With At The Races broadcasting U.S. racing with increasing popularity, the piece will take a look at the top five races on the stateside calendar.
Flat racing dominates in America, with the vast majority of racing being under that code. American racetracks are for the most part uniform flat oval circuits, with the only main differences being in the racing surfaces themselves (for example turf and dirt tracks). As regards the top races, it is the classic (three year old) generation that dominates, with three of the top five making up the coveted ‘Triple Crown’. This is awarded to any three year old who manages to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
The top five us race meetings
5. The Arlington Million
This Grade One race is run over one and a quarter miles on turf at Arlington, Illinois each August. It is famous for being the first race in America to offer a prize fund of one million dollars. The fact that it is run on turf has been an advantage to European runners in recent times, with Aidan O’ Brien winning the 2005 and 2011 runnings, and John Gosden registering a success in 2010 with Debussy. Another key part of its appeal is the fact that winning it automatically qualifies you for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. First run in 1981, it was one of the key races to improve the popularity of turf racing amongst the American public.
4. The Belmont Stakes
This is run over one mile and four furlongs, the longest of the three races involved in the Triple Crown. It provides a tough test of stamina for the three year olds, run on a testing dirt track at Belmont Park, New York. First run in 1866, it has seen the magnificent Affirmed and American Pharoah complete the Triple Crown most recently. Secretariat holds the record for the fastest ever Belmont win in 1973, completing the course in 2.24. Crowds are massive at this meeting, with over 120,000 attending in 2004.The fierce race has seen no less than 24 horses fail at the final hurdle in their bid for Triple Crown glory.
3. The Preakness Stakes
First run in 1873, this forms the middle leg of the Triple Crown, and is run over a distance just short of one mile and two furlongs. The Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore is famous for the party atmosphere in the infield part of the track, and crowds of up to 100,000 people flock to enjoy the carnival (the course famously had a ‘bring your own beer’ policy until 2009!). The race itself is a serious affair though, with a purse of 1.5 million dollars, and a roll of honour that includes Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Curlin and California Chrome.
2. Breeders’ Cup Classic
This race is the highlight of the two day Breeders’ Cup festival, run each year in late October. Run over a mile and a quarter, it is open to three year olds and older horses, and provides a guide for the overall horse of the year. American Pharoah completed a ‘Grand Slam’ in 2015, by taking this race on the back of his Triple Crown win from earlier in the season. The purse is a whopping 5 millions dollars, and the prestige associated with winning the race means that zeros are added to future stallion values for the winners. One of the greatest ever renewals of this race was in 2000, when Tiznow (who would go on to become the only horse to win the race twice) defeated Giant’s Causeway by a nose after a titanic battle up the home straight.
1. The Kentucky Derby
Louisville, Kentucky hosts the Kentucky Derby each year in the first week of May, which also serves as the first leg of the Triple Crown. Known as ‘The Run For The Roses’ (a blanket of roses is draped over each winner), the race has been won by some great racehorses such as Unbridled, Sunday Silence, Animal Kingdom and War Emblem. The race itself has a purse of 2 million dollars, and crowds of over 160,000 people attend the meeting each year. History and tradition play a big part in the appeal of the race, with spectators drinking mint juleps traditionally. This is the race that trainers and jockeys want to win most, and a victory in the race is considered a career-changer.