The Most Prestigious Horse Racing Events

Like most sports, horse racing has taken a hit over the last few years owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is slowly fighting its way back to normalcy as spectators return to the tracks. At the end of the day, nothing can replicate the thrill of being trackside watching as the horses, nostrils flared, and jockeys raised off their saddles come racing past in the company of friends or family.

There is also the glamorous lifestyle which is associated with racing, especially at the prestigious race meets, which are standout events in their own right. A chance to dress to impress, to see or be seen at some of the biggest races on the calendar is simply too good an opportunity for people to miss, and many go to great lengths to make a splash of their own.

We’re going to look at some of the most famous race meets around the world and see what it is that draws so many thousands of visitors year after year.

The Derby

CREDIT George Rex, Epsom Racecourse in 2020 49668509558 a41c734938 o, CC BY-SA 2.0

The richest flat horse race in the United Kingdom, the Derby has been raced on the Downs south of London since 1780. There has long been an international feel to the race – back in 1881, Iroquois was the first American-bred horse to win the prestigious race. Fifty years later came another first as the race was the first-ever outdoor sporting event broadcast live on television, a tribute to its status even then. In fact, for many years, Parliament would go into recess to allow members to watch the racing. More recently, in 2014, Aidan and Joseph O’Brien became the first father-son/trainer-rider to win the race on Australia. O’Brien is the leading trainer with eight wins, while the legendary Lester Piggott rode nine winners over a 30-year period. Incidentally, this race takes its name from the Earl of Derby, one of its founders.

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

CREDIT DPA, Paris Longchamp©Dominique Perrault architecte Adagp (2), CC BY-SA 4.0

Looking ahead to the 2023 race and it already seems like this year’s winner is favorite to complete rare back-to-back triumphs. Enable last did it in 2017 and 2018, but the Coral horse racing odds have already put Alpinista as the favorite to win the 2023 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe following the 2022 victory. First run in 1920, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe takes its name from the famous monument in the heart of Paris, the scene of a victory parade to mark the end of the First World War. Initially relying on funding from the national lottery, since 1982, the race has looked to sponsors to provide the prize money, with the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club being the latest. The arrival of the Qataris has seen the money on offer escalate until now, with five million euros going to the winner, making it the richest flat race on turf. A mixture of location and prize money means the l’Arc is one of the most glamorous events on the international racing calendar, drawing competitors and supporters from around the world.

Kentucky Derby

CREDIT Calstanhope, Churchill Downs, spring meet 2014, CC BY-SA 4.0

The first leg of the prestigious Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby traces its pedigree unbroken back to 1875. Today racegoers flock in their tens of thousands to Churchill Downs in Kentucky to soak up the atmosphere and traditions of Derby Day, washing down their burgoo, a beef, chicken, pork and vegetable stew, with mint julep (made with bourbon, mint and sugar syrup). Millionaire’s Row is where the rich go to be seen, featuring expensive box seats occupied by women dressed stylishly topped off with extravagant headwear, while The Mansion takes expense and exclusivity to a whole different level! Meanwhile, in the cheaper infield area, it’s all about partying against the backdrop of one of the most exciting races in the world. This mixture of tradition, prestige and glamor keeps drawing in the punters – more than 158,000 attended in 2017!

Melbourne Cup

CREDIT Jupiter Firelyte, Flemington main stand, 2013 Melbourne Cup, CC BY 2.0

Known in Australia as ‘the race that stops the nation’, the Melbourne Cup is the richest two-mile handicap in the world and is one of the richest turf races. Dating back to 1861, horses based out of state would travel to Melbourne by steamboat to compete and when they won, it would cause a lot of resentment from local Victorians. But as the race grew in prestige and race day became a public holiday, racegoers became immune to a horse’s origins, and in 1910 the first foreign-trained horse, Comedy King, triumphed without a murmur. Today the race attracts fans and horses from near and far, with 122,000 attending in 2003. As with other top races, the Melbourne Cup comes with its own display of hats and outfits, which attract a lot of attention, highlighting the fact that a day at the races isn’t just about the races – it’s about the day!