Horse racing is among the most widely attended U.S. spectator sports. It is also a major professional sport in Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and South America.
The most popular form of the sport is the racing of mounted thoroughbred horses over flat courses at distances from three-quarters of a mile to two miles.
Horse racing's beginnings can be traced back to the 12th century, when English knights returned home from the Crusades with Arab horses. Over the next 400 years, breeding between imported Arab stallions and English mares produced horses that combined speed and endurance.
Professional Sport Since 1702
Horse racing became a professional sport as early as 1702 to 1714. Racecourses sprang up all over England and offered large purses to attract the best horses.
The British settlers brought horses and horse racing to America, with the first American racetrack built in Long Island in 1665.
The development of organized racing did not arrive to America until after the Civil War. In 1894, the American Jockey Club was formed to govern the sport
Pari Mutuel Betting
The introduction of pari-mutuel betting for the Kentucky Derby signaled a renaissance for the sport after stumbling badly in the early 1900s.
At the end of World War I, prosperity brought spectators flocking to racetracks.
The sport prospered until World War II, declined in popularity during the 1950s and 1960s, enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s and declined in the late 1980s.
It is currently enjoying another renaissance, thanks to the popularity of horses like War Emblem, Funny Cide, and the legendary Seabiscuit.
Today, thoroughbred tracks exist in about half the states in the United States. US Public interest in the sport focuses primarily on major thoroughbred races such as the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes) and the Breeders' Cup.
Each year in North America, over 30 million people attend harness racing events.
The Standard Bred is by far the fastest horse in harness, and the most popular trotting/pacing breed.
Harness racing is contested on two gaits, the trot and the pace. Trotters move with a diagonal gait; the left front and right rear legs move in unison, as do the right front and left rear.
Pacers, on the other hand, move their legs on one side of their body in tandem: left front and rear, and right front and rear.
This action shows why pacers are often called "sidewheelers." Pacers account for about 80% of the participants in harness racing, and are aided in maintaining their gait by plastic loops called hobbles, which keep their legs moving in synchronization.
Trotters are more popular in Europe while pacers are more popular the North America.
Today, there is a large concentration of harness racing tracks in the Northeast and Midwest United States. Virtually every major population center in these areas boasts one or more harness tracks.
The sport is also popular in Florida, California, and throughout Canada.
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