Indians love horse racing, which is one of the world’s most popular and oldest sports. Thousands of people watch the race tracks via the Internet or television, intently watching every race, scrutinising every stride. In India, there is a vibrant horse racing scene. There are also high quality races in Pune and Mumbai comparable to the great classic races in the US, UK, France and Dubai. There is a huge curiosity about horse racing and a growing number of sports fans. But it was not always so.

The birth of horse racing in India

Events like the Indian St Leger, Indian Derby and Indian Oaks sparked public interest in horse racing. During colonisation, the impact of the British Empire on cultural life in India was very strong. The British brought with them not only artifacts but also practices and customs, including horse racing. As a reminder, England is the home of horse racing, where it was already taking place in the Middle Ages! It is also the birthplace of the racehorse breed above all others: the English thoroughbred. If the English thoroughbred is present in India, it is because the British brought it there: originally it was not for racing but as a saddle horse. From the 18th century, horse racing appeared in India, first on improvised tracks and then in 1777, the very first horse racing track in the country was created in Madras, known today as Chennai. In 1798 racing was banned by Lord Wellestey, a Puritan reformer.

Five years later, racing resumed, this time under the aegis of a newly formed association, the ‘Bengal Jockey Club’, and the racecourse moved in 1809 to the Maidan, where it still stands today. The races were held early in the morning and were followed by a sumptuous breakfast, as in the UK. They were already well known and their results were published in the local and even London press.

Indian horse racing is a worthy heir to the British tradition. In 1879, a racing season was held during the monsoon season on special tracks suitable for wet weather, and it has been held ever since. In 1880 it was decided that racing would take place in the afternoon.

However, there were few prestigious events until 1943 and Indians wishing to follow major races had to fall back on foreign races, such as the famous Royal Ascot. To make up for this lack, the Calcutta Derby Stakes was created the same year. Since then, the race has undoubtedly been held every year, with a huge prize pool of over $400,000 for the champion. India currently has six major racecourses in the country.

The appeal of betting

Apart from the speed, spectacle, thrill, and adrenaline, one of the main attractions of racing is betting. Being able to bet legally has greatly helped launch the horse racing culture in India. British races are also well attended, such as the Cheltenham Festival in England. The prestigious events are widely filmed and broadcast and are easily accessible and through sports betting websites and apps it is easy to bet on these races. Some sites even offer special deals, such as these free bets for Royal Ascot. It would be a shame not to take advantage of it. Other international events such as the Melbourne Cup, the Kentucky Derby or the Dubai World Cup are also very popular among horse racing fans but do not have the glitz and glamour of the British events.

Made in India: Marwari races

On tracks around the world, a few different breeds are represented: the English thoroughbred reigns supreme. In India, there is a horse breed called Marwari, which is easily recognisable by its thin, curved ears. This breed is little known outside India. As an endurance and show horse, the recent development of the racing industry provides another opportunity to showcase its talents, with the Indigenous Horse Owners Association advocating for the development of Marwari horse racing. Unfortunately, Marwari races are not extremely popular at the moment and the horses are not good enough to compete with the pure English thoroughbreds, selected and bred for speed for generations. However, this initiative is to be welcomed as it aims to enhance the breed and diversify the racing industry. 

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