Horse racing is possibly one of the oldest sports in the UK, with recorded races dating back to around the 12th century. English knights returned from the crusades, bringing with them noble Arab horses to breed with domesticated English horses. The result of this breeding was the thoroughbred, which is the horse still used in racing to this day.

Horse racing as a spectator sport began under the reign of Charles II and became a professional sport in the early years of the 18th century, when Queen Anne opened several racecourses, including Ascot.

From the days of Charles II to the present day, we’ve put together this timeline of horse racing in the UK:

  • 1660-1685 – King Charles II begins to race two horses against each other at a time in open fields or on private courses. Prizes begin to be awarded to winners. Newmarket becomes the first UK venue for horse races.
  • 1702-1714 – Under Queen Anne, horse racing evolves from a two-horse match sport to professional races involving several horses which spectators could bet on. Several dedicated racecourses are opened and Ascot is founded by the Queen in 1711.
  • 1750 – The Jockey Club is established among the horse racing elite at Newmarket.
  • 1791 – An Introduction to a General Stud Book is first published by James Weatherby.
  • 1793 – Weatherby begins to use the General Stud Book to record the pedigree of every single foal born to a race horse. Thoroughbreds can all be traced back to one of three ‘Foundation sires’ – stallions Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian or Godolphin Arabian. These records are still kept.
  • 1815 – The five ‘classic’ races of British horseracing are established: the 2,000 Guineas Stakes, 1,000 Guineas Stakes, Epsom Oaks, Epsom Derby, and St Leger Stakes.
  • 1839 – The first widely recognised Grand National takes place at Aintree. The aptly-named winner Lottery is ridden to victory by jockey Jem Mason.
  • 1866 – The National Hunt Committee is established
  • 1928 – The Tote is established as the only UK organisation entitled to run pool betting on racing.
  • 1947 – The first use of the photo finish happens in the 1947 flat season.
  • 1950s and 1960s – Television follows on from newspapers in popularising horse racing.
  • 1961 – Betting shops away from the racecourse are legalised. More than 10,000 open up across the UK in the first six months.
  • 1965 – Starting stalls are first introduced for flat races.
  • 1973-1977 – Perhaps the most famous racehorse ever, Red Rum makes history by winning the Grand National three times in five years. Red Rum won in 1973, 1974 and 1977 and came second in 1975 and 1976.
  • 2000 – The first online betting shops open, allowing punters to gamble on horse racing from the comfort of their own homes.

Horse racing is the second most-watched televised sport in the UK after football. With history as a professional sport in the UK dating back more than three centuries so far, it would seem that the popularity of horse racing is still not waning.