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A brief history of horse racing

Horse racing has taken place since time in memoriam, but the origins of the sport as we know it today lie in the 12th century. Medieval English knights returning from the Crusades brought with them Arabian stallions that, when bred with English mares, produced offspring with both speed and endurance. Breeding continued through the centuries, right up to the present day and has culminated in the modern thoroughbred racehorse, which stands 16 hands, or 64 inches, high at the withers, weighs about 1,000lbs and can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. In fact, all modern thoroughbreds can be traced back to just three Arabian stallions - the Byerly Turk, the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian - which were imported into England in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Horse racing became a recognised, professional sport in Britain in the early 17th century, during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). Racecourses began to appear all over the country and the level of prize money on offer rose, so that breeding, owning and training horses became worthwhile business propositions. The Jockey Club, which still exercises complete control over British racing, was formed in 1750. The so-called Classics - the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, the Epsom Oaks and the St. Leger - were so designated in 1814 and continue to dominate the British Flat racing season.

Betting on horse racing is as old as the sport itself. In the early days, horse races were often match races, involving just two runners and owners struck private wagers between themselves. However, as the sport became popular, match racing was replaced by races involving three or more runners on which spectators struck wagers. This, in turn, led to the advent of the turf accountant, or bookmaker, who laid odds on each runner in a race and recorded wagers struck in a notebook; quite literally "making a book".

The invention of bookmaking, or at least the facilitation of its invention, is usually credited to Richard Tattersall in 1780. In that year, he established a horse auction in premises at Hyde Park Corner, London, which included rooms reserved for members of the Jockey Club. Although not originally intended for the purpose, these rooms quickly became a venue for bona fide bookmakers to collect money and settle wagers. In fact, the enclosure in which the majority of on-course bookmakers ply their trade is still called the "Tattersall`s Enclosure". The practice of bookmaking spread over the years, with public houses offering information on runners, riders and odds - from a bookmaker who was often also the landlord - for forthcoming horse races.

Betting shops were legalised in Britain in 1961 and, since that time, a large and respectable industry has grown. Punters now have the opportunity to bet on and off-course, including from the comfort of their own homes, via the telephone or the Internet.

Indeed, despite the recession, horse racing and horse racing betting remain hugely popular in Britain. According to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), total attendances at the 60 racecourses in England, Wales and Scotland in 2009 were 5.7 million, up slightly from the 2008 figure. A total of over £600 million was gambled during the four days of the 2010 Cheltenham Festival - the highlight of the National Hunt season in Britain - alone.

Wherever and however they bet, punters are always trying the gain an edge over the bookmaker. One way that they can do so is by taking advantage of horse racing tips. . Tips are available in most daily newspapers, racing publications and on the Internet.

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