In the United States, horse racing has been going on for centuries. There are many different cultures that have held horse races, from ancient Greek chariot races to the latest race in New Zealand. But the oldest documented race in history is a horse race that took place in France in 1651.
The first recorded race was a wager between two noblemen. After the Dutch surrendered to the British in 1664, a royal governor in New York plotted a race course on the Long Island plain. A two-mile course was laid out and the best horses were offered a silver cup.
The King’s Plates were standardized races for six-year-old horses carrying 168 pounds. However, a four-year-old horse with 126 pounds was admitted to the King’s Plates in 1751. While the weight of a horse was largely regarded as irrelevant, an average speed rating over the last four races was considered a crucial determinant.
During the reign of Louis XIV, gambling was a popular pastime. The monarch ordered a jockey club and required certificates of origin for all horses. He also instituted a rule that foreign horses must have a tack-saver or blanket on them at all times.
Several of the best American Thoroughbreds came from this era. These horses were bred to have stamina and endurance. They were often born in Virginia and imported into Maryland. It was a common practice for wealthy country gentlemen to ride their own horses. Often, the horses they used were pregnant mares, so they were brought to Virginia to give birth.
After the Civil War, speed became an important factor in races. Dash racing, which required a skillful rider and judgment, became popular. Many of the best American Thoroughbreds were not raced for much more than a mile and a quarter.
Selima was a bay mare with a white star on her forehead. Her winning time was a mere eight minutes. Nevertheless, her win marked the first time a preternatural talent had crossed the Atlantic. She subsequently won the Kentucky Derby.
The first Thoroughbred horse race in America was held in Gloucester, Virginia on December 5, 1752. The race was deemed a great success. The Annapolis Maryland Gazette described the event as “great” and noted that the winning horse, Rich Strike, was “an ingenious and brave animal.”
After Selima’s win, the race between Maryland and Virginia became rivals. Both states were claiming the Chesapeake Bay. This spawned a series of heated arguments between the two states’ horse owners.
Maryland’s owners believed their racing was superior to Virginia’s. Hence, a horse called Tryal, a gray mare, was imported by John Tayloe II. His import became a popular sire.
Despite their differing opinions, the two states continued to battle over several issues. By the 1860s, a number of Virginia born foals had been transported to Maryland to race.
Until the end of the Civil War, the richest events in the United States were funded by stakes fees from their owners.