Small but mighty – The UK’s horse racing scene
Small in Size. Big in Popularity.
Whether you’re walking down the famous Champs-Elysees in Paris or tucking into one of the famous pizzas available at Lombardi’s Pizzeria in New York, spare a moment to ask someone whether they know what the Grand National is. Chances are they’ll tell you it’s a horse race that takes place in the UK. Ask the same person what the Japan Cup is, and you’re likely to be met with a blank look.
The Japan Cup has massive appeal in its own homeland, unlike Britain’s most famous race, which affords global recognition. The same could easily be said about iconic venues and racing fixtures in the UK every year. Royal Ascot, the Epsom Derby, and the Cheltenham Festival, to name a few, are well known worldwide.
Regardless of the relatively small size of the island that is Britain, it offers some of the best horse racing in the world at venues that are located in some of the most beautiful and picturesque countryside settings imaginable. Attracting the best trainers and jockeys from all over the globe. Make no mistake, the UK may only be two hundred and forty thousand square miles, but what it lacks in size, as far as horse racing is concerned, it easily makes up for in quality and popularity.
Racings’ popularity in Britain means the betting industry was worth a cool 4.94 billion pounds in 2019, which was helped by the eighty-plus registered online bookmakers and over eight thousand betting shops located on the UK’s high streets.
The Greatest British Jockey of all Time.
Born on the 5th of November 1935 in Wantage, a small market town in Oxfordshire, Lester Keith Piggot is undoubtedly the greatest flat race jockey to ever get in the saddle. Over a career spanning forty-seven years, the iconic jockey amassed an incredible five thousand three hundred winners stretching the four corners of the globe.
No other jockey in history had won more Epsom Derby’s than Piggot, with an unprecedented nine victories to his name, the first coming in 1954 when he rode Never Say Die to victory for trainer Joseph Lawson. Over the following twenty-three years, seven more Derby triumphs ensued before his final Derby victory coming nearly thirty years after his first on the Geoff Wragg trained, Teenoso.
Not content with nine Derby winners, the eleven times champion jockey rode to victory on many occasions in all five of Britain’s classic races, including eight St Leger victories, six Oaks winners, and five triumphs in the 2000 Guineas as well as two in the 1000. A born winner whose competitive nature was displayed with his vigorous regime that meant he always ensured he was thirty pounds below his natural weight.
And they’re Off!
Three words that six hundred million viewers around the globe wait for with bated breath as horses line up at the tape preparing to take part in the most challenging and unpredictable horse race in the world, the Grand National. First ran in 1839 and won by the aptly named Lottery, this most famous of horse races had had viewers on the edge of their seats since 1960 when it was first televised.
With sixteen fences, fourteen of which are jumped twice, including the infamous Chair and Becher’s Brook, the gruelling four-and-a-half-mile race challenges even the most professional and experienced jockeys. As if the daunting fences and the ten minutes or so slog around Aintree was not enough to drain away every last drop of energy from both horse and jockey, the taxing 494-yard uphill run-in will ensure both are overwhelmed with exhaustion. at the end.
A Festival of Winners.
Nestled in the idyllic countryside of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham Racecourse attracts the best national hunt horses from around the world to compete at the Cheltenham Festival. Four days of top-class racing, beginning with the Champion Hurdle on day one and culminating with the feature race on the final day, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The Queen Mother Champion Chase and Ryanair Chase take their places on days two and three, respectively.
With prize money second only to the Grand National, the festival’s feature race, the Gold Cup has had many memorable winners of the years, with the two stand-out horses surely being Best Mate for his three consecutive wins between 2002 and 2004 and of course Desert Orchid for both his victory in 1989 and well, just for being Desert Orchid.
Regardless of any interest in horse racing, the grey gelding captured the hearts of men and women the width and breadth of the country with his extraordinary and courageous ability to pull out all the stops to ensure victory, winning an incredible thirty-four times from his seventy starts, amassing six hundred and fifty-four thousand pounds in prize money.
No other country on the UK’s scale has the quality of horse racing on offer, and no other country has so many iconic races known worldwide. So, next time you’re on holiday in April, either sat at the bar in sunny Spain or tucking into a 160z sirloin in a steakhouse in New York, ask them to change the channel on the TV because you want to watch the Grand National. What’s the betting they’ll clearly know what you’re talking about.