According to recent genetic study, the horse was first domesticated by humanity about 6,000 years ago. We can therefore figure that the first informal horse race took place on the Asian steppes probably about 5,999 years ago – and betting on these informal tests of speed certainly followed moments thereafter.
Despite, like most sporting endeavors in the 21st century, the ever-increasing encroachment of technology on horse racing, the “Sport of Kings” has changed very little since two dudes wagered on whose pick of the litter was quicker to the earliest tracks built on the British Isles to simulcast racing. It’s still all about remarkable animals testing the limits of nature.
Historians usually set horse racing as a public spectacle back to the 1100s and the first of the post-Crusades periods. Those who had fought in exotic lands returned with Arab horses, bigger and stronger steeds than their British-bred counterparts.
The business infrastructure of professionals from jockeys to stable-owners originated about 500 years later. In England, the early part of the 18th century saw the rise of these newborn professions, thanks to the burgeoning leisure class at the heart of the British Empire.
Naturally, the expansion of British and other European empires meant the expansion of cultural items such as horse racing, which became popular to various degrees in other countries, but few quite as much as in the United States.
Despite the exotic-sounding name (the modern term is a bastardization/derivation of a French expression), this is the system of betting that is now standard throughout the world. Whereas before 1800s, the only odds for betting were more or less arbitrary, races could be “fixed” so as to ensure the greatest profit for the track owners.
In pari-mutuel betting, odds – are therefore payouts – are adjusted based on the “action”, or wagers made on a given race. A horse which begins the day at 10/1 odds can have those odds increased or decreased based on the number of wagers placed on the horse. This allows the track to profit on nearly every outcome, with essentially no need to pilfer money from paying punters.
Canada boasts an excellent, thriving horse racing industry, with some 32 venues open throughout the country: Some 34 horse tracks in Canada are open for business. Although the great majority of these are located in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta (which host 12, 6 and 6 tracks, respectively), each province can claim at least one venue for thoroughbred and/or harness racing; Saskatchewan hosts three, Nova Scotia, two, and the remainder all have one venue.
The prospective visitor to horse racing in Canada will definitely want to check the schedule at the track, however. As you can well imagine, horse racing season in most parts of Canada is *short*. On the other hand, many racinos are open for business in Canada (again, mostly in Alberta, Ontario and BC), with almost all of these offering wagering on simulcast racing throughout the year.