The Fascinating but often Forgotten Facts about Horse Racing

Posted on 31st March 2022

Do you enjoy betting on horse racing? Perhaps you think of yourself as an expert on the subject, but there is so much going on behind the scenes that it is almost impossible for a bettor to see and know everything. A little research can go a long way, however, so we searched hard to find the most interesting little-known facts for horse racing fans. We hope you learn something!

Horse Racing could have been the First Sport

Nobody knows when men began to race against each other on horseback; there is strong evidence to support the idea it may be over 6,500 years old. The ancient Greeks created pottery depicting men on small carts attached to horses – a definite sign of a horse race. It isn’t just a single example either – many Greek pots have been found, some of which show other horse racing related paintings, such as chariot racing.

These pots have been dated to 4,500BC. The pottery is supported by written records as well as poetry by Home, so there seems to be little doubt that horse racing was taking place over 6,000 years ago.  Was horse racing the first real sport? Perhaps someday we’ll know for sure.

Things You May Not Know About the Grand National

England’s Grand National is one of the most popular horse racing festivals – if not THE most popular horse racing festival! This is a course that separates the men from the boys, and, sadly, has even put several horses out of commission over the years it has been running. How many years? The first Grand National was held in 1839! That is 183 years of horses and their riders taking on the challenge which is said to be “The ultimate test of a horse and its rider”.

Why is the Grand National such a difficult course? It is over four miles in length (6.9 kilometres), during which riders must tackle a total of 30 increasingly difficult fence obstacles. Many of the hardest fences have nicknames – Becher’s Brook, Foinavon Canal Turn, Valentine’s Brook, and The Chair.  These five fences have ended more attempts to complete the course than any other. Some are calling for these jumps to be modified to be less dangerous for the horse  – it isn’t just the rider who fails to complete the race, there have also been several tragic incidents with horses on these jumps too.

The Riding Dead

Let’s go back to the roaring 20s and check out Frank Hayes, a respected horse trainer and stableman that occasionally decided to race his horses as the jockey. Here’s where things get crazy … Hayes never managed to win a race, however, in 1923 he was riding the horse “Sweet Kiss” at Belmont Park in New York and had a heart attack mid-race. Instead of stopping and seeking medical assistance, Frank attempted to carry on racing… he died minutes later. Despite the dead rider on Sweet Kiss’s back, the horse went on to win the race. This makes Frank Hayes the only dead jockey to ever win a race.  Now that is crazy!

The Complicated Business of Being a Jockey

You have probably noticed that every professional jockey seems to be tiny, and there is a very good reason for this. Whilst there is no height requirement to be a jockey, a weight limit of just 126 pounds (57 Kilograms)  means that only the shortest of men can pass the test.

The lightest jockey who has ever raced weighed an astonishing 49 pounds (22 Kilograms), which definitely is not a healthy weight. The lightest jockey who is racing today in 2022 is Giovanni Porte, weighing in at 88 pounds (40 Kilograms).

Horse Racing and gambling go together like fish and chips, but jockeys need to be careful if they ever want to place a bet – today’s rules mean that jockeys are forbidden from riding a horse that they either own in full or in part. This rule is sadly necessary because there will always be some dishonest jockeys who would use such an opportunity to cheat.

Honourable Mentions

There are so many more interesting facts about horse racing. It was extremely difficult to choose which ones to discuss in this article. We considered talking about the life of a racehorse – they usually live for 30 years if looked after properly. They usually retire from racing at age 15, however, and no horse aged over 18 has ever won a major race.

Another fascinating case is the story of the British racehorse “Humorise”, who was winning races in 1921 despite suffering from tuberculosis and only having a single healthy lung! That horse must have had some serious power to pull off such a feat with just one lung – Humorist even won the British Derby, the richest British horse race at the time!

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