The sport of horse racing began in ancient Greek civilization and it was the Greeks who included this sport in the Olympics, which of course made horse racing more popular. Eventually the Greeks passed this sport onto the Romans, who soon became obsessed with it.
The real origins of horse racing began when Arabian stallions were introduced into England during the Crusades and thereafter. When the stock from the Middle East began breeding with European horses, a swift runner emerged that had a sturdy build.
During these early years of European horse racing, the sport was strictly reserved for the nobles and the royal classes alone. Commoners were allowed to participate as spectators only.
Prior to American establishing its American Jockey Club, the first governing body overseeing the sport had already been established in Europe.
The Jockey Club of England, which was created back in the 1750s to govern the sport in its entirety, including horse races, racetracks, and to formulate the rules and regulations for horse racing events. The Jockey Club also determined and set the standards early on for the breeding lines of various horses.
James Weatherby, an early official of the Club was the very first one to discern and identify the original sires of the stallions we now refer to as Thoroughbreds.
As the sport developed, various games were formed. These became known as the classics.
The most popular games are St. Leger, founded in 1776, the Oaks, founded 3 years later, the Derby followed the next year, and 2,000 Guineas was founded in 1809, with 1000 Guineas being founded five years later.
Every one of these games, along with other horse racing events, were formed through the Jockey Club of England.
The St. Leger Event
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony St. Leger, who was a former Irish soldier, founded the St. Leger horse race. This is the first event in this category and the race took place on September 24, 1776. The distance the horses had to run was the longest among the English Classics at the time, more than 132 yards, 1m and 6 feet.
Edward Smith Stanley, the Earl of Derby at the time founded the Derby horseracing event in 1779. He and some friends had planned to race just among themselves in a race measuring more than 1 mile, four furlongs plus 10 yards. He named this race after his own estate, Oaks. Because the race was so successful, the second race of this kind followed the next year, which they named the Derby.
These two events are among the most famous of the English Classics. Interestingly, despite the fact that horse racing started in ancient Greece, and moved on to the Romans of ancient times, Europe still gets the credit for being the one to promote the first formal horse racing exhibition.