Biggest Horse Races Around the World

Horses racing on grass

Horses were among the first animals to be domesticated. Humans probably used them in Russia and Kazakhstan as early as 3500 BC. Before that, donkeys were used to carry loads and pull carts.

When early humans adopted the horse as the main means of work and transport, civilisation was able to advance in leaps and bounds. The adoption of the horse as a worker was the same kind of breakthrough for early societies as the harnessing of fire or the invention of the wheel.

Horses have been used for hunting, getting around and pulling loads, but nowadays, they have an important additional role – and that’s sport. Today, competitive equestrian sports are incredibly high-stakes activities. Competing in equestrian sports is very expensive. Horses themselves are very expensive, as are equipment, facilities and coaching, but the rewards can also be very high.

There are few places where so much money ever changes hands as at the bookies office at a big race. The Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes, for instance, isn’t one of the world’s biggest Group 1 races, and even it boasts a £400,000 purse.

Betting on horse racing isn’t simply a question of guessing which horse you think will win, betting money on the horse, and claiming your winnings if the horse comes through for you. These days, calculating horse racing betting odds is much more complicated than that!

The most straightforward type of bet, betting on a single horse to win a particular race, is called a Single. In a Double, punters simultaneously bet on two different horses to win two different races. The chance that two chosen horses will both win their races is obviously much lower than the chance of a single horse winning a single race, but Doubles payouts are correspondingly higher.

Those who are very confident they know their stuff may place Treble or Accumulator bets – bets that three (or more) horses will all win their three (or more) respective races.

A Trixie consists of four bets, three doubles and one treble, covering three horses. If only one horse wins, a Trixie will not yield a return, but if two or three horses win, Trixie payouts can be very generous.

For a Yankee, four horses are picked over six doubles, four trebles, and one four-fold bet. At least two of the four must win; otherwise, this bet won’t yield a payout.

A Lucky 15 is a compound bet with selections on four horses across four singles, six doubles, four trebles, and a four-fold. Given that four singles are included, picking a single horse that goes on to win a single race is sufficient to secure a return in a Lucky 15.

The Heinz bet consists of a combination of 57 different bets on six different horses. A Super Heinz comprises a whopping 120 bets altogether over seven races and horses.

In a Quinella, the first and second horses to finish must be forecast correctly; in a Trifecta, the first, second and third horses. Sometimes, even Superfecta bets are available: bets predicting all of the first four horses to finish.

Odds and Payouts

The odds in horse racing reflect the (estimated) likelihood that a certain horse will win a certain race and the potential winnings obtainable from each bet. Odds are usually presented in one of three formats: Fractional, American, or Decimal Odds.

For example, in a certain situation, you might stand to win $6 for every $1 wagered. That would be expressed as 6/1 in fractional odds. In American odds, the same thing would be expressed as +600 – in other words, for every $100, expect winnings of $600 (which is equivalent to a return of $6 for every $1). In decimals, odds of 6.0 would also indicate a return of $6 for every $1 wagered.

To determine which are the top horse races in the world, commentators normally take more or less the same factors into consideration:

  • the total amount of money available for all the prizes in the race (known as the purse)
  • the betting interest in the race, in its own location as well as globally
  • the history and prestige of the race
  • the level of media coverage given to the race
  • the interest taken in the race by the general public (not just the racing community)

It can sometimes be difficult to decide which races qualify as the biggest horse races around the world, but some races are so important that almost everybody would pick them in the top 10 list. Most people would agree that the top 10 list should include:

  1. The Kentucky Derby
  2. The Dubai World Cup
  3. The Breeders’ Cup Classic
  4. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
  5. The Grand National
  6. The Melbourne Cup
  7. The Everest
  8. The Saudi Cup
  9. The Epsom Derby
  10. The Royal Ascot Gold Cup

Of course, depending on which country you’re in, there may still be several important races near you that don’t make it onto the global top 10 list. For local trainers or trainers with horses that still need to get more schooling and acquire more experience, less prestigious races may well have more value in the careers of those particular horses.

The Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is run on a dirt track at Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May. Known as “the fastest two minutes in sport,” the Derby has been run every year since 1875. The 1¼ mile (around 10 furlongs) race for three-year-olds is also one of the richest races in America. The race draws a huge crowd, and thousands more people watch the race on TV.

Lexington, Kentucky

Although the Kentucky Derby takes place in Louisville, Lexington, Kentucky, is considered by many to be the horse capital of the world. The city and its immediate surrounds boast over 450 racing stud farms, which, between them, have produced up to three out of every four Kentucky Derby champions.

Lexington is an ideal location for horses. The area boasts natural springs containing mineral-rich water, and it’s very fertile. The native bluegrass provides excellent nutrition for horses, and the climate allows all plants and animals to flourish.

Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, was founded in 1962 by Alice Chandler. Today, the farm is run by Alice’s son and grandson, continuing the tradition of excellence in all aspects of breeding and raising thoroughbreds. Mill Ridge has been responsible for breeding, raising and/or selling 39 winners of Grade 1 races since 2000, including two Horse of the Year winners, one Kentucky Derby winner, and nine Breeders’ Cup winners.

The Dubai World Cup

The Dubai World Cup, which is held at Meydan Racecourse, UAE, is the most lucrative horse race in the world and draws an international field of top-class runners. The World Cup race offers a first prize of more than $12,000,000 (£9.4m) – and that’s not counting any of the other eight races in the festival!

This 10-furlong (2,000m) race is relatively new. It was inaugurated in 1996 by the UAE’s Prime Minister and President. The total purse for the eight races in the whole event was $30.5 million (£23.9m).

Breeders’ Cup Classic

Like the Kentucky Derby, the Breeders’ Cup is run on a dirt track over 1¼ miles (around 10 furlongs).

Since 1984, the Cup has been run on the first Saturday in November of each year, rotating among North American race tracks. It was formerly the richest race in the world, although it has since been nudged out of the number one spot.

In addition to the prize money, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup scoops one of the coveted places to compete in the following year’s Dubai World Cup. Three recent editions of the Cup have been won by runners from Japan, England, and Ireland, illustrating the international nature of the race.

Prix de l’arc de triomphe

The Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is held over two days on the first weekend of October each year at the Longchamp Racecourse in Paris. This Group 1 race is run over a distance of 2,400m (12 furlongs) and has a purse of €4,000,000 (£3.4m).

It’s the most important race for all European runners, owners, and trainers, as well as attracting runners from around the world. More than 70,000 spectators normally turn out each year for each of the two days of the Arc meet.

The Grand National

In addition to being one of the longest-running, the Aintree Grand National is one of the most challenging steeplechases in the world. The four-mile-long (32 furlongs) course tests runners’ stamina to the max, and the race is only open to horses above the age of seven. The top runners over this course won’t only have to show exceptional speed but also successfully clear fences more than six feet high.

However, the rewards in this high-risk steeplechase are correspondingly high: winners can expect to scoop around £1,000,000 in prize money.

The Melbourne Cup

Along with the Caulfield Cup, the Melbourne Cup is one of the two main Group 1 races on the Australian Spring Racing Carnival. It’s run over two miles (16 furlongs) at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse. The cup is the richest two-mile handicap in the world, attracting an international field.

The first Tuesday in November sees thoroughbreds three years old and older flocking to the course. The historic race has been run since 1861 and is so popular with Australians that race day is a national public holiday.

Total purse: $8,000,000 (£6.3m).

Everest

Accepted by many as the world’s richest race on turf, the Everest is run over 1,200m (around six furlongs) at the Royal Randwick in Sydney. 12 of the world’s best three-year-old sprinters battle it out for a purse of over $20 (£15.7) million. The TAB Everest Carnival takes place over eight weeks at both the Royal Randwick and Rosehill Gardens, with a feast of international races taking place from September to November.

Although it’s only been running since 2017, Everest has already been won by several of the most famous racehorses the world has ever seen.

Saudi Cup

Held at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, the Saudi Cup holds one of the biggest purses on the global flat racing calendar.

In 2025, a total of over US$37.5M (£29.4) will be up for grabs! In addition to the actual races, the Saudi Cup is also a social event of note, offering cultural experiences and entertainment second to none!

Epsom Derby

Three-year-olds have been competing in this prestigious race at Epsom Downs since the 19th century. Today, the Epsom Derby is one of the top five UK racing events, along with the 1,000 Guineas, the 2,000 Guineas, the St. Leger Stakes, and the Oaks.

Successful runners over the 2,419m (around 12 furlongs) track could scoop up to £1,604,000!

Royal Ascot

The Royal Ascot Gold Cup is another of the UK’s most prestigious flat racing events, having been run yearly since 1768. As its name suggests, the race really does attract members of the British Royal Family to Ascot every year.

This Group 1 race for four-year-olds is run over a distance of just over 4,000m (around 20 furlongs) – suited to stayers rather than sprinters. It’s worth £600,000 in prize money.

Final Word

Horse racing is often referred to as the sport of kings, and that’s a fitting title, considering the princely sums of money that can change hands at the race track. There are millions to be won in prize money for the lucky owners of top-performing horses, millions to be earned by the hard-working jockeys and trainers – but perhaps even more, fortunes to be lost and found on lucky or unlucky bets!

Although there really is no substitute for the excitement and atmosphere of attending the live races, for those who really can’t make it to the track, a Sportsbook account at Stake allows punters to watch and bet on the races live without requiring an expensive subscription. Choose Stake for the best live coverage of your favourite races and the best spread of betting options at your fingertips!


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