Oaks and Irish St. Leger.
21 Leopardstown Racecourse in Dublin hosts the Irish Champion Stakes, whose winners have regularly gone on to win other high profile races all over the world. The Leopardstown Christmas Festival features both flat and steeplechase racing at the highest level, and is a major event on Dublin's social calendar, with spectators often dressed in the best of Irish high fashion.
There is a fuller list of racing venues on the UK mainland on the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) website along with a list of meetings. The jurisdiction of the BHA does not extend to Northern Ireland, which is covered by Horse Racing Ireland.
24 Ascot Racecourse is known for being home to the Royal Ascot, a race meeting held over five days in the third week of June which is attended by the Queen and other members of the royal family, and one of the few remaining events that require attendees to be dressed in traditional morning dress. The Gold Cup on the third day of the meet is the most prestigious of the Royal Ascot races. An arguably more prestigious race is the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, named after the Queen's parents, during the July meet. Additionally, Ascot hosts British Champions Day in October, the country's equivalent to the Breeders' Cup races in the US.
25 Cheltenham Racecourse is one of the most celebrated National Hunt racecourses, and hosts the annual Cheltenham Festival. Some of the more notable races of the festival include the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Stayers' Hurdle and the most prestigious of them all, the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final day.
26 Chester Racecourse is recognised by Guinness World Records as the oldest continually operating racecourse in the world. Although it does not host any top-level international races, the races here are significant events on the local social calendar, and regularly count celebrities among their attendees. Some of the more notable events include Roman Day, a child-friendly Roman-themed event that celebrates the city's Roman heritage, and the season-opening May Festival.
28 Epsom Downs is known for being home to the Derby Stakes for three-year-old horses of either sex excluding geldings, the original "Derby" race that all other similarly named races take their name after. The Oaks Stakes, for three-year-old fillies, is another important race held here, and lends its name to many other races for female horses of that age. The Oaks and the aforementioned Derby Stakes are two of the five British Classic races.
29 Goodwood Racecourse in Chichester, owned by the Duke of Richmond and located on the grounds of Goodwood House, is known for its beautiful setting against the backdrop of the English countryside, as well as its unique and unusual layout. Its flagship event is known as Glorious Goodwood, and is held every year in the summer. Besides the horse racing track, the property is also home to two golf courses, a motorsports racing track and a flying school.
30 Kempton Park Racecourse, with its hunt and jump races just outside of London, this place has earned much fame in the years. The King George VI Chase is held here every year on Boxing Day (26th December).
31 Newmarket Racecourses is widely regarded to be the headquarters of British horse racing, and is home to the National Horseracing Museum. It hosts two of the United Kingdom's five Classic Races, namely the 1000 Guineas and the 2000 Guineas. Nearby Tattersalls is the largest racing horse auctioneer in Europe, and the oldest in the world.
33 York Racecourse hosts the Ebor Festival, of which the Ebor Handicap is one of the richest flat handicap races in Europe. It hosted the Royal Ascot in 2005 when Ascot Racecourse was under renovation.
Horse racing in Australia is generally regulated at the state level, and organised by individual racecourses. Nevertheless, Racing Australia maintains a calendar of all professional horse races in Australia, as well as links to the individual state racing authorities.
34 Birdsville Race Club is known for its remote and sparsely-populated location in the vast Australian Outback. It hosts the famed annual Birdsville Races in the spring, during which the town's population temporarily swells from about 100 to 7000 for the two-day event. Part of the proceeds from the races are donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
37 Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne is Australia's premier horse racing venue and hosts the Melbourne Cup, one of the world's most coveted races and the showpiece event on the Australian horse racing calendar.
39 Royal Randwick Racecourse is the premier racecourse in Sydney. It hosts a two-day event in April known as The Championships, which includes some of Australia's most coveted races such as the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Australian Derby and Doncaster Mile. Since 2017, it has held The Everest, the richest race in Australia and the richest race on turf in the world, where the prize money is worth $13 million.
New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing coordinates the rules for horse racing in New Zealand, and has a complete list of all horse races in New Zealand.
41 Ellerslie Racecourse in Auckland is New Zealand's premier racecourse and hosts the Auckland Cup, New Zealand Derby and Karaka Millions, the main events on New Zealand's horse racing calendar. The world's first automatic totalisator was installed here in 1913.
Information for all Indian tracks can be found at the racing world website
45 Mahalaxhmi Race Course in Mumbai, built in 1883, is home to four of the five Indian Classics, modeled after the British Classics, the most prestigious of which is the Indian Derby. It is modelled after Caulfield Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia.
The web-site of the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) has a complete schedule of races held both racecourses.
46 Happy Valley Racecourse is a historic racecourse and tourist attraction in the eastern part of Hong Kong Island. Although the races themselves are generally of lower quality than at Sha Tin, Happy Valley is widely regarded as being far more atmospheric, and is also known for its unique location surrounded by high-rise buildings. Races are held here on Wednesday nights, with the weekly event being dubbed Happy Wednesday. The International Jockeys' Championship, in which jockeys compete in four races and score points based on their placements in each race, is the highlight of Happy Valley's racing calendar.
47 Sha Tin Racecourse in the New Territories is the newer and larger of Hong Kong's two racecourses. The Hong Kong International Races, an event consisting of Hong Kong's four most prestigious horse races, is held here every year in December.
Check the web-site of the Japan Racing Association (JRA) for the complete list of major racecourses, and the web-site of the National Association of Racing (NAR) for the complete list of minor racecourses and their complete schedules.
49 Kyoto Racecourse in Fushimi district is the main racecourse of the Kansai region, and hosts several major races in the Japanese racing calendar, the most notable being the Queen Elizabeth II Cup and the Mile Championship.
50 Nakayama Racecourse in Funabashi is known for its versatility, being able to hold both flat and steeplechase races. It hosts the Nakayama Grand Jump, Japan's top steeplechase race. The venue's signature flat race is the Arima Kinen, one of Japan's two "All-Star" races.
51 Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchu is Japan's most famous racecourse and home to the Japan Cup, one of the world's most prestigious races. Other notable races held here include the Tokyo Yushun and Yushun Himba.
The Malayan Racing Association (MRA) is the regulatory body for horse racing in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia, and has a complete schedule of races in Singapore and the three racecourses in Peninsular Malaysia.
52 Singapore Turf Club in the suburb of Kranji is one of the premier horse racing venues in Southeast Asia. Its flagship races are the Singapore Gold Cup and Singapore Derby. Night races are held here on Fridays.
United Arab Emirates
The web-site of the Emirates Racing Authority has a complete list of racecourses and races in the UAE.
53 Meydan Racecourse in Dubai hosts the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race in terms of prize money. A gleaming, modern facility that boasts the world's longest grandstand at over a mile in length, a luxury hotel overlooking the track, a racing museum, and numerous other entertainment options including many bars and restaurants. Particularly spectacular when lit up for night races. As gambling is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, there are no on-site betting facilities.
- 1 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, 191 Union Ave, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, USA, ☏ . 9AM-5PM Wed-Sun. Next to the Saratoga racecourse, get a tour and step back in time, as the memorabilia provides a look into the past of horse racing.
- 2 Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, 555 Rexdale Boulevard, Toronto, ON M9W 5L2, Canada (At west entrance of Woodbine Racetrack near Pearson Airport), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 3 Kentucky Derby Museum, 704 Central Ave, Louisville, KY 40208, USA, ☏ . 8–5 M-Sat, 11–5 Sun. Located on the Churchill Downs grounds, this museum is similar to the National Museum of Racing, but focused more on the Kentucky Derby. The signature features are a "time machine" that allows visitors to watch replays of every Kentucky Derby since 1918, and a cemetery where five Derby winners are buried. A sixth Derby winner is buried outside the main gate, with his gravesite marked by a life-size statue. Extra-cost tours of Churchill Downs are also offered.
- 4 Palace House (UK National Racehorse Heritage Center), 1-9 Palace Avenue, London, UK, ☏ . 10AM-5PM everyday. A heritage center for the country where the sport began.
- 5 Hong Kong Racing Museum, 2/F, Happy Valley Stand, Happy Valley Racecourse, Wong Nai Chung Rd, Happy Valley, Hong Kong, ☏ . Noon-7pm Everyday. Artificats and some of the largest exhibits in the world next to the track of the Happy Valley Racecourse.
- 6 JRA Racing Museum, Tokyo Racecourse 1-1, Hiyoshi-cho, Fuchu-shi, Tokyo 183-8550, Japan, ☏ . 10am-5pm on race days, 10am-4pm otherwise. Located next to the Tokyo Racecourse. Has exhibitions about the history of horse racing in Japan and around the world.
- 7 Australian Racing Museum, 400 Epsom Rd, Flemington, VIC 3031, Australia, ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com. 10am-5pm daily. A museum dedicated to the history of horse racing in Australia.
- 8 Finnish Horse Racing Museum, ☏ . Though humble, there is a large history inside, with a show and the attraction of a cavalry exhibit.
- 1 Alshaquab Racing Academy, ☏ . This is where horses and riders are trained in Qatar; visitors have a great opportunity to see how it's done.
- Cheer on favorite team: Particularly at Churchill Downs, there are tens of teams to support, and many fans support their favorite horse, although many come for the experience.
- Dress up. If you wish to show the spirit of the day, then there is apparel for everyone to giddy up in (especially for women). Put on a "sans hat", the customary head wear at all tracks and you'll fit right in. If you are planning on going out on the muddy track, jeans and a shirt are important to remember, although a dressy shirt is nice. Heels should be avoided, as they are a hassle, and the mud doesn't help. (Although they are acceptable off the track, and can add to the attire.) At some races, you can even participate in fashion contests as a spectator.
- Attend pre-and post race events. The warm ups allows the spectators to get an up close look at the competitors, and after the race, one can witness interviews and get signatures.
- Learn the jargon, because everything will be nonsense otherwise. Please refer to the Prepare section above for words to use, and what they mean. Who knows, you might impress your friends, family, or fellow fans!
If you win...
Chances are, if you win it big in America and you are not a U.S. citizen, your winnings will be subject to a 30% withholding tax from the Internal Revenue Service. A $10,000 take on a long-shot bet can dwindle quite quickly if that is taken off the top. Not to worry though you can reclaim your gambling winnings tax through a 1042-S form. You can get this form and instructions at this IRS link; it is your starting ticket to getting your gambling winnings back.
Perhaps one of the common activities that accompanies horse racing is gambling. Many tracks have on-site betting areas where you can wager some cash on the results of each race. In some areas, you can even find many off-track betting sites.
Expect to find betting at all tracks, so off-site betting may be unnecessary.
The procedure for placing bets differs significantly from venue to venue. In some countries, such as Japan, the process is entirely automated, while in others, you will need to actually speak to staff at a counter.
Even in countries where gambling is otherwise illegal, exceptions are often made for horse racing. One notable exception is the United Arab Emirates, which bars all forms of gambling with no exceptions, meaning that you will not be able to place bets at the races.
Placing a bet on a horse in the UK is typically done either on course, or via off-track bookmakers.
The location of off-track bookmakers varies, with prominent chains including Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and William Hill.
A form of parimutuel betting, wherein the pool of bets taken are shared among-st winners, is also available on some races and at some courses. Until 2018 this was the sole preserve of a single provider "The Tote", but other bookmakers may now offer 'tote' or 'parimutuel' options.
Quite a few things are available to buy, and can be quite the memorabilia to keep, or win by. Do remember that scams are vigilant around anything that can be sold, and only purchase from authorized retailers.
- Souvenirs One may be able to find an action figure, an image, or many other items. Some items you can get an autograph on, ask around.
- Betting Cards See "Gambling" above. All over the world, betting on races is a popular and low-cost activity for many, that can be fun and result in a win. Find one at any on-site casino, or off-site.
- The game Several versions available, such as CII and across the board. $25-75 from Amazon or Walmart.
There are also statues and paintings, timeless objects that make great decorations.
Attendance of horse racing events are usually safe, and they are often calm events. Hefty emotions that others can feel toward their teams and potentially uncomfortable comments should be ignored, as getting a rise only adds to the situation. The weather can vary from event to event, and from country to country--A competition in Dubai can leave you hot while the Toronto grand prix can be quite cold. Besides this, take the normal precautions, and a few more:
- Scams: As mentioned above, scams are vigilant. That betting-book may not be real, or some fast-talking person locked you into a deal not worth the bargain. Known as racing tipsters, they may seem like legitimate prediction services, though behind the ruse is a scam.To avoid these problems, only purchase from an authorized retailer. Other scams and tricks involve people selling fake autographs online. These can be hard to distinguish so be careful, or just get it from the racer him/her self.
- Rough Crowds appear at the most prestigious of tracks, however they are not that common. Perhaps the worst time for this is after a night race, or the weekends. Those who recently drank alcohol can be more belligerent, so they generally should be avoided in this case.
- The weather. Better explained in "Prepare". Basically though weather is close to unpredictable, especially around spring (thus race season)
Fans are generally understanding if one doesn't know the right terms to use, though they may chuckle a bit. In general though, it's okay to mess up, but it's uncomfortable. Courtesy should be a given and restraint (avoiding being rowdy) should be the norm. Otherwise, there may be trouble. (See "Stay safe")
If you are watching races course-side, try to avoid doing things that may be mistaken for an official signal by trainers, or course officials. Whilst rare due to the professionalism of course officials and riders alike, there have also been a few incidents when an action in the crowd has contributed to a 'false' start.
Equine welfare is taken very seriously in racing, allegations of ill-treatment of, or sharp practice towards horses can invoke strong reactions, or disciplinary consequences. If you have genuine or sincere concerns, these should be made discreetly to the course officials or stewards at the first convenient opportunity.
- Formula One The world's most popular car racing event has been going on for a century, and attracts crowds from America to Australia. Considers Monaco its home.
- Horse riding The natural way to start if you want to compete in the horse races.
- Kentucky Derby Region: Tour Louisville after going to Churchill Downs, and then eat at a KFC.