Horse racing is one of the fanciest, wealthiest and most popular sports in the world. The venue of the sport is just about as popular as its contestants are! Here is an account of the world’s most famous horse racing courses.
There is something about riding down the street on a prancing horse that makes you feel like something, even when you ain’t a thing.
~ Will Rogers
That should explain why anyone who likes animals, loves horses! The sheer strength, beauty and grace that a horse exhibits is unparalleled. The sound of the hoofs when the horse trots, the hypnotic sight of a horse grazing in the field, the adrenaline rush you experience at the sound and sight of a galloping horse, are feelings that will leave a lifelong impression on your mind’s eye. You will never forget the first time you rode a horse; you will always remember, in great detail, the time when you saw a herd of horses galloping along the countryside; and unless you have the means, you will always hope and wish to have a horse!
Given the emotions we associate with horses, it isn’t difficult to understand the popularity of Equestrian sports – right from show jumping, to dressage, to perhaps the most popular form of Equestrian sport, horse racing. Horse racing has a history of over a couple thousand years, with the earliest record of horse domestication dating back to ca. 4000 B.C.
Historically, horse racing was a part of the ancient Greek Olympics, with chariot racing being the most popular Equestrian sport. However, several forms of horse racing such as flat race, steeplechase (in which hurdles and fences are placed in the horse’s track), endurance riding, etc., have now been established and have gained immense popularity over the years.
World Famous Horse Racing Courses
Horse racing events are held at horse racecourses, alternatively known as horse racetracks. Horse racetracks require special care and maintenance, as much as – or even more than – the fields that host football, cricket, tennis and other sports. There is a lot that goes into building a state-of-the-art racecourse. To give you a rough idea, the Meydan Racecourse of Dubai, UAE took an estimated $2 billion to be built! No doubt, derby is an expensive affair.
There are many top-class racecourses around the world, some as old as modern-day horse racing itself, and some only as young as the minimum age of a racing horse! Here is an account of famous horse racing courses from around the world.
Contrary to popular belief, horse racing as a sport was established in North America almost two centuries before it was in the UK. The first ever racing meet of North America took place in the year 1665, under the supervision of the then New York’s colonial governor, Richard Nicolls, with the first racetrack being built in the same year. However, it wasn’t until the later half of the 18th century that the sport of horse racing gained a proper organized form. Here are some of the most famous horse racing courses in America.
♞ Churchill Downs
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Notable for:Kentucky Derby, Stephen Foster Handicap
The biggest racecourse (in terms of seating capacity), Churchill Downs is home to one of the races of the United States Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby. (The second race of the Triple Crown is the Preakness Derby held at Pimlico Race Course, and the third is the Belmont Stakes held at Belmont Park.) Built in 1875, it was designated a National Historic Landmark a 111 years later, in 1986. The dirt track on which the derby is held, measures 1 mile in circumference and runs around the inner turf course. The racecourse also houses a clubhouse and a museum, and is undoubtedly one of the best horse racing courses around the world.
♞ Belmont Park
Location: Elmont, New York
Notable for:Belmont Stakes
Hosting the third leg of the United States Triple Crown “Belmont Stakes”, Belmont Park is also known as “The Champion Track”, owing to the fact that every champion in horse racing has competed at least once on the track. The legendary horse Secretariat set one of the two world records on this very racetrack – his Belmont Stakes victory of 2 minutes 24 seconds remains undefeated to date. He set his Kentucky Derby world record (1 minute 592⁄5 seconds) on the Churchill Downs racetrack. A statue of Secretariat was placed in the paddock of Belmont Park to honor him.
♞ Del Mar Racetrack
Location: Del Mar, California
Notable for:Del Mar Oaks (G1), Pacific Classic (G1)
With a 1 mile inner dirt track and a seven furlong outer turf course, the Del Mar Racetrack runs by the slogan “Where The Turf Meets The Surf”. In its second year (i.e., in the year 1938) Del Mar hosted the historic race between racehorses Seabiscuit and Ligaroti, which went on to become the first race to be broadcast on NBC radio. With a grandstand located right on top of the Pacific Ocean, it hosts races from July to September every year.
♞ Santa Anita Park
Location: Arcadia, California
Notable for:Santa Anita Handicap (G1), Santa Anita Derby (G1)
Santa Anita Park is unanimously called the most beautiful horse racing course in the world, with the simultaneous massive and magnificent backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains. It has a natural dirt track of 1 mile, and a shorter inner turf course. Santa Anita Park honors a chosen jockey with the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award every year. It has been listed in the United States National Register of Historic Places.
Location: Lexington, Kentucky
Notable for:Blue Grass Stakes (G1)
Ranked #1 by the Horseplayers Association of North America in 2009, and included both in the National Register of Historic Places and list of National Historic Landmarks in the US, Keeneland is one of the best horse racing courses around the world. It has a 1710 m dirt track and a 1509 m turf. Apart from horse racing, Keeneland is also popular for its horse auctions – held four times a year – and its exhaustive reference library on horse racing.
♞ Woodbine Racetrack
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Notable for:Canadian International Stakes (G1), Queen’s Plate (G1)
The track to host the first ever Summer Paralympics in 1976, Woodbine Racetrack has a total of three racecourses, since 1994 – the 1.5 mile E. P. Taylor thoroughbred turf course (named after famous business tycoon and breeder Edward “Eddie” Plunket Taylor); the inner 1 mile thoroughbred Polytrack; and the innermost 0.875 miles crushed limestone racecourse for Standardbred horses. It is the only track in North America that holds thoroughbred and standardbred races on the same day.
♞ Hastings Racecourse
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
Notable for:British Columbia Breeders’ Cup Derby (G3)
Hastings Racecourse was opened in the year 1889 and is home to British Columbia Breeders’ Cup Derby. It is a 1⅛ miles race held on a dirt track, one of the most important races for 3-year old horses held at Hastings annually. It is also one of the richest races held at Hastings, with a purse of $250,000.
Although many world-class racecourses do exist in South America, horse racing as a sport is not so famous in South America, as it is in some other parts of the world. Nevertheless, horse races such as the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini in Argentina are quite popular and famous and draw audiences from all over the continent. Here is an account of few of the racecourses in South America.
♞ Hipódromo de San Isidro
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Notable for:Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini
The biggest racetrack in both North America and South America, Hipódromo de San Isidro was opened in 1935. It has a 2,783 meter long turf, on which 1000-meter long races are held. It is home to the single most important horse race in Argentina, the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini. It is held every December.
♞ Hipodromo Nacional de Maroñas
Location: Montevideo, Uruguay
Notable for:Gran Premio José Pedro Ramírez
This racing track was opened in 1874. It has a 1.28 mile main dirt track on which races are held and a 1.24 mile training track. The most important of the races held on the track is the Gran Premio José Pedro Ramírez. It is a 1.49 miles race, held on Three Kings’ Day every year. Apart from that, local horse races are held every weekend. The facility also includes a casino and café.
♞ Hipodromo La Rinconada
Location: Caracas, Venezuela
Notable for:Gran Premio Clásico Simón Bolívar (G1)
Claimed to be one of the most modern racetracks in the continent, Hipodromo La Rinconada was opened in 1959. Along with Gran Premio Clásico Simón Bolívar (G1), the Hipica Gala event hosted by this racetrack is also of prominence. The racecourse also houses a Museum of Arts, and the famous Alejandro Otero El Polyhedron.
Europe – particularly UK, France and Ireland – has a glorious and long history of horse racing, dating back to the early 18th century. The most popular form of horse racing in Europe is steeplechase (wherein horses have to jump over hurdles or fences). Competitive horse racing in UK is collectively called the National Hunt, or simply ‘The National’. It is the single most prominent and prestigious horse racing event in Europe.
♞ Aintree Racecourse, England
Location: Aintree, Merseyside
Notable for:Grand National
There probably isn’t a single derby fan who hasn’t heard of the Aintree Racecourse; it is after all the most famous horse racing course in England. Aintree is home to the most definitive National Hunt steeplechase, the Grand National (which is also considered the most difficult steeplechase in the world, with 30 fences spread over a distance of 7,242 meters). If you are a great derby fan, you must, at least once in your lifetime, witness the Grand National at Aintree Racecourse. It is held every April.
♞ Cheltenham Racecourse
Location: Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Notable for:Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle
With a natural amphitheater along the escarpment of the Cotswolds hills, the Cheltenham Racecourse is as much popular for its scenic beauty as it is for hosting one of the most important and élite horse racing events, the Cheltenham Festival. The festival comprises four renowned races – Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and Stayers Hurdle. The Steeplechasing Hall of Fame is also housed at Cheltenham Racecourse. This is another place you absolutely should visit!
♞ Ascot Racecourse
Location: Ascot, Berkshire
Notable for:King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Ascot Gold Cup
The Ascot Racecourse hosts a whopping 9 of the 32 annual G1 races in UK and is one of the élite horse racing courses in England. The best time to visit Ascot would be in the months of June and July when two of its most prestigious races, viz., Ascot Gold Cup and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, are held. Members of the Royal British Family attend the Royal Ascot (established in 1711 by Queen Anne) every year at the Ascot Racecourse.
♞ Curragh Racecourse, Ireland
Location: Newbridge, Co. Kildare
Notable for:Irish Derby (G1)
The name Curragh is a derivative of the Irish word Cuirreach, which means “racecourse”. The racecourse hosts all the five classic Irish horse racing events, viz., Irish 1,000 Guineas (G1), Irish 2,000 Guineas (G1), Irish Derby (G1), Irish Oaks (G1) and finally the Irish St. Leger (G1). These are also the races with the highest purses in Ireland. Though the first derby took place only in 1866, horse racing has been witnessed by this racecourse since as early as 1727.
♞ Chantilly Racecourse
Location: Chantilly, Oise
Notable for:Prix du Jockey Club, Prix de Diane
Chantilly Racecourse hosts 2 of the 4 French Classics, viz., the Prix du Jockey Club, and the Prix de Diane. The main course of Chantilly is 2400 meters long. The grandstand of this racecourse has never witnessed a renovation and/or reconstruction. It is as it was, when built in 1879. The racecourse also homes a 186-meter long stable, considered to be the finest and most beautiful in the world.
♞ Longchamp Racecourse (Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe)
Location: Route des Tribunes Bois de Boulogne, Paris
Notable for:Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
Most famous for hosting the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (one of the four French Classics, held every October), the specialty of the Longchamp Racecourse is that it has several interlocked racetracks, thus providing for great variety in the racing distances. More than half of the G1 category races of France are held at Longchamp.
Not many people know that the Australian thoroughbred horse racing industry ranks #3 in the world. Yes, you read that right! The single most important horse race in Australia is the Melbourne Cup, which has been dubbed the “race that stops a nation”. Competitive endurance riding is also quite popular in Australia, with the Tom Quilty Gold Cup being the most coveted award. Given below is a brief account of world famous horse racing courses in Australia.
♞ Flemington Racecourse
Location: Flemington, Victoria
Notable for:The Melbourne Cup, Victoria Derby
Home to the Australian horse race with the highest purse, viz., The Melbourne Cup, the Flemington Racecourse boasts a 2312-meter long racetrack along which races are run anticlockwise, rather than clockwise. The racecourse sports a bronze statue of Phar Lap, a magnificent racehorse trained in Australia. Included in the Australian National Heritage List in 2006, Flemington hosts most of the important Australian horse racing events.
♞ Randwick Racecourse
Location: Eastern Suburbs, Sydney
Notable for:Australian Derby
Another illustrious racecourse in Australia, the Randwick Racecourse hosts many races like the Australian Derby, the AJC Oaks, AJC Queen Elizabeth Stakes (historically known as the Queen’s Plate). Apart from being a venue for these and other famous races, Randwick Racecourse has also been used as a location for shooting parts of the film Mission Impossible II, and is also used as a venue for the University of New South Wales exams! Fancy appearing for an exam in a racecourse … cool, isn’t it?
♞ Caulfield Racecourse
Location: Caulfield, Victoria
Notable for:Caulfield Cup, Caulfield Guineas, Blue Diamond Stakes
One of the most popular horse racing courses in Australia, the Caulfield Racecourse is 2080 meters long, and shaped like a triangle, with 4% to 6% banking along the turns. Also known as “The Heath” locally, races are held on the track for about 20 days in a year.
On the African continent, horse racing is primarily centered at Mauritius and South Africa. Most of the racehorses that contest in the different racing events are bred in South Africa, though sometimes they may be imported from other countries too, especially from UK and France. Each year, South Africa and Mauritius both attract enthusiasts from all over the world for the different racing events they host. Here are some of the famous racecourses of Africa.
♞ Turffontein Racecourse
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Notable for:South African Derby
Such is the racing course of this famous racetrack from Australia, that it is unanimously considered as the true test of a horse’s stamina. With an inner as well as an outer turf, Turffontein hosts the G1 South African Derby and the Summer Cup every November. It was founded in 1887.
♞ Champ de Mars Racecourse
Location: Port Louis, Mauritius
Notable for:Maiden Cup
Champ de Mars Racecourse is home to the third-oldest active horse-racing clubs in the world, viz., Mauritius Turf Club. In itself, Champ de Mars Racecourse is the oldest racetrack in the Southern Hemisphere of the Earth. The year that it was founded, Champ de Mars Racecourse hosted the first organized race meeting in the history of Mauritius! With a total circumference of 1298 meters, it is a small racetrack, albeit a very popular one. In fact, horse racing as such is a very popular sport in Mauritius.
♞ Tokyo Racecourse
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Notable for:Japan Cup, Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks)
With seating provision to hold over 200,000 people at a time, the Tokyo Racecourse is undoubtedly the biggest in the world, in terms of seating capacity. There are in all three racetracks – the turf track measures 2083 meters, the dirt track measures 1899 meters, while the jump track measures 1675 meters. The Tokyo Racecourse also houses one of the largest video screens in the world.
♞ Meydan Racecourse
Location: Dubai, UAE
Notable for:Dubai World Cup
One of the most élite and the youngest racetracks in the world in its class, the Meydan Racecourse hosts a 1750-meter long, all-weather Tapeta track and a 2400-meter long Turf track. It is also claimed to be the world’s only racecourse to host a luxury 5-star trackside hotel, The Meydan. The track also boasts training and breeding facilities.
Horse racing began as a personal form of transport. Horses were used by our forefathers as beasts of burden too. From something that began at an individual (or personal) level, horse racing has gone on to become one of the most popular and expensive sports ever. The kind of money that flows through the hands of people involved in the horse racing industry will make you dizzy! To give you a very rough idea: as of 2010, there were well over 8000 people in Great Britain who collectively had over 14,000 race horses in training, and the total prize money involved in horse racing that year was a whopping £99 million! By the way, this is just Great Britain we are talking about. When the figures skyrocket like that, it is only natural that everything about the event will be top-class; the training that the horses are put through, the diets they have to follow, and the ground they walk on. Indeed, the horse racing courses around the world mentioned above are no less than the very best. It would be worth every penny to save up and go visit at least some of these racecourses once in your lifetime!