11 Things a Millennial Learned About Horse Racing

Horse racing expert Ken Miller sheds light on the equine sport

Talking to a horse racing expert can teach someone a lot of things about one of the oldest sports in the U.S.

In 2018, Justify kept horse racing in the public eye, as the horse became the 13th winner of the Triple Crown.

Spring is horse racing season in the United States, at least for what most of the country knows of the sport. The Triple Crown is run in a five-week period, starting with the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday of May, followed by the Preakness Stakes and ending with the Belmont Stakes three weeks later.

While these three races captivate audiences nationwide, they are far from the only prominent contests on the annual horse racing calendar. Ken Miller, CG Technology Sportsbooks’ resident horse racing expert, has been a fan of horse racing since he was young thanks to his grandfather’s influence. Below he shares some interesting facts about this dynamic year-round sport.

Hot Start

Racing in the United States dates back to the 1600s, but organized horse racing started in 1868 with the American Stud Book.

By 1890, there were 314 racing tracks in the United States. The American Jockey Club began in 1894. Tracks continued to open throughout the early part of the 20th century, with new tracks opening as recently as the Lone Star Park in Dallas-Fort Worth in 1997.

Even well into the 1900s, horse racing was the second most popular sport in America, behind baseball.

Since the 1980s, however, horse racing has seen a decline in popularity, in part because of the legalization and popularity of other forms of gambling.

Racing Breeds

Most of America is well versed in thoroughbred racing, at least when it comes to the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing—and the second major event, the Breeders’ Cup.

There is, however, the Breeders Crown for standardbred horses, as well as the Triple Crown of harness racing for pacers, the Triple Crown of harness racing for trotters and the Arabian Triple Crown.

Three’s Company

There might be millions of thoroughbred horses on the globe, but each Thoroughbred racehorse can trace its lineage back to one of three horses imported to England in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Thoroughbreds started making their appearance in North America in the 1730s.

Today, all thoroughbreds share the same birthday, no matter when a horse is born. Racehorses generally share a January 1 birthday to ensure their birth year, since horses start racing at 2 years old. Triple Crown racehorses are 3 years old.

Major Races

Many Americans tune in to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, every year on the first Saturday of May. But there are many more races to pay attention to throughout the year, as is expected with hundreds of races run weekly in the U.S.

First, there’s the rest of the Triple Crown, including the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on Long Island.

Then there’s the Breeders’ Cup, held in October or November, consisting of 13 races over two days, with a total purse of $28 million.

Belmont Park
Belmont Park is the longest racecourse in North America, coming in at one and a half miles.

Belmont Park also boasts the sport’s largest grandstand, as 120,139 came for a Smarty Party in 2004 but were disappointed when Birdstone defeated fan favorite Smarty Jones in the final jewel of the 2004 Triple Crown.

Elite Tracks

Along with Belmont and Churchill Downs, there are several other racecourses considered among the elite, including Saratoga Race Course in New York; Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky; Del Mar racetrack in Del Mar, California; Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California; Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida; Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport New Jersey; Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, New Jersey; and Hawthorne Racecourse in Stickney/Cicero, Illinois.

Bucket List

Many sports fans, even if they’re not a racing aficionado, will put experiencing the Kentucky Derby in person on their bucket list. While the most famous race of them all is an experience, it might not be the most unique or must-see racetrack in the country.

Opening Day at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in July is a see-and-be-seen event in San Diego.

Opened in a partnership that included Bing Crosby and Gary Cooper in 1937, it’s always been a swanky party, with the slogan “Where the Turf Meets the Surf.”

Tough Challenge

Winning a race is hard. Take the Kentucky Derby, with 20 horses in the field. A lot of things can go wrong, from getting stuck behind a wall of horses to bad luck.

Even if a horse looks unbeatable, it can’t tell humans if it has a cold, didn’t sleep well or simply didn’t feel like running very hard. A horse is an animal, and a jockey can’t press an accelerator.

Sport of Kings

Horse racing is expensive. If a horse owner wants to compete in the top echelon of races, they probably need to shell out $1 million or more for their horse. There are exceptions, as most recent Triple Crown winner Justify was sold for $500,000 as a yearling. There are also fees of at least $100 a day in upkeep and training.

If your horse is successful, they were certainly a worthwhile investment and will continue to pay dividends. Take American Pharaoh, a Triple Crown winner in 2015 and the first since Affirmed in 1978. His career racing earnings topped $8 million, but his stud fee is $200,000, which at two times per day, seven days a week, will continue for years to come. A conservative estimate by Forbes suggested American Pharaoh is worth $50 million. Not bad for a few weeks of work.