Horse racing has been popular as a spectator sport throughout the British Isles for hundreds of years. It was also the first sport organized in the American colonies. This was in 1664 on Long Island, New York. Four years later the first American sports trophy, a silver bowl, was presented there.There are two main types of horse racing. In flat racing horses run against each other over a set distance. In National Hunt racing, also called steeplechasing, horses jump over fences and ditches round a course. The main flat races in Britain each year are the English Classics, five races for three-year-old horses. These are the Derby and the Oaks (both run at Epsom), the One Thousand Guineas and the Two Thousand Guineas (run at Newmarket) and the St Leger (run at Doncaster). The four-day Royal Ascot meeting is an important social occasion, attended by members of the royal family. The most famous steeplechase is the Grand National, which was first run in 1836 and which takes place each spring at Aintree. Many people who take no interest in horse racing have a bet on this race. Racing attracts people from all levels of British society but only the rich can afford to own and train a racehorse.In the US flat racing is called thoroughbred racing or just racing; steeplechasing is not often seen. The most famous race is the Kentucky Derby, which began in 1875 and is run each year at Louisville, Kentucky. This is a big event on national television, and informal bets are made in offices and homes, even in states where gambling is illegal. Other important races are the Preakness at Baltimore, Maryland, and the Belmont Stakes at Elmont, New York. The three together are called the triple crown. Only 11 horses have won the triple crown since 1919, and none since 1978. The most famous was Citation.Famous British and US jockeys have included Willie Carson, Pat Eddery, Lester Piggott, Peter Scudamore, Willie Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Angel Cordero and Steve Cauthen. Horses famous in Britain have included Arkle, Desert Orchid, Nijinsky, Red Rum and Shergar, and in the US Galant Fox, Secretariat, Affirmed, Man o’ War, Native Dancer and Cigar, which was chosen Horse of the Year in 1995 and 1996.A type of race popular in America is harness racing, in which a horse pulls a small two-wheeled cart called a sulky with its driver. The most famous race is the Hambletonian, popularly called the ‘Hambo’, at the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey. Harness racing’s triple crown is the Hambletonian, the Kentucky Futurity, and the Yonkers Trot.Betting on the result of a race is for many British people an important part of the sport and contributes to the atmosphere of excitement and tension at a racecourse. Before a race starts bookmakers take bets, calculate the odds and say which horse is the favourite. People can also bet on a race on the Internet or at a bookmaker’s or betting shop. Betting shops show live television broadcasts of races.Americans also like to play the ponies. People can bet beside the track or off-track. Telephone bets can be made in some states. Even though many Americans do not approve of betting, most have accepted horse racing as an exciting sport and a US tradition. This is reflected in popular culture. Camptown Races is one of Stephen Foster‘s most popular songs. Damon Runyon set many of his short stories at race tracks, the mystery novels of Dick Francis are set in the world of racing and Hollywood has produced popular films about racing such as National Velvet (1945) and The Black Stallion (1980).See also greyhound racing.
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