Horse racing has been around since before recorded history. Over the centuries it has grown into a prestigious sport where champion jockeys and horses are revered by the racing community. There are numerous racing events which could arguably be considered the biggest. They may have significant and precious historical importance. Some are new events that have received worldwide media coverage due to their impressive grand prizes. Others are well known because they attract millions of sports bettors.

Prestige and Fame

The Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby
source: Diana Robinson Photography

If a member of the general public was asked to name the most prestigious horse race in the world, they would likely choose the Kentucky Derby. It takes place during the first Saturday of every May at the Churchill Downs Racetrack, Louisville. The track stretches out 10 furlongs on a dirt surface.

This race is strongly associated with an alcoholic beverage called the mint julep. In fact, 120,000 of them are served to spectators during the event. The Derby is more than just a race, it is an integral part of American culture.

In 2019, a prize pool of $3 million was split between the top five winners. While not the largest prize in terms of money, the Kentucky Derby Trophy is highly sought after by elite jockeys. The winning horse is traditionally showered in a garland of roses. This custom became an essential part of the Derby in 1896 and has continued ever since.

The race is preceded by a two-week-long festival. This often involves a fireworks display, airshow and parade. It all leads up to what has been dubbed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports”. If a horse manages to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes they will be awarded the Triple Crown. Currently, only five have managed to do this since its inception.

The Grand National

The Grand National
source: Flickr

According to the BBC, 600 million people watch the Grand National when it takes place in early April. The course is well known for its notoriously challenging fences and ditches which are designed to test jockeys to their limit. It is not uncommon for multiple riders to become unseated or horses to tumble while jumping these fences.

The Grand National is held every year at Aintree. In the days leading up to it, there is significant media coverage, with predictions and betting tips printed in national newspapers. A large number of bets are placed on the day. A whopping £300 million was wagered in 2019. There is also a boom to the local economy thanks to the massive amount of visitors.

Media attention is not just given to the race itself but also the spectators. As a result, the Grand National can be seen as a fashion event. High-end hat designers have even marketed hats specifically for the Grand National. This has added to its prestige and made it synonymous with classy, elegant sports.

In 2019 the winning horse was Tiger Roll. His owner received more than £560,000. The winning jockey Davy Russell attained the kind of acclaim that others can only dream of.

Huge Grand Prizes

The Dubai World Cup

source: Wikimedia

Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal of the United Arab Emirates recently announced that the winner of the 2020 Dubai Cup will receive $10 million. An additional $10 million is to be shared amongst the other racers up to the top tenth horse. The Dubai Cup earns a place on this list mainly due to the vast amount of monetary investment which has been pumped into it.

The Cup is set to be held at Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racetrack. It is a relatively new event which precedes the more famous Dubai World Cup. Time will tell if it can attain the same level of prestige as other well known UAE horse races. The Cup has already been given significant media attention due to the lucrative grand prize.

Interestingly, the race is free to enter. Worthy horses are invited by the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, which funds their transportation. This allows racers to be chosen by their merit rather than the wealth of their owner.

The Everest

In the past, this was considered the most lucrative race in the world. That changed with Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal’s announcement. However, the Everest still holds the record for the highest grand prize. This occurred in 2019 when the horse Yes Yes Yes won $4.8 million.

The race takes place on Randwick Racecourse in Sydney, Australia. The track stretches 1200 metres on turf. In contrast to the Dubai Cup, owners who want their horse to race in the Everest have to pay $600,000. This astounding entry fee means that only the wealthiest owners can compete.

The Everest has only been around since 2017. Much like the Dubai Cup, it belongs on this list for monetary rather than prestigious reasons. However, the race is already famous and has been dubbed the world’s richest turf race by international media outlets.

Honourable Mentions

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is one of Europe’s most prestigious races. It has been going since 1920 and is the biggest event in the French horse racing calendar.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic has one of the more unique racing formats out there. A series of races are held across the globe with the winners qualifying for the main one. It is a two-day event held at various American venues.