How has horse racing remained a popular sport through time?

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With the Breeders Cup 2022 just around the corner, excitement is already beginning to build among both casual and hardcore fans alike.

For fans of horse racing, the Breeders Cup is an exciting time of the year. Since it was first established in the early 1980s, it has grown to be one of the most prestigious events in the racing calendar.

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The seemingly ever-increasing popularity of the Breeders Cup raises an interesting question about horse racing in general: How has this sport remained so popular over the course of its long history?

A brief history of horse racing

Although the precise origins of the sport are difficult to trace, horse racing has been around since at least classical antiquity.

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Archaeological records reference horse races as having occurred in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, as well as the ancient societies of Babylon, Syria and Egypt. Many of these references also exist in old mythological texts, with Norse mythology, for example, referencing horse races as taking place between the gods. 

Chariot racing was one of the most popular sports in Ancient Greece, Rome and Byzantium, with records stretching all the way back to 648 BC. Similar ancient references can be found throughout China, Persia and Arabia, as well as the Middle East and North Africa in general.

Various types of horse races were also popular in medieval England, where races were used as a way of selling horses, as well as to train knights.

Horse racing became a much more organized affair during the reign of Charles II when formal races were held, with prizes awarded to the winner. This racing series also led to the creation of a new set of horse racing rules — the remnants of which can still be noted in modern horse racing rules.

From there, horse racing continued to spread throughout the English empire, across continental Europe, and even the newly established colonies in what would become contemporary America. Technological advances such as radio, television and the internet also had a role in increasing the popularity of the sport. 

Today, horse racing remains as popular as ever. Races are eagerly attended in-person and watched remotely by millions across the world, and the horse racing industry is now worth hundreds of billions in direct economic impact.

With this brief history of horse racing in mind, however, why has it remained so popular despite being thousands of years old?

The thrill of the race

Perhaps the most obvious reason why horse racing has remained so popular despite being one of the oldest sports in the world, is simply because what makes it so exciting to begin with has not changed!

Horse racing is the original high-octane sport. While more modern racing sports might be exciting events in their own ways, there is something uniquely engaging about seeing a jockey skillfully guide a thoroughbred horse around a track at 44 miles per hour!

Professional jockeys take years, if not decades, to perfect their craft. It is this combination of the skill of the jockey and the pure athletic prowess of the horses that makes live horse races such an incredible event to watch.

The modern wagering market

One of the aspects of modern horse racing that has helped it to remain so popular is the growth of the sports wagering industry. In fact, you could even go so far as to argue that it is hard to imagine what modern horse racing would look like without the sports wagering industry!

In particular, the rise of online wagering has helped to elevate horse racing as it has not only made it easier than ever to place a wager on a horse, but it also gives horse racing fans access to an incredible amount of information. Having access to information allows horse racing fans to place better informed wagers which, in turn, increases their chances of success and overall sense of entertainment.

As online sports wagering has become more and more popular, this has turned more people on to horse racing. With sports wagering platforms now more accessible than ever, it is easy to see why so many are becoming interested in horse racing

The social side

Although this is true of many sports, there is arguably no other sport where the social side of the event is quite as important as it is with horse racing. The annual horse racing calendar is packed full of events that are eagerly attended by millions across the world. This includes immediately recognizable race day names, such as the Royal Ascot, the Grand National, the Dubai World Cup and the Kentucky Derby.

These are incredibly prestigious events. In addition to watching the races themselves, attendees will spend the day socializing, drinking flutes of champagne and indulging edible luxuries.

Interestingly, the social side of horse racing has evolved into something that in one sense transcends the sport itself, with many individuals attending these events even if they only have a passing interest in horse racing. The growing prestige and popularity of these events has helped to raise the profile of the sport in recent decades.

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