Horse racing has a long and distinguished history and has been practised in civilisations across the world since ancient times. Archaeological records indicate that horse racing occurred in Babylon, Syria, Egypt, and races were held in the Olympic Games of Greece and in the Roman Empire. Horse racing as we know it today had its beginnings in the 12th Century, when English knights returned home from the Crusades. The Thoroughbred breed of horse was produced when Arab stallions were bred with English mares. Racing in medieval England began when horses for sale were ridden in competition to display the horses’ speed to buyers. During the reign of Richard the Lionheart, the first known racing purse was offered, with knights as riders.
Charles II (1660–85) inaugurated the King’s Plates, races for which prizes were awarded to the winners. His articles for these races were the earliest national racing rules. In France the first documented horse race was held in 1651 as the result of a wager between two noblemen. Organized racing in North America began with the British occupation of New York in 1664. The earliest races were match races between two or at most three horses, the owners providing the purse, a simple wager. Agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties, who came to be called keepers of the match book. By the mid-18th century the demand for more public racing had produced open events with larger fields of runners.
The beginning of the modern era of racing is generally considered to have been the inauguration of the English classic races: the St. Leger in 1776, the Oaks in 1779, and the Derby in 1780. During the 19th century, races of the English classic pattern spread to France and the United States. Since the establishment of the British and American Triple Crown series, scores of countries have instituted their own Triple Crowns of elite races. Racing spread to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and India in the 19th century. Today, most of the national jockey clubs are members of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), which were founded in 1993.