The History of Derby Style Horse Racing

When you start to learn about the Kentucky Derby, it becomes obvious that this tradition is older than the first Derby started in 1875. In fact, this may be one of the premier sporting events in the horseracing world, but it draws much of its tradition from other festivities. Some of these horse festivals go back to early ancient cultures of the world.  However, the origins of Thoroughbred racing are only about 200 years old.

Historic derbies of the past

The Kentucky Derby began in 1875 and was one of the first of its kind in the United States. Regardless, the style of derby that the Kentucky Derby is based on is similar to the kind found in England. The Historic styles of English derbies were first facilitated by the Jockey Club.  There, the English “Classics” are the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, and the Saint Leger Stakes.

America gets its own derby

Once upon a time, America was the badlands of European culture. This meant that no one thought that America was organized enough to have a grand celebration like a derby.  In addition, resources were only beginning to accumulate in order to have something extra that disrupted the entire town. Despite these seemingly scarce times, there was a great deal of horse-related breeding work compiled in England that was about to change everything.

James Weatherby defines thoroughbred racing

In the late 1700’s, the English Jockey Club decided to employ the son of their accountant with a special task.  Previously undocumented, James Weatherby compiled the breed history (pedigree) of the entire race horses found in England at the time.  This became formally known as the General Stud Book. As a racehorse became established, it was simply added to the subsequent volumes of this annually printed publication.

Although the project was published in 1793, it did not take long for it to influence horses at the racetrack.  Soon, only horses found in the pedigree book were considered racehorses.  These select horses were referred to as Thoroughbreds.

New horses in a new race in a new country

The first racetracks were built by the British in the late 1600’s near New York City, but the sport simply did not take off.  After the success of the stud book in England in the late 1700’s, this concept soon made its way over to the United States about 70 years later.

Although most people were aware of horseracing in America, it was not a popular sport until about 1870.  This was the time that Thoroughbreds were being recorded and selected for in the United States.  This technique revolutionized the number of tracks found in the country and The Kentucky Derby soon emerged in 1875.  Following the Churchill Downs lead, by the late 1800’s, there were over 300 tracks across America.  Clearly, regulating the horses created a basis for a sport that made locals curious.

Thoroughbred Racing in America

One of the main problems with thoroughbred racing in the early days was its susceptibility to being involved with criminals.  This rapidly growing industry decided to nip the misconduct in the bud and formed the American Jockey Club in 1894.  Again, it was modeled after the precedent that England set in the modern world of horseracing.  Sadly, forming this type of crime-free environment did not convince local voters that they were a safe place for the community.

Laws wipe out horseracing

Just as it was gaining popularity as a place free of crime, laws soon were made that put a damper on horse racing tracks altogether.  In particular, it was gambling that made many states vote against that kind of activity.  Around 1910, it is estimated that only about 30 racetracks remained in America.

Churchill Downs was eventually able to strike a compromise by introducing pari-mutuel betting for the Kentucky Derby.  This means that all of the bets are compiled by one source (usually the racetrack) and then the winnings are cut up evenly to the rightful winners.  Soon, other states realized that this was perfectly reasonable and this led to more tracks re-opening.

Modern Thoroughbred features

Over the years, the history of horseracing has grown stronger and this strength has led to an expansion of culture outside of the track.  In the past, there were many farms that had a single purpose of managing all horses.  Most of the older horses were euthanized.  Regardless, Thoroughbred farms are more specialized today and contain more accommodations for retired horses.  For example, in modern Thoroughbred horseracing, there are three types of horse farms that you will hear about in newspapers.

The first kind of farm is where horses are bred and born.  This means there are many studs hanging out with mares at these types of farms.  Once the foals are born, they are immediately sold to other farms.  A farm where new foals are present is usually solely focused on racehorse training.  Finally, a third kind of farm Involves some horses that are retired and living out their days kicking up their hooves.

Published On Apr 10, 2012