The great sport of horse racing is made up of many interacting elements. There are the champion racehorses, the owners, the jockeys, the breeders, and, of course, the fans who place NYRA bets. Then there are the racetracks themselves. They’re some of the most beautiful and glamorous venues in sports. Some racetracks are instilled with the history and tradition of sports betting, while others have become famous because of the colossal prize money on offer at meets. Read on for more about the world’s most famous horse racing tracks and the events associated with them.
Churchill Downs is world-famous as the home of the Kentucky Derby. It was established in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1875 and has run races ever since. The horse racing schedule features three race meets – in spring, September and fall. Churchill Downs has also hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championship eight times.
The racing complex is laid out over an area of 147 acres, including an oval one-mile dirt track and a turf course of seven furlongs (there are eight furlongs in one mile). The area behind the racetrack, known as the Backside, accommodates more than 5,000 horses yearly in its barns and hosts a staff of 1,000 equine workers.
The Kentucky Derby is a Grade I stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbreds over one-and-a-quarter miles. The “Run for the Roses,” as the Derby is known, is the most well-attended race in all of America’s horse racing tournaments, and it’s held on the first Saturday in May, at the end of the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival. The Derby itself – one of the Triple Crown fixtures – has hosted many legendary champions such as Donerail (1913,) Secretariat (1973,) Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978.) This year’s Derby carried a purse (total prize money) of $3 million, and the champion was Medina Spirit (steered to victory by John Velazquez.)
You can get a taste of what the Derby’s like (and learn a bit about how to bet on horse racing) if you play virtual sports.
Pimlico Race Course
The historic Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland is the second-oldest racetrack in America, after Saratoga. The was named back in colonial times by some nostalgic English colonists – after “Olde Ben Pimlico’s Tavern,” in London. Since opening its doors on October 25, 1870, Pimlico has hosted many racing icons, not least Man o’ War, Sir Barton, Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Citation, Secretariat and Cigar.
From 1873 onward, Pimlico has been home to the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in the Triple Crown. People call it the “Run for the Black-Eyed Susans,” because the winning colt or filly receives a blanket of Maryland’s state flower across the withers. The race takes place on the third Saturday in May (hot on the heels of the Kentucky Derby) each year, over a distance of 9.5 furlongs. Colts and geldings carry 126lbs and fillies carry 121lbs. This year’s Preakness carried a purse of $1 million. The champion was 11-1 longshot Rombauer, who powered past favorite Medina Spirit to claim his first Triple Crown title.
Belmont Park is an elite thoroughbred horse racing facility that’s famous for hosting the Belmont Stakes. Opened on May 4, 1905, Belmont is located in Elmont, New York, east of New York City.
Belmont’s horse racing calendar comprises the spring meet from late April through mid-July, and the fall meet from mid-September through late October.
The Belmont Stakes takes place in early June, three weeks after the Preakness. It’s known as the “Test of the Champion” because it’s the third jewel in the Triple Crown.
Nearly every major American champion has run the one-and-a-half miles of the “Championship Track” with its broad, sweeping turns and deceptively long homestretch.
One of the most legendary moments in horse racing history took place in 1973 when Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes in an unbeaten record time of 2 minutes 24 seconds to become the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years.
The 2021 Belmont Stakes carried a purse of $1.5 million, and the champion was Essential Quality.
Across the pond, Aintree racecourse can be found in Aintree, outside Liverpool, in northwest England. One of the world’s largest horse racing tracks, it’s famous for hosting one of the most demanding steeplechases in the world: The Grand National.
The racecourse was founded in 1829 when hotelier William Lynn convinced “Lord Dashalong” (racing fanatic William Philip Molyneux, the Second Earl of Sefton) to lease land for flat racing.
The first steeplechase at Aintree was the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, a weight-for-age race held in February 1839. Horses had to clear a stone wall, cross over plowed land and jump two hurdles at the finish. In 1843 the race, renamed the Grand National, became a handicap.
The nail-biting race meeting takes place over three days in April every year. The race itself starts with a field of 40 horses, but quite often fewer than 10 reach the finish. The most famous thoroughbred to run at Aintree was Red Rum, who was champion of the Grand National three times in the 1970s. His statue stands there to this day.
The 2021 Grand National carried a $1 million purse, and the winner was Minella Times, ridden by Rachael Blackmore, the first female jockey ever to win this famous race.
Gulfstream Park is a racetrack and casino in Hallandale Beach, Florida, with a horse racing schedule from December through October. The facility has undergone a number of changes since it first opened in 1939, and today each of its three courses has a unique racing surface. There’s a one-and-a-half-mile dirt track, a synthetic track made of tapeta (a mixture of fine silica sand, wax, and fibers,) which measures one mile and 70 yards, and a turf course with a distance of seven furlongs.
An eye-catching feature of Gulfstream Park is its bronze statue of the legendary winged horse Pegasus killing a dragon. The statue breathes fire and at 110ft tall is America’s second-largest statue after the Statue of Liberty. The artwork also lends its name to the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes, a nine-furlong race over dirt that’s open to horses four years old and up in January every year.
The Pegasus Stakes was the world’s richest horse race in 2017-2018, peaking with a purse of $16 million. The 2021 event had a purse of $3 million, and the champion was Knicks Go.
Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is possibly the glitziest racetrack in the world. The brainchild of UAE Vice President, and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Meydan district covers approximately 1,853 acres and includes the Meydan Marina, the five-star Meydan Hotel, a nine-hole golf course and a racing museum.
Meydan opened in 2010, replacing the Nad Al Sheba Racecourse. The left-handed turf racetrack is one-and-a-half miles long, while the left-handed dirt course has a distance of eight-and-three-quarters furlongs. The racetrack’s mile-long course can accommodate more than 60,000 spectators.
Meydan’s horse racing calendar runs from November through March and hosts the richest of all the world’s horse racing tournaments: The Dubai World Cup, a Group 1 flat race over a distance of 10 furlongs on dirt. The race is open to northern hemisphere thoroughbreds of four years old and up, and southern hemisphere thoroughbreds of three years old and up. The 2021 Dubai World Cup was the 25th running of the race, with a purse of $12 million. The champion was the American racehorse Mystic Guide, in a first-time international victory for trainer Michael Stidham.
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