Historic and Prestigious Horse Races
"The Champion Hurdle" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Carine06

Horse racing has been a popular form of entertainment for centuries, which has contributed to almost 300 operational courses around the world. If you’re new to horse racing or want the down low on the ones to watch out for, here are some of the most historic and prestigious international events.

Cheltenham Festival, UK

The Cheltenham Festival is held over four days in Gloucestershire, England. It runs across a full weekend in March every year, typically around the same time as St Patrick’s Day. The meeting is highly regarded due to its atmosphere and high audience participation, with noise levels coined as the Cheltenham Roar. If this atmosphere sounds a little intimidating, don’t worry. You can prepare for Cheltenham by trying out Big Racing, a traditional horse race-themed slot game, with the added bonus feature of predicting the winning horse. The vibe and sound effects of this slot game is like a classic British horse race.

Once you’re ready and prepared, visitors to the festival will find many races including the Stayers’ Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup, Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Champion Hurdle. First held in 1860 as the Grand National Hunt Meeting, the racing has a rich history – the first mention of the Cheltenham Festival dates back to 1907, and the Stayers’ Hurdle has been a mainstay event since 1912. In the 2024 festival, there are 28 races across Grade 1, Grade 2, Premier Handicap, and Ungraded classes.

Melbourne Cup, Australia 

Inaugurated in 1861, the Melbourne Cup is held every year at the Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, Victoria. The race is held every year on the first Tuesday in November, and is often described as “the race that stops the nation”. In fact, the race is so ingrained in local culture that the race day is a state holiday for most of Victoria – and has been since 1873. This has baffled tourists for decades, according to Guidebook, with Mark Twain loudly stating his astonishment of the race’s appeal.

The race is just one element of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, which has live music, fashion elements, and local food. The Melbourne Cup is the second-richest turf race in the world, only topped by The Everest – another Aussie race, this time held at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney.

Kentucky Derby, USA 

Kentucky Derby Horse Races, USA
“Kentucky Derby 2014-0214” (CC BY 2.0) by Bill Brine

Hailed as “the most exciting two minutes in sports” or “the fastest two minutes in sports” is the Kentucky Derby, a Grade 1 stakes race at Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky. This race dates back to 1875, and is usually held on the first Saturday of May every year. This year, the race marks its 150th run, making it the oldest continuously-run major sporting event in the country. It is also the oldest thoroughbred stakes race that has continued in the same location since inauguration.

According to Sports Pro Media, the race is the most-watched sports event in the US since the Super Bowl, with 8.4 million viewers in 2020 alone. If visiting the races in person, it also has one of the highest attendances in the country, too. It’s safe to say that the Kentucky Derby is probably the most anticipated horse race of the year, so much so that it has now become the closing event for the fortnight-long Kentucky Derby Festival.

And there you have it – just a few of the most historic, prestigious, and popular horse racing events around the world. All that’s left to do is mark your calendar, and enjoy.