Steeplechase (the racing of horses over a course with hurdles and shallow water jumps to approximate country riding conditions) became popular in England and Ireland in the 19th cent. The Grand National Steeplechase, held annually since 1839 at Aintree course, Liverpool, England, is the most famous.
Harness racing, begun in the 1830s from the custom of informal carriage races, became very popular in the 1870s, and in 1891 the modern low-wheel sulky replaced the high-wheeler. Harness racing features two differently gaited standardbred horses—pacers (laterally gaited), which move with a swaying motion, bringing the right front and right hind legs forward at the same time, and trotters (diagonally gaited), which move with a high-stepping, straight ahead gait with left front and right hind legs moving forward in unison. Harness racing, formerly a favorite event mainly at U.S. country fairs, became increasingly popular after World War II at racing centers near urban areas. The United States Trotting Association (formed 1938) governs the sport. Notable harness races include the Hambletonian, the Kentucky Futurity, and the Little Brown Jug.
The first major thoroughbred racing in the United States was at the Saratoga Springs, N.Y., track (1863). Churchill Downs, at Louisville, Ky., opened its flat-racing track in 1875; other thoroughbred tracks soon appeared across the country. At that time, jockeys were often African Americans, but whites forced them from the saddle and effectively denied them riding opportunities until the latter part of the 20th cent., when Latin Americans and women also became some of the top jockeys. The Thoroughbred Racing Associations (founded 1942) is the leading regulatory organization in racing, but state racing commissions oversee racing within their borders. The use and abuse of drugs with racehorses, both for treating and masking pain and enhancing performance, has been a chronic problem in modern horse racing.
Historically the three most important U.S. flat-racing events (all limited to three-year-old horses) have been the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, the Preakness at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, on Long Island near New York City. Together these events are known as the Triple Crown, and such winners of all three as Citation (1948) and Secretariat (1973) are considered among the greatest horses in all racing. Since 1984 they have shared the limelight with the annual Breeder's Cup championship, a one-day event comprising seven races of differing conditions held at a premier course. Other important thoroughbred races include the St. Leger Stakes (Great Britain), Queen's Plate (Canada), Melbourne Cup (Australia), Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (Argentina), Japan Derby, Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (France), Preis von Europa (Germany), and Dubai Classic (United Arab Emirates).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.