Horse Racing is a sport and institution that spans the entirety of the UK; with its rich history as the originator of the sport, and its many historically significant Racecourses [CLICK HERE! For our article on UK Racecourses and their history!]. As well as its royally endorsed events and races that draw eyes from all over the isle.
However, we are but a drop in the ocean when compared to the scale racing has achieved globally. Actually – maybe that’s a bit too small for us… okay, what about, we’re like a big lake in the ocean?…Or perhaps, we’re quite big when it comes to the UK’s racing industry, but we are a piece of a bigger picture! There, perfect!
For instance, the US is one of, if not, the largest provider of racing, in terms of its popularity, financial backing and wealth. With all that land, it’s not really surprising that they’d take advantage of the space. And maybe it plays into their global stereotype to consider it a hallmark of the ‘Old West’ alive and well in modern day, but I doubt you see many Yank Jockeys wearing stetsons while riding.
There is a world of racing beyond both the UK and the US however, and countries like; Australia, Dubai, Japan, and France, really go above and beyond to represent that fact. With huge racecourses, grand events and races, as well as extravagant prizes, that can lure in professional talent with the chance of winning big from participating in the races.
Today, we’re looking at some of the biggest races in the US and the UK, as well as the richest races of the world!
What is the biggest horse race in the UK?
Now it can be a little confusing when talking about races and racing festivals, and distinguishing them, especially when you start crossing them with events from over the pond, so for now we’ll just focus on the UK and keep it simple:
Many races both in the UK and the rest of the world can sometimes be misunderstood when you read about or research them online, this is mainly because some Horse Racing Festivals/Events are named after their Feature Races. So it can be hard to tell the difference between them, when searching for information.
The UK list will include festivals, which consist of many different individual races, as well, we will be highlighting one ‘feature race’ from each to exhibit:
Royal Ascot – Is our first festival on the list, and lasts 5 days a year (Out of the 18 for the course), and takes place at the Ascot Racecourse, in Ascot, Berkshire, England. – The Ascot Racecourse itself features around 115 annual races in total over the course of 18 days, every year. – (The festival had around 300,000 attendees, and the Gold Cup had roughly 70,000 in attendance in 2019. Making it the most popular festival).
- The Gold Cup – Took place on 17th June 2021. (Flat) – [Will take place on 16th June 2022].
The Cheltenham Festival (The Festival at Cheltenham) – Is our second UK festival, with 28 races over 4 days, and is by far one of the most accessible and stylish of the UK’s racing festivals. It takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England. The course hosts around 48 races annually, and also features a Gold Cup. – (The festival had just under 267,000 people in attendance, with nearly 72,000 attending the Gold Cup in 2019. Making it the most popular race).
- The Gold Cup – Took place on 19th March 2021. (National Hunt) – [Will take place on 19th March 2022 as well].
The Grand National Festival – Is our third and final event on our UK list. The festival encompasses 21 races over the course of 3 Days, and takes place at Aintree Racecourse, in Aintree, Merseyside, England. – (The festival hosted around 153,000 spectators, and 33,000 for The Grand National race in 2019).
- The Grand National – 10th April 2021. (National Hunt) – [Will take place on 9th April 2022].
What is the biggest horse race in the US?
The three most notable and biggest horse races in the US, coincidentally fall under the achievement of the ‘Triple-Crown’, an award given to the race horses that manage to win first place in all three of the races within the triple. The races are; the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. – We’re basing this list off of the popularity and reputation of these races both in-country, and internationally.
In the history of the ‘Triple-Crown’, to date, only 13 horses have ever achieved it, and it has taken place since 1919, where Sir Barton won all three races. The most recent winning horse was Justify, in 2018, who is the last recorded winner of the triple race.
It is also worth noting for those who may need a distinction; this time we’re talking about specific individual races, rather than festivals that include many different races in them.
The Kentucky Derby (Flat) – Not to be completely confused with the festival of the same name, this is the ‘feature race’ of that festival. The festival itself takes place over the course of 2 weeks, with this race as it’s concluding climax. The race is nearly 150 years old, being first held in 1875. The race and festival take place at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Kentucky.
- Took place on 1st May 2021. – [Will take place on 7th May 2022].
The Preakness Stakes (Flat) – Unlike the first of the ‘Triple-Crown’ races, the Preakness Stakes is a singular race that is not a part of a larger festival, and luckily, not confusingly given the same name as a festival! This is the second of the triple’s races, and was first held two years before the first Kentucky Derby, in 1873. The race is held at Pimlico Racecourse, in Baltimore, Maryland.
- Took place on 15th May 2021. – [Will take place on 21st May 2022].
The Belmont Stakes (Flat) – Lastly we have the final race of the ‘Triple-Crown’, and the oldest of the three races within the triple, as it first took place in 1867. It has been nicknamed; ‘The Test of the Champion’, as it is the final obstacle for those aspiring to claim the ‘Triple-Crown’, and the final stretch for what needs to be 3 consecutive wins. The race takes place at Belmont Park, in Elmont, New York.
- Took place on 5th June 2021. – [The date is yet to be announced for 2022].
What is the biggest horse race in the World?
For this next list, we’re instead going to rate these races on their winning prize pools, or, how rich they are, rather than how popular they may be. This is partly because there are some interesting results to be found, and because here in the West, we view popularity very specifically in our terms, which is only a portion of the world.
This way we might get a more balanced perspective on which horse race is the ‘biggest’ or ‘richest’ in the World:
10. Epsom Derby – Located at Epsom Downs Racecourse, in Surrey, England. Largest horse race in the UK in terms of prize winnings; which averages out at around £1,125,000 this year. – Took place on 5th June 2021. – [Will take place next year on 3rd June 2022].
9. Kentucky Derby – Located at Churchill Downs Racetrack, Louisiana, Kentucky, US. Possibly the most well-known horse race, not just in the US, but around the world too. There’s no question that it tops in status and reputation, but is far from the largest in terms of prize money; with a prize pool of around; £2,166,000. It’s certainly one of the older and more established on the list. – Took place on 1st May 2021. – [Will take place between 6th & 7th May 2022].
8. Melbourne Cup – Located at Flemington Racecourse, in Melbourne, Australia. The longest race on the list, at about 2 miles long. The prize pool is around; £3,826,000. Despite a lower winning pot than the previous Australian race here, the Melbourne Cup is the most globally recognised Australian race, and is certainly the most sought after in-country as well. – Will take place 2nd November 2021. – [Next year will take place on 1st November 2022].
- Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – Located at Longchamp Racecourse, Paris, France. Considered by many to be the most popular and distinguished race in Europe, and has a prize pool of roughly; £4,042,000. – Will take place on 3rd October 2021. – [Next year’s date is yet to be announced].
6. Japan Cup – Located at Tokyo Racecourse, in Fuchu, Tokyo, Japan. Like Epsom Derby, it’s also known for a large prize pool; which is around £4,170,000 this year. – Will take place on 28th November 2021. – [Next year’s date is yet to be announced].
5. Sheema Classic – Located at Meydan Racecourse, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The Middle East is also a place where racing is popular. The prize total is around; £4,331,000. – Took place on 27th March 2021. – [Next year’s date is yet to be announced].
4. Breeder’s Cup Classic – Located this year at Del Mar Fairgrounds, in Del Mar, California, US. However the location changes from year-to-year. This competition has roughly the same prize pool as Sheema Classic; at £4,331,000. – Will take place between 5th & 6th November 2021. – [Will also take place next year between 4th & 5th November 2022, at Keeneland Association Inc, Lexington, Kentucky, US].
3. Pegasus World Cup Invitational – Located at Gulfstream Park Racetrack, in Florida, US. The prize winnings are averaged at around £6,500,000 total for this year. Just like Everest, it is a relatively new race, and also has an entry fee; which is roughly £300,000 more than the Everest calculation. The entry fee is around; £722,000. – Took place on 23rd January 2021. – [Will take place next year on 22nd of January 2022].
2. Dubai World Cup – Located at Meydan Racecourse, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. A little shorter in distance from it’s cousin; the Sheema Classic, but has roughly double the winning prize total, with £8,662,000 for the Dubai World Cup. Making it the most valuable race in the Middle East. – Took place on 27th March 2021. – [Will take place on 26th March 2022].
1. The Everest – Located at Randwick Racecourse, in Sydney, Australia. Topping both the previous races in total prize money; around £10,106,000. Although due to it’s high reward, and prestigious status, the entry fee for gaining 1 out of the 12 total spots in the race is around £433,000. – Will take place on 16th October 2021. – [Next year’s date is yet to be announced].
It is important to bear in mind that we ranked this list based on very specific criteria, and that especially when it comes to the rest of the World, we in the UK view racing in a very particular light, considering that we invented the sport.
These are all very popular and large races in their own right though, and no doubt they each will have their own loyal followings, as well as their own critics and detractors.
For us however, we felt that just rating these all on attendance would be a little cliché, as most out there writing on this topic will no doubt do themselves.
We must always remember that in the UK; we have a special relationship with racing, as its island hometown, we both hold its history, and a grand scale in which we host and celebrate our national races.
It is also good to note that the US has made bank, and much fame, off of events like their ‘Triple-Crown’ set of races, and that they help keep our Western ideal of Horse Racing alive and well in the Global consciousness.
As for the rest of the World, it is clear that places such as; Australia, Dubai, Japan, and France, play a huge part in furthering the reach and influence of racing as a global sport. They also manage to boast some of the most extravagantly priced and prized races in the whole wide World, and that is certainly an achievement worth being proud of.