The Best Racecourses to Visit in the World

The Best Racecourses to Visit in the World

As sports go, horse racing is archaic. It’s impossible for us to guess at how ancient it is, for its origins are lost to the very mists of time. What we do know is that it’s been in existence since at least 4500 BC, when it was popular (and documented) among the nomadic tribes of Central Asia.

While we can’t say for certain whether it existed before this time, these are the same people who first domesticated the horse. So, it makes sense that racing as a sport has its origins in this far-flung land and among this ancient civilization.

Since then, the sport has enjoyed a long and storied history. Known, for good reason, as the ‘sport of kings’, it has gained a following across the globe, with a multi-billion-dollar industry having grown up around it. 

To pay homage to this long-established and well-loved sport, let's take a look at the story of racing, from its earliest beginnings to its modern-day incarnation and also some of the most amazing places to visit around the world to see live horse racing. 


Top 10 Racecourses

Not many live sporting events compare to going to a horse race track for a big race. There are hundreds of racecourses located around the world, but offer a much better experience than others due to the location, atmosphere, architecture, and facilities.

Whether you are a huge horse racing fan, or are just keen for an amazing day out, these are our picks for the top horse racing tracks to experience once in your life:

1. Churchill Downs, Kentucky (opened in 1875, hosts the Kentucky Derby)

2. Ascot, United Kingdom (opened in 1711, hosts The Gold Cup, King George VI)

3. Longchamp, France (opened in 1857, hosts Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe)

4. Santa Anita, California (opened in 1934, hosts Santa Anita Derby)

5. Epsom Downs, United Kingdom (opened in 1661, hosts Epsom Derby)

6. Meydan, Dubai (opened in 2010, World's longest racetrack, hosts Dubai World Cup)

7. Tokyo Racecourse (opened in 1933, hosts Japan Cup)

8. Aintree, United Kingdom (opened in 1829, hosts Grand National)

9. Saratoga, New York (opened in 1863, hosts Travers Stakes)

10. Flemington, Melbourne (opened in 1840, hosts Melbourne Cup)


The History of Horse Racing: The Sport of Kings Through the Ages

Horse racing is an ancient sport – of this, there is no doubt. We cannot say for certain when the first race was held nor what the stakes were, but we do know it has existed since the dawn of time.

The nomadic tribesmen of Central Asia were the first to domesticate these magnificent animals. Evidence suggests that by 4500 BC, racing had begun, but we know very little about the earliest days of the sport.

What we do know is that it spread across the globe, quickly and pervasively. By the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, it was already well established, with contests for both chariot and mounted horse racing included among the roster of events at the earliest Olympics. This means that even the most ancient civilizations had an appreciation for the sport – just as modern bettors and enthusiasts do today.


The Origins of Modern Racing: Return from Crusade

The history of horse racing is not only ancient but interesting. The origins of racing as we know it date back to the 1100s, when English knights began returning from the Crusades. While there, many had developed an admiration for what they’d seen overseas, from the foods and fabrics to the superior hygiene and healthcare.

This influence extended to the faster and lighter horses that were native to these desert regions. These were the ancestors of the modern-day Arab (i.e., the progenitor of the Thoroughbred racehorse). Over the next four centuries, the Arab breed came to be viewed as superior to native animals. Many wealthy landowners began to import stallions from overseas, with the aim of producing horses that were not only faster than existing English stock but better at staying the distance. 

Soon, it became common for the nobility to arrange contests, ranging their best horses against one another. Private wagers began to spring up, so the winner not only walked away with their pride but a healthy purse too.   


Horse Racing as a Royal Sport

By the 18th century, horse racing had become a professional sport - one that was patronised by a succession of British monarchs. Much as they do today, the biggest contests began to attract a lot of attention. Spectators would number in their hundreds, with wagering becoming commonplace.

In England, the home of horse racing, specially built courses began to spring up. To attract the best horses and draw the largest crowds, these began to offer increasingly large prize pots. The money on offer to the winner made it profitable to begin breeding horses specifically for this purpose, and so an entire industry grew up around it. The rapid expansion of the sport made a governing body essential, and in 1750, the Jockey Club was formed.

From there, horse racing went from strength to strength, with many of the major races of today first being held in the ensuing two centuries. These included the English Classics, which bettors still wager on today.


Horse Racing in the Modern World

From this point on, the sport only continued to grow. By 2026, it is set to become a billion-dollar industry, and the betting sector that has sprung up around it forms a major part of this. Now, it’s possible to not only bet track-side but online too.

The advent of online betting has been one of the biggest developments in the horse racing industry in modern times. Making the sport more accessible to ordinary people, it has allowed bettors to wager on contests from across the globe.

So popular has this become that there are entire horse racing betting sites that are dedicated to sharing the best offers and promotions. These not only provide useful guides on how it all works but list the highest-rated bookies, teach punters how to bet online, and share news and updates on the world’s biggest horse racing events. The availability of detailed and reliable information in conjunction with fans being able to enjoy races from anywhere in the world has made arguably the most significant impact on horse racing for centuries.

Have you ever visited any of the racecourses which made our top list? Or do you have any recommendations for somewhere we missed? Let us know in the comments section below.