The biggest races in the world

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The sport of thoroughbred racing has spread throughout the world since the breed was introduced to England in the 17th century. Today almost every country in the world has a signature event that attracts interest from the general public.

Here’s our look at the biggest races in the world by continent.

North America

Thoroughbred racing in North America has its strongest following in the United States, where horseracing is a major industry which has produced some of the greatest racehorses in the sport’s history. Over 100 Grade 1 stakes races are run in the United States annually, which makes picking the greatest of them all into a tough and controversial proposition.

The biggest racing event in the United States is the Triple Crown, with its three races, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Of these three races, the Kentucky Derby is arguably the most well-known and prestigious – and draws the largest crowds. Run over 1 mile 2 furlongs on a dirt track, it features the finest 3-year-old middle distance racehorses in the United States.

South America

Thoroughbred racing in South America has its biggest following in Chile and Argentina, with Brazil ranking a distant third. The continent is renowned for its tough racehorses, many of whom are run heavily over the course of their careers. Because of the greater prize money available in the United States, successful horses will often be raced outside of the country when possible.

As the leader in horse racing on the continent, we look to Chile for South America’s most famous horse race. This is the Group 1 Grand Prix Hipodromo Chile, which has been run since 2909. The race takes place over a distance of 1 mile 2 furlongs on a dirt track. Entry to the Grand Prix Hipodromo Chile is open to 3-year-old and above thoroughbreds

Europe

While France and Ireland both have vibrant racing industries, there’s no arguing that England is the epicentre of European thoroughbred racing. Both national hunt and flat racing have a strong following in the country, with the major meetings and festivals attracting entries from around the globe, as well as a global television audience.

The biggest race in England is not one of the several prestigious Group 1 flat races that have served as models for races with similar formats around the globe, like the Oaks, Guineas or Derby. Instead it is the Grade 3 Grand National that easily ranks as the most important event on the racing calendar. This 4 mile 4 furlong national hunt handicap chase attracts an estimated global audience of 600 million views annually – and packs Aintree racecourse to the rafters.

Australia & Oceania

Horseracing is big business in Australia, and hundreds of millions of dollars in prize money is awarded annually. Unlike the other continents considered, identifying the most important race on the Australian racing calendar is completely uncontroversial, with one racing standing head and shoulders above the rest in terms of heritage, prize money and public interest.

That race is the Melbourne Cup, the world’s most prestigious weight-for-age handicap. It is also the world’s most prestigious stayers race, run over a distance of 2 miles over a turf track. Entry to the race is open to 3-year-old and above thoroughbreds, and a prize fund of $6.2 million is shared amongst the horses finishing in the top 10 in the race.

Africa

It’s unsurprising that the country that was once Britain’s largest African colony serves as the home of the continent’s most prestigious horse race. That country is South Africa, which is home to a strong thoroughbred racing industry that attracts interest from around the world, particularly for its high quality daily races.

However, only a handful of race meetings in the country attract interest from the general public. Of these the Durban July meetng is considered the most prestigious. The meeting’s signature event, the Durban July, is run over a distance of 1 mile 3 furlongs on a turf track by the country’s leading 3-year-old and above racehorses.

Asia & the Middle East

Thoroughbred racing has a major following in Asia and the Middle East, with Japan, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates serving as the three primary hubs of racing in the East with strong racing cultures in all three countries. It is, however, the home of the Oriental stallions that were used to breed the first thoroughbreds, the Middle East, that is home to the region’s most famous race. And that race is the Dubai World Cup, a 1 mile 2 furlong race over the dirt track at Meydan Racecourse. Open to 4-year-old and above racehorses, it attracts thoroughbreds from around the world, and until recently offered the world’s largest prize for a horse race.