The Evolution of Betting on Horse Racing

MAN’S relationship with horse is older than history. In fact, some even say that the horse is history itself.

From farming to making war, the faithful horse has always been at our side. But when did we first realise that money and horse racing are inextricably linked? And how did betting on the gee-gees evolve over the centuries?

The beginning

We can see from historical records that the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Greeks all mastered the art of domesticating horses. Their relationship with horses was so strong that these ancient civilizations held equine events which often featured combat tournaments. However, these events were more a contest of the strength and bravery of men than the speed of horses.

It’s not quite clear who first started horse racing, but we can guess with some certainty that it was at the Roman’s chariot races that betting first became popular. Although there was no public betting on the races, many of the watching masses would place wagers on the outcome of the race or the unseating of a chariot driver. While the poorer folk might wager small personal items, the wealthy in the stands would bet coins, slaves, or even entire estates on one race. Established betting, though, is a much more recent development in our relationship with horses.

The Sport of Kings

The first recorded races in England took place in the ninth century when King Athelstan held the throne. These races were informal meetings of the gentry and rarely involved much organization.

It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that a Britain now relatively safe from the fear of invasion started turning its attention to the sport of racing. So popular was the idea that Henry VIII set up stables to train horses for speed and passed laws in relation to breeding.

And in 1519 the oldest running horse race, the Kiplingcotes Derby took place. This race and others around the same time were races of pride with nothing more than a cup at stake. But that all changed in 1680 when two horses raced for purses of money.

King Charles II attended a race between two gentlemen’s horses for a purse of £500 each. An incredible sum of money at the time. The gentry in attendance placed considerable wagers on the outcome, and the Sport of Kings was born.

Professional Racing

During the reign of Queen Anne in the eighteenth century, races with several horses replaced match racing and soon the entire country was enamoured with this exciting distraction. Horse racing became a professional sport with the Jockey Club coming into existence in 1750, and almost overnight racecourses appeared throughout the country.

Although betting on races at this stage was a common occurrence, racegoers usually gambled only on the winner. It wasn’t until betting became widespread in the nineteenth century that we saw bets to win, place, and show.

Modern day betting

In general, betting as we know it today hasn’t changed much since the bookmakers of the nineteenth century. And even though legislation making it illegal forced bookies underground for almost a century the rules of betting in 1960 were much the same as they were a hundred years earlier.

Fast forward more than half a century, and we find that while the principles remain the same, the rules aren’t quite. With the ease of which we can access information on a jockey’s record, the weather, and a myriad of other factors which may affect a race, betting is certainly now a more technical game.

Now that we’re in an almost purely digital age it was necessary for bookmakers to alter the rules in accordance with our use of the internet. When online banking services such as Stripe and PayPal changed the game, online gambling providers had no choice but to follow suit. And the current rules for betting on horse racing reflect our dependence on internet based services.

From ancient Greece to Royal Ascot, man’s relationship with horse makes for an interesting tale, but it’s our predilection to add excitement to that relationship with the prospect of financial gain that makes it a never ending story of the best kind.

This article was brought to you by Racing Ahead magazine, UK and Ireland's best-selling horse racing monthly magazine. Previewing the key races for the month ahead, as well as reports from our trusted scouts on the track, Racing Ahead is packed with interviews, big-race tips, horses to follow, systems and much more!
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