It beat even the Covid-19-induced lockdown worldwide with places far apart as Hong Kong and Australia letting it stay on track, albeit without the ‘human’ element milling around. For once it seemed that horses were luckier than humans and could run amuck without a virus pulling them down. That in parts can be attributed to a history as old as humans themselves.
Horseracing. Ancient Greeks had their slaves participate in it when Gladiatorial sports either seemed a tad too boring or when there were none left with the animals having devoured them all. The sands and heat of Egypt did not deter the Pharos from trying their hands (mostly of their slaves!) at horse-racing. Rome, Babylon, and Syria, they all did it, and enjoyed doing it immensely. Yes, that’s how old horse-racing has been. If archaeologists are to be believed, it began almost from the time that humans first tamed wild horses. The adrenalin-rushing ‘need for speed’ has thus been with us from early on. What has changed though is the reason to participate in the race itself.
Horses came into our lives for more than one reason. They proved their worth in taking humanity across distances and were the reason behind some of the most awe-inspiring stories in the ancient world including those of wars and conquests. They were soon to be identified worldwide with the races of those who rode them including Huns and Mongols.
Horseracing, an offshoot of the activity of maintaining horses for wars and cavalry took off initially to show the prowess of the riders and the sheer speed and endurance of certain breeds. Over time they came to be seen as essential possession for Kings and Chieftains to show their wealth and position in society. With time and the advent of machines which use liquid fuels, horses lost out on the travel and conquest part, and for quite some time were relegated to the show of equestrian power and prowess.
Equestrian power and prowess proved too good an opportunity for horse-keepers and those who funded their upkeep to let go. Betting on which horse would win the race was after all, all about which horse was in the best condition and health to win. And typical of a gambling bet, it brought good money for the lucky investors who waged his bet correctly. With time, people (more so the lazy risk-takers and those with deep pockets and nothing much to do!) came in droves. And so too, the money!
Great Britain was one of the first to legalize betting on horse-racing with King Charles II being an avid sport who set up an institution called Newmarket. In 1750 came the Jockey Club which together with Newmarket set the standard and put strictures and rules in place. Money started to come in from every strata of British society then with the higher-ups also controlling the entire system and keeping criminals and troublemakers out. All this led to quite an economy in itself which led to good times for trained jockeys, trainers, breeding experts, managers, stable and race-course owners, and of course those who won the bets.
Horse-racing having been around in an organized form for close to 300 years, the usual breed that grace the best races include Thoroughbreds, Appaloosa, Arabian, Paint, and Quarter Horse which are most known for their adaptability and endurance on the course. Races too have gone from being simple activities to show speed and endurance to others like:
- Flat racing which as the name suggests has horses galloping between two points around a straight or oval track.
- Jump racing or Steeplechasing has horses race over a distance with the tracks having various kinds of obstacles, be it respect to height of barriers or complexity of the activity
- Harness racing, where horses trot around or pace over a distance and have to additionally pull a driver in a sulky.
- Saddle Trotting, the most common form has horses trotting over a fixed distance with a jockey saddled to its back.
- Endurance racing, where, as the name suggests, the horses gallop over distances ranging from 25 to 100 across country.
Perhaps the biggest change that has come about in this sport has been the entry of digitization and virtualization that has almost changed the way bets are placed. Various websites have commoditised betting and have changed the way one wagers a bet, places the bet, and increases the chance of winning. Among others, it has brought about the following changes:
1. All at one location: For example, in the UK the most prestigious races include the Cheltenham Festival, the Queen Mother Chase, World Hurdle and Grand National. Trying one’s luck at each of these would mean stretching one’s resources infinitely, both in terms of money and reach. Sites mentioned above have made things easy by presenting everything on a single screen! Also, these sites offer a range of betting options as also races from known to the relatively unknown.
2. Real-time information: If there is one thing about the digitization of communication that stands above others, it’s the ability to communicate live- in real time. And this precisely is what these sites do. They give live information on the status of the steeds on the course. It helps to know the status of your wager, and it also helps take mid-course corrections. That besides, these sites give information about events in the near future almost in the nature of useful racing calendars.
3. Types of bets: Be it your favourite bets, betting on handicaps or on exotics, these sites promote everything under one roof- right there from the relative safety and security of one’s home instead of the hustle and bustle of the derby. On the topic of types of bets, the sites also support straight bets besides more exotic ones which include horizontal and vertical exotics.
Horse racing in some form or the other shall always exist, and that’s because we value speed, endurance and the sheer exhilaration when the hooves hit the ground at high speed. For the latter, there’s nothing close to the thrill of being at the races. And if all that results in one making money without endangering anyone’s life or enterprise, who could possibly object!
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