Resource Guide To Horse Racing In The USA

Horse racing has a rich and storied history in the United States. Dubbed the “Sport of Kings”, it has been enjoyed by patrons in this country since at least 1665. Today, it has grown into multi-billion dollar industry and one of the most wagered on sports there is. Top race horses can achieve fame and recognition rivaled only by movie stars.

History of Horse Racing

 The earliest known horse race in the United States took place on a laid out track in what is now Hempstead, Long Island. Since then, it is only grown in popularity and prestige.

Different Race Types 

Thoroughbred Racing – Also known as flat racing, this is most well-known and popular form of the sport today. Named after the most common breed of horse used in racing, these races are run on dirt, turf, or synthetic oval tracks that range in distance from half a mile to a mile and half. There are no obstacles on the track and the race requires a combination of speed and stamina.

Endurance Racing – These are longer races over natural terrain. Races generally span either 50 or 100 miles, although there are also some multi-day events. These races require stamina and endurance on the part of the horse, and proper pacing and handling of the horse by the rider.

Quarter Horse Racing – These are shorter races, usually a quarter mile in distance or less. Races are run flat out, and thus require and emphasize top sprinting speeds.

Famous Horses

Seabiscuit – The subject of several books and movies, Seabiscuit became a symbol for hope and redemption for millions during the Great Depression. His victory over War Admiral, a Triple Crown Winner, at Pimlico Race Course, cemented his status as one of the greatest horses to ever race.

Secretariat – A Triple Crown winner in 1973, Secretariat set record times at the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, records that still stand today.

Funny Cide – Winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, Funny Cide finished third in the Belmont Stakes, failing to become the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. He is the first Kentucky Derby winner to have been bred in New York. Funny Cide is also the first gelding to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Zenyatta – One of the greatest female horses ever to race, Zenyatta only lost one race in her twenty race career. Her 19 consecutive victories, including the only victory by a female in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (in 2009) is still an American record.

Rachel Alexandra – One of only ten fillies ever to win a Triple Crown event, Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 Preakness Stakes and was named Horse of the Year in 2009.

Smarty Jones –Winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2004, Smarty Jones came in second place in the Belmont Stakes; failing to become the first Triple Crown winner in 26 years, which at the time was the longest such period without a Triple Crown winner.

Famous Trainers

Nick Zito – A native of New York, Nick Zito grew up the Aqueduct race track in Queens. He worked his way up from a hot walker to a trainer, holding many different positions in the interim. A two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, he also won the Preakness Stakes in 1996.

Todd Pletcher – Born in Dallas, Todd Pletcher won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer four consecutive years in a row from 2004-2007. He won the 2007 Belmont Stakes in addition to the 2010 Kentucky Derby.

Steve Asmussen –The son of a horse training mother and father, Steve Asmussen began his career in horse racing first as a jockey. He trained the famous horses Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, and has won over 5000 horse races in his career.

Woody Stephens –Winner of the Belmont Stakes five years in a row, from 1982 to 1986, Woody Stephens was born in Kentucky and began his career as a jockey. He won the Kentucky Derby twice and the Preakness Stakes once. He died in 1998.

Famous Race Tracks

Churchill Downs – Home of the Kentucky Derby, this racetrack in Louisville opened in 1875 and has hosted six different Breeder Cups.

Saratoga – America’s most historic racetrack, Saratoga opened in 1863, making it the country’s oldest sporting venue; its featured race, the Travers Stakes, is the oldest major thoroughbred race in America. Its six week season runs from late July to Labor Day.

Aqueduct – Lovingly called the “Big A”, the Aqueduct race track is located in Queens, NY. Its race season lasts from late October to early May. Home to the New York Racing Association, it’s the only horse racing track in New York City.

Arlington Park – Located in Chicago, Arlington Park pioneered many innovations that would later become standard in the horse racing industry. It was the first track to use a public address system for race calling, the first to offer a one million dollar purse, the first to offer trifecta wagering, and the first to install an electric starting gate.

Belmont – Home of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, Belmont Park is located in Hempstead, Long Island, not far away from where the very first race track in America was located. Its season lasts from May to July and again from September to November. Secretariat’s 1973 Belmont Stakes victory, which secured him a Triple Crown, set a record for a 1 ½ mile dirt track race, a record which still stands today.

Pimlico – Home of the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, Pimlico Race Course is located in Baltimore, Maryland. Its attendance capacity is over 120,000 people and the 2007 Preakness Stakes set a record for the largest number of people to watch a sporting event in the state of Maryland.

Triple Crown 

A trio of the most premier horse races in the United States, the Triple Crown consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Winning the Triple Crown is considered the pinnacle achievement in horse racing. Only eleven horses ever have won the Triple Crown, the last being affirmed in 1978. The current 33 year old period without a Triple Crown winner is the longest such stretch in its history.