Famous Horse Races: 10 Biggest, Most Prestigious Ones

Known as “the sport of kings”, horse racing is a very old sport, that has been practised in more or less the same way for thousands of years. If you follow the racing world you may be aware of all the large and small races there are, but if you are just starting out then you might not know about all the famous horse races out there. Here are the ten biggest, most prestigious ones so you can impress everyone with your knowledge of horse racing.

Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby

This world famous horse race is held on the first Saturday in May, in Louisville Kentucky. It is the first leg of the Triple Crown, and it has been run since 1875. It is a dirt track, over a distance of 2,000m (about 1.25 miles). Kentucky Derby is nicknamed the “run for the roses”, because the winners are draped in a blanket of flowers, and it is exclusively a race for three year olds. Secretariat is the fastest horse in the Derby’s history, and one of only two horses to win it in under two minutes.

The Preakness

The second leg of the Triple Crown is run in Baltimore, Maryland on the third Saturday in May, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, and, as in the first leg, the winners are decorated with flowers. It is a 1,930m (1.2 mile) track, and is usually run over around 2 minutes – Secretariat holds the record to this day, running it in 1 minute 53 seconds. It is strictly limited to three year olds and younger, and the winner of the Kentucky Derby is automatically a fan favourite as they hope the winner can reach the Triple Crown.

Melbourne Cup

Known as “the race that stops a nation”, the Melbourne Cup was first run in 1861. Held at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia, the Cup attracts horses from all over the world, and is only for three year olds, with weights set by the Victoria Racing Club. It is a turf race, run over 3,200m (about 2 miles) and is the most prestigious 2-mile handicap in the world. This is partly because it has one of the largest winner’s purses – the first to cross the line will receive a whopping $5.6 million.

The Belmont Stakes

This is the final leg of the Triple Crown, and it is a little more gruelling than its predecessors, as it is run over 2,400m, or 1.5 miles. It is run in New York, and is known as “test of the champions”. It is popular for this reason, and for the fact that despite the fact that it could charge punters an arm and a leg to enter, it hasn’t raised its prices in line with other racetracks. This makes it more accessible for the public.

The Grand National

The Grand National

Well known for its gruelling ride, the Grand National features 30 fences to jump, followed by a straight section of the 6,907m, or 4 mile, track. It is held at Aintree in the UK, and it is a National Hunt race, which is open to amateur jockeys and trainers as well as the more professional types. First run in 1839, this race is a big deal in the British racing calendar. It is also a very controversial one, as it is a very hard race and many horses lose their lives every year.

Breeder’s Cup Classic

This race is unusual in that it has no designated home – it changes to a different racecourse every year. First run in 1984, this race is spread over two days and there is over $28 million to be won over the 13 races. The races are 2,000m, around 1.25 miles, and it is open to three year olds and up.

Epsom Derby

Epsom Derby

The Derby held at the Epsom Downs in Surrey, UK, is the forerunner to the Kentucky Derby and many other races that use the term – some would argue that this one is the original and the best. It has been around for centuries, with the first race being 1780, and is held on the first Saturday in June. It is a turf race with a distance of 2,400m (1.5 miles) and is the richest horse race in Britain. Epsom Derby is known as a Classic race, one of five in the UK – that is, open to three year old colts and fillies only.

Japan Cup

We don’t always think of horse racing when we think of Japan, but this country holds the most prestigious race in Asia. Held on the Tokyo Racecourse, Fuchu, Tokyo, it is a Grade 1 event, in which horses can win up to $5.8 million, and is held on the last Sunday of November. It is run over 2,400m (1.5 miles) and is open to three year olds and up, and no more than 10 foreign horses are allowed in the line up. Only one horse – Gentildonna – has won the cup more than once.

Pegasus World Cup

A relatively new race, the Pegasus started in 2017 and is held on the last Saturday in January in Florida, USA. It is run over 1,800m (about a mile and a furlong), and is open to horses aged four and over. It offers a massive prize pot, with $16 million being up for grabs in the 2018 race.

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

This historic race was first run in 1920, and has been known as one of the grandest racing events of the year ever since. Also known simply as “the Arc”, it is held at Longchamp in Paris, and is the richest flat race in the world, with a prize pot of $5.4 million. It is held on the first weekend of October and is run over 2,400m (1.5 miles), and it is unusual in that it is exclusively a race for fillies three years old and up.

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