Five of the Most Thrilling and Famous Horse Races in the World

famous horse races - horses racing on sand with jockeys in various racing colours
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Discover five of the most thrilling and famous horse races in the world in our article below.

Horse racing has excited equestrians and horse enthusiasts since the beginning of time. The thrill of watching these magnificent creatures thunder down the track is unparalleled. Historians agree that the first-ever horse race as we know it today took place in Kazakhstan over 4,000 years ago, ultimately starting a sport that eventually became known as the “Sport of Kings.”

Dozens of horse racing meets have grown in size and stature since their inaugural running, with some achieving fame on a global scale. Over the following few hundred words, you will learn more about five of the world’s most famous, popular, and richest horse racing events. How many of them have you had the pleasure of witnessing first-hand?

The Kentucky Derby

We begin our journey in the heart of the United States with the legendary Kentucky Derby. First run in 1875, the Kentucky Derby is one of the highlights on the global racing calendar and one of the most popular horse races with people who enjoy betting online. The annual race is held on the first Saturday in May at the iconic Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and is the first leg of the coveted American Triple Crown; the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes make up the other two legs.

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The Kentucky Derby is often called the “Run for the Roses” because, in 1883, a tradition began of draping the winner in a blanket of roses. Only 27 jockeys have won the Kentucky Derby more than once, with Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack riding home the winner a joint record five times. As for winning trainers, Ben Jones trained six winners between 1938 and 1952, with Bob Baffert also training six champions between 1997 and 2020.

famous horse races - horses racing on grass with jockeys in various racing colours

The Grand National

The Grand National is regarded as the ultimate test of courage, skill, and stamina; it is not for the faint-hearted. The National Hunt race is a handicap steeplechase over an official distance of four miles 514 yards, and 30 fences at the Aintree Racecourse in Merseyside, England.

The Grand National first ran in 1839, and it has since become the most valuable jump race in Europe, with a prize fund tipping the scales at £1 million. Some call the Grand National a British institution as it is popular with citizens who do not usually bother with horse racing at any other time of the year.

At the Grand National, the world-famous Red Rum became an equestrian superstar. Trained by the legendary Ginger McCain, Red Rum wrote his name into the history books by winning this grueling race in 1973, 1974, and 1977. Red Rum remains the only horse to win the Grand National three times.

The Melbourne Cup

The Melbourne Cup is known as “the race that stops the nation,” and that is no exaggeration. The race runs at 3:00 p.m. on the first Tuesday of November and sees Australian down tools to watch the richest two-mile handicap in the world. The 2022 edition of the Melbourne Cup came with a staggering $8 million prize fund, plus trophies worth $250,000!

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Only five horses have ever become Melbourne Cup champions more than once. Archer, Peter Pan, Rain Lover, and Think Big were all ridden home in first place twice. Makybe Diva is the only three-time winner, emerging victoriously in three consecutive races from 2003-2005.

Although the Melbourne Cup has occurred annually since 1861, it took until 2015 for a female jockey to find herself in the winner’s enclosure. Michelle Payne romped home on Prince of Penzance in 2015 and is still the only female jockey to become a Melbourne Cup champion.

The Dubai World Cup

Having formed in 1996, the Dubai World Cup is one of the newest premier races on the horse racing calendar. Despite its relative infancy, the Dubai World Cup captures the imagination of horse racing fans because it offers astronomical prize money; 2023’s race paid out an almost unbelievable $12 million.

With such huge prizes offered, it is not surprising to learn that the Dubai World Cup attracts star-studded fields, elite-level horses, and the most famous jockeys on the planet. Jerry Bailey, an American jockey, won the Dubai World Cup four times between 1996 and 2002. Only Frankie Dettori has matched that incredible feat, riding home the winner in 2000, 2003, 2006, and most recently in 2022.

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, more commonly called the Arc, is more than just a race; it is an elegant celebration of everything equestrian. First run in 1920, the Arc usually takes place on the first Sunday of October, and it is a spectacular affair. Paying out €5 million in prize money makes the Arc horse racing’s fifth-richest turf race, with only The Everest, The Dubai World Cup. The Breeders Cup Classic and The Saudi Cup having a larger purse.

Only eight horses have won multiple Arcs, and none of those has crossed the finishing line in first place three times. However, Frankie Dettori is a jockey synonymous with the Arc, having won the race a record six times during his long and illustrious career, including in 1996 when Dettori rode winners in all seven races on the card, costing British bookmakers an estimated £40 million.

Conclusion

Whether you are passionate about horses or simply a fan of the sport, there are few events as thrilling as attending a prestigious horse racing meet. The top-tier races see the pinnacle of equestrian excellence on show. They are steeped in history and have been the locations where horse racing superstars were made.

The next time you watch one of these iconic events, try to remember the legends who graced the winner’s circle and the marvelous horses whose thunderous hooves continue echoing through time. Make a note of the race’s champion jockey and the horse that pipped every other to the post because they could well become a future star in the horse racing fraternity.

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