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The Makings of a Horse Race

In 1750, the Jockey Club of England was formed as a regulatory body governing horse racing in that country and officially keeping the Stud Book, the family tree of all thoroughbred horses.

A look at the Stud Book will show that all thoroughbreds in England and elsewhere are descended from only three stallions--- Herod, Matchen, and the incomparable Eclipse, often referred to as the father of thoroughbred racing. There are, of course many other kinds of horses beside the thoroughbreds, but only thoroughbreds are used in saddle racing.

Trotters are a different breed, as are work horses, quarter horses, Arabians, and many others. Needless to say, nobody in gambling knows what would happen if you were to pit some interesting mongrel against one of the highly bred racing horses of today, but this is unlikely to happen.

Thoroughbred racing and breeding are as tightly controlled as the Social Register--- more so, in fact, since so many thoroughbred horses are not allowed to breed at all.

Only the best horses with the best temperaments and bloodlines are allowed to sire the new crop of foals. The rest are gelded, or castrated, when they reach sexual maturity. Gelding doesn't necessarily mean that a horse won't be a good runner or even a great winner, but only that he isn't considered to have potential value as a stud.

Unlike cattle breeders, for instance, people who raise horses don't employ any modern techniques of artificial insemination or embryo transplants. This tends to keep the number of genuine thoroughbreds small, which is just the way the racing associations intend it.

The first horse races in the new World were more sober than their counterparts in England. One reason was that a single horse meant little to a noble with a stable or two and plenty of carriages, drivers, and grooms to take care of them.

But the colonists were not so rich nor as idle as their masters back home. They raced horses for a serious business reason at first--- to determine an animal's worth.

This was why American races, at least at first, gambling-wise, lacked the sporting emphasis and carnival atmosphere of English ones.

After the revolution, however, horse racing began to acquire the character we know today, and betting on races became an institution. As in England, betting drew to horse races people of too modest means ever to run thoroughbred racehorses of their own.

Even the working man could back his favorite with a small bet, and thus participate in the sporting involvement of his social superiors.

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