History Of Horse Racing In India: 10 Facts You Didn’t Know About
Horse racing has a long and storied history in India, dating back over 200 years. Once known as the “Sport of Kings,” horse racing was popularized under British colonial rule in the 18th and 19th centuries and quickly gained a strong following.
While cricket may dominate the Indian sporting landscape today, horse racing still retains an avid fanbase across parts of the country. The sport continues to evolve with changing times, adopting new technologies and working to attract younger viewers.
If you think horse racing begins and ends with the Indian Derby, think again! Here are 10 fascinating facts about the rich history of horse racing in India that you likely never knew.
1. India’s First Racecourse Was Built in Madras in 1777
The first proper horse racing track built in India dates back to 1777, when a course was constructed in Madras (now Chennai). Racing had existed in India prior to this, but Madras Race Club established the country’s first organized meets with proper facilities. The original track apparently consisted of just a simple dirt circuit. You can learn more about horse racing in India at Onewin website.
2. Calcutta Turf Club is the World’s Oldest Horse Racing Venue Still in Operation
Founded in 1847, the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) is the oldest horse racing club still in operation anywhere across the globe. With a rich history spanning over 150 years, the RCTC has hosted some of India’s most prominent derbies and racing events over the years. Its iconic gallops continue to attract generations of racegoers today.
3. India’s First Derby Took Place in 1852 near Mumbai
The first-ever Indian Derby was staged in 1872 near Mumbai at a track known at the time as the Mahalakshmi Racecourse. This inaugural event drew inspiration from its famous British namesake and aimed to replicate the fanfare and excitement of the Epsom Derby in England. A horse named Favonius emerged victorious in the maiden Indian Derby.
4. The Indian Stud Book Was First Published in 1892
First published in 1892, the Indian Stud Book carefully documents the lineage and breeding history of all thoroughbred horses in India. Much like a family tree, the stud book allows breeders and racing officials to verify pedigrees and trace bloodlines back through generations of champion racehorses across the country. This level of record-keeping enabled the systematic development of high-quality racehorse bloodstock in India.
5. India’s First Racing Club Formed in 1847
The United Services Club, established in 1847 near Kolkata, is recognized as the first organized racing club in India. British military officers and nobility were among its initial members. The club managed its own stud farm and training grounds to promote horse racing as a popular pastime and sporting entertainment for the social elite at the time.
6. The Indian Turf Invitation Cup is Asia’s Oldest Surviving Horse Race
First run in 1875, the Indian Turf Invitation Cup at Royal Calcutta Turf Club is the oldest surviving horse racing event in Asia. For perspective, the race has been running for nearly 65 years longer than the famous Kentucky Derby in the United States! Some of the greatest Indian racehorses through history have won this prestigious trophy.
7. India Had Over 30 Racecourses Before Independence
During the peak of British colonial rule, India was home to more than 30 horse racing tracks from Mumbai to Mysore. The Bombay Presidency alone boasted 11 courses including those in Pune, Belgaum, Poona and Nagpur. Prominent tracks were built to British standards showcasing obstacles, water jumps and long straightaways. Most held racing events during cooler months from November to March.
8. Indian Racehorses Have Won Key Events in England
While British horses frequently raced and won in India, the reverse has also taken place. An Indian-bred racehorse named Windsor Lad won the prestigious Ebor Handicap at York Racecourse in England in 1906. More recently, Indian super horse Mystical earned victory in several top races across England between 1991 and 1993.
9. India’s Racing Circuit Today Hosts over 1,000 Events Annually
Horse racing continues to thrive today as a major sport in India. The racing circuit hosts well over 1,000 events countrywide each year, from high-profile derbies to smaller local meets. Prized events such as the Indian Derby, Indian Oaks and Indian St. Leger attract the top thoroughbreds and jockeys vying for glory. Various racing clubs oversee this packed calendar across nine states.
10. Horse Racing Draws Second-Highest Sports Betting Revenue in India
Though lagging far behind cricket, horse racing surprisingly generates the second-highest betting revenue of any sport in India. The sport’s longstanding popularity and air of royalty continues to attract high wagers, mostly from affluent Indians. Nevertheless, overall betting volumes have dropped over the decades as other sports like football gain ground.
- Horse racing in India originated during British colonial rule in the late 1700s, with the first track built in Madras in 1777.
- Iconic clubs like Royal Calcutta Turf Club established the organized framework for races and governing bodies to manage the sport’s development.
- The Indian Derby debuted in 1872, sparking a wider national interest in horse racing during its glamorous golden era around the turn of the 20th century.
- Today, India maintains an active racing circuit with over 1,000 annual events, although its popularity has declined from earlier heydays.
Why You Should Know About India’s Horse Racing History
Horse racing has an integral part in India’s sporting history and culture, for better or worse. Under colonial influence, the sport both reinforced social hierarchies as well as strategic breeding practices. The racing circuit also enabled Indian thoroughbreds to gain valuable experience and recognition on global stages.
Looking back at defining events and key figures from over 200 years of evolution allows us to understand the traditions behind today’s Indian racing scene. It also explains why the sport maintains an element of prestige and sophistication in the country even now.
Whether you are a seasoned punter or simply curious, India’s horse racing history provides a fascinating glimpse into changing cultural trends surrounding sports, entertainment and social status over the past two centuries. Appreciating this historical context expands one’s perspective on the modern landscape of Indian horse racing.