16 Horse Racing Statistics and Facts
The origins of horse racing can be traced back to nomadic tribes in Central Asia in 4500 BC. The sport was also popular in Rome, Babylon, Greece, Egypt, and other ancient civilisations. In modern times, there are many equestrian sporting events that have become deeply rooted in many different cultures.
So what is it that makes this sport so exciting and popular? The following statistics offer interesting insight into the “Sport of Kings” and why it remains one of the most important pastimes in the UK.
Key Horse Racing Statistics and Facts
- There are 5.5 million attendees annually visiting racetracks.
- The Saudi Cup has the largest prize pot of £14.1 million.
- The legendary racehorse, Secretariat, is listed among the top 50 US athletes of the 20th century.
- Trainer Mark Johnston had more than 4,000 racetrack wins.
- A racehorse’s record speed is 77.6 km/h.
Playing the Ponies and Prizes
- More than 5.5 million UK residents attended horse races annually prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Deloitte, Two Circles)
Horse racing is the most popular sporting event after football in the UK. However, it wasn’t immune to COVID-19. In 2020, attendance dropped to a mere 700,000, and Rugby Union overtook the equestrian sport with 1.1 million in 2020.
- The annual turnover from horse race betting in the UK dropped just below £4 billion in 2020.
Even though horse race betting saw a decline in profits between 2009 and 2020, the UK’s horseracing industry is still popular among punters. Millions of viewers around the globe watch the staple events like the Cheltenham Festival and The Randox Health Grand National.
- The Grand National at Aintree Racecourse has a prize fund of £1 million.
(The Jockey Club)
Horse racing stats show that this steeplechase is one of the most popular events in the sport. The prestigious hurdle racing event takes place outside Liverpool in the UK and includes a generous prize pool.
- The racing event with the most lucrative reward in 2020 was the Saudi Cup, with £14.1 million ($20 million) in prize money.
The 1,800 meters dirt race is held right between the Pegasus World Cup and the Dubai World Cup. These three dirt races are the most lucrative in the world.
- Before the Saudi Cup came along, the Pegasus World Cup was the world’s richest race.
Horse racing industry statistics show that this race, which takes place on a dirt track at Gulfstream Park in Florida, had the largest prize pot for years. In 2018, it hit £11.3 million ($16 million).
- The highest-ever market value for a stallion was £140.5 million ($199 million).
The Irish stallion Galileo fathered more than 300 foals that grew up to be race winners. Since the stallion’s market value is estimated at 300 times the stud fee, Galileo was priced at £470,000 ($663,000). This price also increased each time the stud fathered more race winners.
- The highest amount paid for a working horse was £79,500 ($112,500).
This Guinness World Record is also one of the more interesting horse facts. The record sum was paid for McIlrath’s Captain Jim, a two-year-old Belgian stallion, at an auction in the US (Gifford, IL), in 2003. The new owners knew how much they could earn from stud fees and only wanted to breed him.
A similar situation happened with Frankel in 2008. The British stud owned by Saudi Prince Khalid Abdullah won 14 races and then started producing winning offspring, which raised his stud fee.
Darker Side of Racing
- In a three-month period, 23 horses died at a racetrack in the US.
(The New York Times)
Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, was the stage for one of the grisliest horse statistics in 2018. Following the horse fatalities, PETA’s vice president at the time, Kathy Guillermo, drew up rules and regulations governing the use of whips and drugs according to international standards.
- A total of 122 horses died on Australian racetracks between August 2018 and July 2019.
The data collected by the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses shows that the most common cause of death in 61 of those cases was “catastrophic front limb injury,” followed by bleeding and cardiac failure. As grim as these horse stats are, they don’t actually account for the horses that are euthanized days after the race.
Historic Racing Events
- The first racehorses were trained for war.
The horse breed, better known as Thoroughbred, was raised in the 17th and 18th centuries by mixing oriental stallions with the mares native to the UK. The first three oriental horses that started the Thoroughbred lineage were Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian.
- Oliver Cromwell outlawed horse racing in 1654 and 1658.
Throughout the history of horse racing, the sport experienced some abrupt interruptions. Some of these came from Cromwell, who decided to ban it, arguing that the sport fueled “wicked, and secret plots and devices.” Cromwell also requisitioned a significant number of horses to be used for war.
- In 1923, a dead jockey finished the race first.
Frank Hayes, a stableman, and a horse trainer, who occasionally raced as a jockey, suffered a fatal heart attack during a race. He and the horse “Sweet Kiss” finished first, scoring the first victory for Hayes. It earned him the title of being the only dead jockey to win a race, and Hayes entered the annals of horse racing history. The horse was quickly nicknamed “Sweet Kiss of Death,” and he never raced again.
- Secretariat is still the record holder in all three Triple Crown events.
The fastest time record set by this legendary racehorse in 1973 for the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and the Preakness races remains unbeaten. Secretariat is the only racehorse to be included among the 50 greatest athletes of the 20th century by ESPN. This amazing, record-setting horse managed to finish the Belmont Stakes race 31 lengths ahead of the competition. Secretariat’s horse racing achievements were featured in a 2010 film produced by Walt Disney Pictures.
- Secretariat was put down in 1989.
Due to chronic and incurable laminitis, which is a painful hoof condition, Secretariat had to be put down. The autopsy revealed that his heart was between 21 and 22 pounds, more than twice the average size for a horse.
Top Record Holders
- The record for the most British race winners is held by trainer Mark Johnston who has 4,194 wins and counting.
(Racing Post, British Champions Series)
The Scottish trainer behind famous racehorses in the UK is the third person to surpass 4,000 wins and now holds the record as the top trainer. His consistent performance over 25 years earned him £53 million so far.
- The record speed for a racehorse is 70.76 km/h.
(Guinness World Records)
Winning Brew holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest racehorse. The horse achieved the record speed in 2008 when he covered a quarter-mile in 20.57 seconds. Francis Vitale trained the record-breaking thoroughbred.
How many horse races are there in a year?
Horse racing facts show that racehorses run seven races per year and start 28 races on average throughout their lifetime.
How many horse races are there in the UK each year?
There are 10,000 horse races per year in the UK. These events are held at more than 1,000 race meetings.
What is the most-watched horse race in the world?
The top five horse races that are watched by millions of fans are Royal Ascot, Cheltenham, Grand National, Breeders’ Cup, and the Dubai World Cup Carnival. These are also popular among punters that like horse racing and online betting venues with PayPal.