Why horse racing is a hit with women

Find out why horse racing is such a hit with women, and discover the five biggest horse races in the world.

Horse racing is a globally popular sport with a very long history. Records show that people were competing in horse races all the way back in Ancient Rome and that is when many of the rules that apply to the sport today were invented.

In the US, the sport took off during the 1860s and the UK followed suit the decade after. It remains big business in both countries and they are home to some of the most prestigious horse racing events.

People tend to think of it as a male dominated activity, but in fact women have played a significant role. In 1983, Caroline Beasley shattered the glass ceiling by riding a Cheltenham Festival winner – proving that women can compete with men at the top level.

The five biggest horse races in the world

Let’s look more closely at horse racing around the world, with the five biggest races.

1) The Grand National

The Grand National is by far the most important race in the UK and Ireland, but it also has a worldwide reputation. Up to 600 million people typically watch this event, either from the stands or live on television and it attracts the best jockeys and trainers from all over the globe.

It is held at the Aintree course and a key moment in Grand National history came in 2021, when Rachael Blackmore of Ireland rode Minella Times to victory. That made her the first woman to win the event in its 182-year history and broke down another barrier for females in this sport.

2) The Kentucky Derby

This is easily the most prestigious horse race in the US. It is a Grade I stakes event and all of the horses that compete are three-year old thoroughbreds. The venue for it each year is Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

Over 150,000 spectators watch it from that venue every year and more than $180 billion worth of bets are typically placed by those checking out the Kentucky Derby odds

This event has made some horses into legends, including the record-breaking Secretariat ridden by Ron Turcotte in 1973.

3) The Melbourne Cup

The Melbourne Cup is the number one horse race in Australia and it held at the Flemington Racecourse in that city each November. It is an event that tests both the speed and the endurance of the horses over a 3.2 km course, with around 81,000 attending to watch each year.

It was first held in 1861 and has produced some astonishing upsets. The most recent came in 2015, when Prince of Penzance was ridden to victory at odds of 100-1. The jockey was Michelle Payne – the first ever female Melbourne Cup winner.

4) Royal Ascot

This iconic horse race takes place annually at the Ascot Racecourse, which is in the English county of Berkshire. It involves several races, the top one of which is the 4 km Gold Cup. The most recent winner of that race was Courage Mon Ami, but the most successful horse in Gold Cup history is Yeats, with four triumphs.

Royal Ascot is about the style and fashion statements as well as the racing though, with female attendees in particular dressing to the nines for it.

5) The Dubai World Cup

This is a much more recent addition to the calendar, launched in 1996. It has helped to make horse racing popular in the Middle East and takes place at the Meydan Racecourse.

It offers prize money of $12 million, which attracts the best trainers and jockeys. Among them is Frankie Dettori who has won it four times – most recently in 2022 on the horse Country Grammer.

The differences between countries

There are distinct national horse racing differences. One of them is the types of horses used, as thoroughbreds dominate US racing, while standard bred horses are more common in Europe. Middle Eastern countries often use what is known as ‘hot-blooded’ breeds and horses of that type dominate races in that part of the world.

A second notable difference between US and European horse racing events is that those in the former – like the Kentucky Derby – are usually flat track events. By contrast, European ones often feature fences.

There are also cultural differences. Horse racing is central to the traditional cultures of nations such as Pakistan and India and is more working class. By contrast, in the US and UK it is associated with wealth and is referred to as the ‘sport of kings.’ In those countries, the training of horses is an expensive activity undertaken by well-paid professionals. In other ones, training of race horses is carried out by local people.

There are plenty of important differences in horse racing across the world but most places have their prestige events.