Flat Racing History
Records of the first horse races held in Great Britain date back to Roman times. Although it is known that the Romans bred and raced horses, the nature of the events and the rules that governed them are unknown. Medieval records also exist of races held on religious holidays near London and Chester.
The recorded history of horse racing in England starts in the 16th century when King James I began developing the sport in areas such as Newmarket. In order to entertain his court, many of whom had acquired a taste for the sport in Scotland, King James set up races all over England that offered a silver bell as the prize.
Following the death of King James, his successor King Charles I continued developing a culture of horse racing in England. His son, Charles II, took the Royal patronage of horse racing even further, becoming actively involved in the races as a rider and setting up a number of ‘Royal Plates’.
These early races in flat racing history were quite different from modern formats, frequently exceeding four-mile distances. This emphasis on distance and stamina remained in place well into the 18th century when the Jockey Club was set up to formally regulate the sport.
During the latter part of the 17th century, the emphasis in English horse racing began to shift towards shorter races run by younger horses. The 1700s saw a number of England’s most famous races established, including the Ascot Gold Cup, the St Leger and the Oaks.
The 1900s saw the sport of flat racing soar in popularity as the growth of the mass media allowed the public to keep tabs on the performances of famous racehorses and jockeys. Improved transport infrastructure allowed racing fans to travel across the country to the different meeting leading to large crowds attending some of the biggest flat races.
The growth of the sport saw an increased interest in betting, and during the 19th century regulated betting at racecourses came into being for the first time in flat racing history. The amount of money invested by punters also pushed the sport to become more professional and disciplined to avoid the growth of illegal betting practices.
The advent of the television era and technological advances in track infrastructure only increased the popularity of horse racing in England, and today the sport consistently achieves the second highest television ratings, behind football.