The actual activity of racing horses can be dated as far back as ancient Roman Empire and their chariots, and horseback riding can be dated back to the Middle East during the 6 th century, but modern thoroughbred racing takes us back to England during the 12 th century.
During this time King Henry I began mating stallions from the Arabs and mares in England , and amateur races soon after ensued. The first post-Roman Empire racecourse was also constructed during this time, when the SmithfieldTrack opened to the public in 1174. British settlers eventually brought their racing interests to America and the first track here dates back to 1665 on Long Island .
"The Sport of Kings" continued to grow in popularity in England , and in the early 18 th century match racing gave way to races involving multiple horses. Governor Samuel Ogle of Maryland was the driving force behind the first "English" style racing in America , with the running of a multiple race between pedigreed horses at Annapolis in 1745.
In 1750, England's racing leadership met at Newmarket, a place first made famous for racing from support of King Charles II in the mid-1600's, to form the "Jockey Club" to govern the sport. In 1894, American's version of the "Jockey Club", was formed in New York City .
The General Stud Book originally commissioned by the Jockey Club first came out in 1791 from James Weatherby to track pedigrees of all horses in England . Only horses descending from those listed in the Book were allowed to race, and to this day it is still published by decedents of James Weatherby. America 's first version of the Stud Book was published in 1873 by Colonel Sanders D. Bruce.
Thoroughbreds as we know them today can all be traced back to three foundation sires, all named for their respective owners:
1679: Byerly Turk ? Captain Robert Byerley
1700: Darley Arabian ? Thomas Darley
1724: Godolphin Arabian ? Lord Godolphin
Horse racing was almost wiped out in the United States in the early 1900's with the closing of all but 25 of the country's 300+ tracks due to gambling reform. New laws granting states part of the money betted brought a revival to the sport and it eventually grew in stature and popularity across the country with stars such as Man O'War, Citation, Seabiscuit, and Native Dancer.