How the big US horse racing events compare to the top UK races

How the big US horse racing events compare to the top UK races


Horse racing is a popular sport on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s not just about the betting opportunities that are available – though there are plenty of those – the very best events make national headlines. But how do the big US races compare to those held in the UK?

A proud history

The USA only declared independence in 1776, and that’s 65 years after Ascot held its first race meeting. 1776 may have been a big year for the USA, but UK horse racing fans will remember that year as being the one when the St. Leger was held for the first time. Three years later the Epsom Oaks began with the Derby following the next year. We had to wait until 1835 for the first Grand National, won this year by Tiger Roll.

That’s not to say there isn’t a great deal of history in US horse racing. The Belmont Stakes was first run in 1867 and the Kentucky Derby eight years later. The USA isn’t renowned for its jumps racing, but they have been holding the Grand National Hurdle Stakes since 1899. The Breeders’ Cup didn’t begin until the late 20th century.

The big meetings

big meetings

This is another area in which the United Kingdom has the edge. When it comes to the jumps, nothing can touch the Cheltenham Festival. The hotels are booked up months in advance, and it’s almost like an Irish invasion as they head to Cheltenham to bet on horses like it’s going out of fashion.

With top races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Queen Mother Chase there is simply nothing to beat it. All roads lead to Cheltenham as soon as the National Hunt season begins.

The Grand National is a race that even those who don’t fully know how to fill in a betting slip show interest in. For drama, it’s one of the top races in the world, and it receives massive television and radio coverage, something that the US would love.

UK racing dominates the month of June

When it comes to the flat season, June is the month that sees the UK go racing mad. It starts off with the two-day Epsom event with the Oaks and the Derby making headlines all over the world. That’s the starters; the main dish is Royal Ascot held every June. This Is where history truly meets the best collection of flat races you can possibly imagine. Add on the presence of the Queen every day, and it’s something the American horse racing scene simply cannot match.

The world championships

The Breeders’ Cup meeting is the only real opposition to the UK in this area. This was introduced in the USA in 1984 and was expanded to a two-day meeting in 2007. It’s described as a world championship for Thoroughbred racehorses and as you’ll read later in this article, offers massive prize money.

Just like the Cheltenham Festival, all roads lead to this meeting with qualifying races held globally. For an event that attracts racehorses from all over the world, this is an extra-special way to end the season.

America’s lucrative prize money

This is the area where the Americans have the upper hand over the United Kingdom. The Pegasus World Cup was first held in January 2017 at Gulfstream Park in Florida. This Grade 1 race had a purse of $12m in its first year. That made it the most valuable race in the world and the following year, the prize money went up to $16m before dropping back to $9m in 2019 with the winner receiving $4m.

That has been the case since the introduction of the Breeders’ Cup. This year there’s $30m in prize money, and $6m of that is for the Breeders’ Cup Classic with $2m prize money in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. A good percentage of the prize money comes from the nomination fees paid by breeders.

The winner of this year’s controversial Kentucky Derby won $1.86m (overall prize money $3m), and the Pacific Classic has a purse of $1m.

Millions to be won in the UK

The UK struggles to match those massive amounts, but there are still some impressive amounts to be won. The prize money for the 2019 Epsom Derby was £1.623m (just over $2m) with the Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck receiving £921,538 ($1.15m). The Cheltenham Gold Cup winner won £351,687 (just over $440,000) and the Grand National victor £561.000 (approx. $705m) with a £1m ($1.25m) going to the top-ten finishers.

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