History of Horse Wagering

Horse wagering, or the 'sport' of gambling on the results of a horse race or races, probably goes back as far as the domestication of the horse itself. One of the main reasons for raising and breeding horses was to create stronger, faster, more controllable beasts and this would naturally lead to competing owners testing their horses against one another. If human nature is any guide, both the owners and the public at large would place bets on the results of such races. The type of wagering would, and is today, only limited by the imaginations of the gamblers. For example, riders who attempt to stay astride a bucking bronco might be the subjects of bets, and of course horse racing, in all of its forms, has instant appeal to the gambler.

Many people are familiar with the exciting chariot race scene in the epic 1959 film Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston. In ancient Greece and Rome, chariot racing was a very popular sport. Owing to its origins as a form of warfare, chariot racing was extremely competitive and drivers were in constant danger as they pushed their chariots and mounts to the limit. Often, losing drivers would sacrifice their lives while the winners would receive nothing more than a laurel wreath. The races were performed at huge monumental stadiums like the 2,000 foot long Circus Maximus, the Hippodrome and the Coliseum where wealthy patrons whiled away their days wagering on chariot races and other amusements. The notorious Roman emperor Nero (who was said to have “fiddled while Rome burns”) was a noted fan of chariot racing, having been a driver in his youth. Chariot racing has transformed itself into a modern horse racing event known as Harness Racing.

Modern horse wagering is descended from the large horse racing events held in England hundreds of years ago. Storied races like the Grand National steeplechase date from the 1830s and the renowned races at Ascot began even earlier, in 1711. Royal sponsorship of races like Ascot helped bring horse wagering into a more respectable light, and today the major American races such as the Triple Crown, consisting of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont see huge amounts of money being wagered, both at the tracks and from remote locations.

The rise of Internet gambling and so-called “rebate shops” that ensure bettors receive a refunded percentage of every bet placed are helping to spread horse wagering to new sectors of the population and increasing interest in horse racing itself.