Sport of Kings

Part of the Horse exhibition.

field rush
"A Great Field in a Grand Rush"
Library of Congress

The most celebrated horse races today are thoroughbred races, where jockeys ride at top speed around a flat course. Only horses of the thoroughbred breed can enter these intense competitions.

Thoroughbred racing began around 300 years ago in England, where the idea of breeding a superior racehorse was a passion of royalty. Since that time, the sport has taken hold in many other regions, including the Americas, Australia, East Asia, and the Middle East. Now anyone can come to the track and be a part of the "sport of kings." And even an ordinary racing fan who bets on a favorite horse can win or lose a royal sum in a single day.

The Winner's Circle

The most coveted horseracing prize in the United States is the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. To take home the Triple Crown, a horse must win three races for three-year-old thoroughbreds that take place just a few weeks apart: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. A horse must be very talented--or incredibly lucky--to finish first in all three. Only 11 horses have been named Triple Crown champions since the first winner, Sir Barton, in 1919.

From The Horse's Mouth

Many common expressions in the English language come from horseracing:

When a jockey is sure his horse is about to cross the finish line first, he may lower his hands and let up on the reins to win hands down.

A racehorse that is unfamiliar to racing fans is a dark horse.

The part of a racecourse between the last turn and the finish line is the homestretch.

A racing fan with an inside tip on a likely winner may say it came straight from the horse's mouth.

Daughters of the Wind

Thoroughbred racehorses are descended from the Arabian breed, famed for its grace, spirit, and endurance. Centuries ago, Bedouin breeders began raising Arabian horses in the deserts of the Middle East. According to one story that has been passed down, God created the Arabian horse from a handful of wind. In Arab tradition, mares are more prized than stallions, and many poets have sung the praises of these "daughters of the wind."

Triple Crown

In 1948, a bay colt named Citation seized the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, one of the highest achievements in U.S. equine sports. After performing this difficult feat, Citation went on to win 13 more races in a row. "My horse could beat anything with hair on it," trainer Jimmy Jones once said of this legendary thoroughbred. By 1951, when he ran his last race, Citation had earned $1,085,760 in prizes, and newspapers declared him the first equine millionaire.