Horse racing is one of the most popular sports in the UK and follows a well-established seasonal pattern both over fences and on the Flat.
Newmarket is termed ‘headquarters’ of Flat racing and, as with most things historical and British, it has a royal connection.
It dates back to the 17th century when James I had a royal palace built near the then small village of Newmarket and, with help from passionate members of his court, helped to establish the venue as the home of organised horse racing.
The royal connection continued with future monarchs Charles I and Charles II who were also keen on all things equine.
Charles II competed himself, and founded a series of races known as Royal Plates, which lend their name to many of the races held today, while Newmarket’s Rowley Mile course is taken from his nickname of ‘Old Rowley’.
Even before the monarchy put its weight behind the sport, there are reports that the Romans held horse races, while there are records of races being staged in London’s Smithfield as long ago as the 12th century.
The breeding of racehorses became popular with the import of Arabian stallions, and many of the stars of the track seen today can be traced back to the original stallions.
The Godolphin Arabian, The Byerley Turk, and The Darley Arabian are the forefathers of most thoroughbreds seen today.
The formation of the Jockey Club in the 18th century helped to regulate racing and contests were then run over shorter distances with younger animals, and many Classic races that are still seen today were born in the latter part of that century.
The St Leger, the Oaks and the Derby were all founded between 1776 and 1780 and are as popular in 2017 as they were all those years ago.
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Jumps racing took a bit longer to become established and back in 1861 around 300 jumps races were run in Britain, but eight years later that number had increased significantly to more than 700.
Flat racing purists had little time for the new sport and the results of some National Hunt races were not even recorded, although contests over the smaller hurdles was tolerated.
Today around 3,000 races are held under National Hunt rules each year, with Cheltenham the undoubted highlight, as horses from around the UK and across the Irish Sea descend on the Gloucestershire countryside in March.
It is a spectacle to rival Royal Ascot while the Grand National is the most widely recognised of all British races either on the Flat or over obstacles.
First run in 1836, the Aintree showpiece has always attracted a wide audience, with punters in awe of horses who slog it out over four miles 514 yards and try to negotiate 30 huge fences.
As with all UK racing, it is now widely available to a global audience due to television and the internet and has clearly come a long way from its fledgling years.
The Queen is as passionate about racing as her predecessors three centuries ago and a regular visitor to Royal Ascot and, while her Majesty will not be around forever, racing in the UK looks set to flourish whoever sits on the throne.