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Horse racing is the epitome of equine athleticism. Taking the most blue-blooded creatures in the animal kingdom and pitting them against one another, it’s the culmination of hundreds of years of careful breeding, countless hours of training, and an unbridled passion and enthusiasm for the sport and its four-legged stars.
To score a win is the ultimate achievement; to take victory in one of the biggest races is the stuff dreams are built on. That’s because, in the world of horse racing, certain events have taken on a near-legendary status. To win them is to cement one’s place in the history books forever.
So, which are the most famous races in the world, and why should you tune in and watch them?
The Kentucky Derby
There are few people in existence who haven’t heard of the Kentucky Derby. Among racing scions and ordinary folk alike, this famous contest is renowned around the world. Drawing an audience of over 18 million, it’s a spectacle everyone should witness at least once in their lifetime.
Held on the first Saturday in May in Louisville, Kentucky, the Derby marks the start of the Triple Crown. Bringing with it an exceptionally high prize pot and massive speculation, it boasts a field of 20 three-year-old horses.
The competitors represent the racing elite. Boasting the bluest of bloodlines, they’re capable of reaching impossible speeds. And it’s not only these equine athletes who are worth watching: their jockeys are also at the top of their game. This combination of unmatched talent, human and horse, makes for the most fantastic on-track action.
Testament to this, the spectators include some of the richest and most powerful figures in the racing world, as well as a slew of celebrities, politicians, and more. Betting is fierce, with a phenomenal $165.5 million bet on the race in 2019. It’s an event that’s not to be missed.
The Cheltenham Festival
While the Kentucky Derby may be the most famous race in the world, it has a rival for its title: the renowned Cheltenham Festival. Britain is the traditional home of horse racing, and this is the jewel in its sparkling crown.
As the most prestigious event in the National Hunt racing calendar, the Festival has a long history of delivering thrills and spills. First, run in 1860, it takes place at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham. Its list of legendary winners is long, for only the best horses walk away with such an accolade, and includes Arkle, Kauto Star, and Denman.
The meeting encompasses several Grade I races, foremost among them the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle. While its prize pot is second only to the Grand National’s, it’s not merely the winner who will walk away with a life-changing sum; certain lucky gamblers do too.
Of these individuals, some will place their bets through a real-world bookmaker, while others do so online, with many punters using internet directories to find the best betting sites and the most attractive odds. Irrespective, the experience is equally fraught with excitement, adrenaline, and enjoyment.
With hundreds of millions of pounds bet over the course of the week, there’s everything to play for, and the crowd becomes incredibly involved in the on-track action. So enthusiastic are their cheers that they’ve become known as the ‘Cheltenham roar’.
The Dubai World Cup
Mystic Guide may have won the @DubaiWorldCup, but his table-manners @keenelandracing leave a lot to be desired… pic.twitter.com/K2o3SsACRX
— Stidham Racing (@Stidhamracing) April 4, 2021
The Dubai World Cup may not be the oldest or most august race on this list, but it’s nonetheless famous around the world. Especially popular among Asian bettors and enthusiasts, it draws interest from every corner of the globe and is gambled on from Bangladesh to Britain.
Part of the event’s appeal lies in its incredible prize pot, which stands at a whopping $12 million. $7.2 million of this goes to the winner, making the contest hugely popular among owners and trainers. As a result, it draws some of the best horses in the world, who in turn pull in the crowds.
Having run every year since 1996, the contest’s most recent winner was the incredible Thunder Snow, who also claimed the crown in 2019.
Why are these races so popular?
When it comes to spectacular racing, there are some show-stopping events in the equine calendar. These hail from every corner of the earth, with the biggest contests attracting massive global audiences.
Speculation surrounding these events is rife, with half of the fun lies in guessing and postulating on the eventual outcome. Where the world’s most famous races are concerned, gambling is commonplace. Even those who never lay a bet through the rest of the year will take a punt on the Cheltenham Festival or Kentucky Derby.
The fun also lies in the inherent glamour and luxury of horse racing calendar events, with a day at the track synonymous with putting on your best clothes, a fascinator, and placing wagers with a glass of champagne in hand. Festival events such as Cheltenham and the Royal Ascot are synonymous with high fashion and royalty, and singular events such as ladies’ day mark possibly the most glamourous event on the yearly sporting calendar.
Further reasons for this exceptional popularity are simple to unpick: these are the ultimate feats of equine athleticism and endurance, a perfect marriage of horse and rider. When the two are brought together, the end result is poetry in motion. It makes our hearts sing, our adrenaline surge, and our eyes marvel at the sheer beauty of what man and nature can achieve.
Interested in experiencing this glamorous world from the other side of the track? Then take a look at our article on 10 Ways to Make Money from Horses, which has a section specifically dedicated to racing.