Horse racing has been a popular sport in Britain for centuries, and the country is home to some of the world’s most famous horse racing festivals.

The Royal Ascot meeting in June is one of Britain’s oldest and most popular racing festivals since its creation by Queen Anne in 1711.

The growing popularity of attending the event was evident in social circles by 1752, prompting the Duke of Bedford to remark that when he came to London, there was no one to dine with.

On the back of its success, many more began to spring up all over the country, with racing fans gathering in their thousands to watch the runners and riders in places like Cheltenham, Liverpool, Chester, York, and Goodwood.

The sport of Kings is beloved, not just in the UK, but around the world, so we’ll take at look at the top five to find out why exactly they have proven so enduringly popular.

And should you ever fancy a bit of horse racing betting or plan to do a spot of traveling, you’ll know exactly what to expect.

Royal Ascot – United Kingdom

As Royal Ascot is one of the oldest in the world, it’s only fitting that we begin our journey there.

Royal Ascot is not just a horse racing festival; it’s a quintessential part of British culture. Held in June at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire, it’s known for its strict dress code, royal attendance, and history.

The five-day event features some of the highest-caliber horse racing in the world. The Gold Cup, the event’s highlight, takes place on the third day, traditionally known as Ladies’ Day.

Even the late Queen, a known horse racing enthusiast, owned winners over the years, but it was Estimate, who won the Gold Cup in 2013, that stands out as one of the most memorable.

The victory was particularly special because it marked the first time a reigning monarch had owned the winning horse in the prestigious Gold Cup’s history.

Aside from Estimate, Royal Ascot was also the setting for Yeats who made history by winning the Gold Cup four times consecutively from 2006 to 2009.

Trained by Aidan O’Brien and owned by Coolmore, Yeats’ dominance in one of the most challenging races solidified his reputation as one of the greatest long-distance racehorses in history.

In 2024, Royal Ascot will take place from Tuesday 18th – Saturday 22nd June.

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – France

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is held on the first Sunday in October at the Longchamp Racecourse in Paris. It’s one of Europe’s most prestigious and historic horse racing events, first run in 1920.

The race is open to thoroughbreds aged three years or older and is known for its challenging course, which tests the speed and stamina of the competing horses.

The “Arc,” as it’s often called, was won by Ace Impact in 2023, continuing his unbeaten run for trainer J C Rouge. Ridden by Cristian Demuro, it was a strategic ride that saw him come from the back of the field before leading from one furlong out.

Maintaining the necessary stamina to go the full 1m4f, he stayed on to take his fifth turf victory and more than £2.5 million in prize money.

The Kentucky Derby – United States

The Kentucky Derby, often referred to as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports,” takes place on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

It’s the first leg of the American Triple Crown, followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

What sets the Kentucky Derby apart is not just the high stakes of the races but also the rich traditions: spectators wearing fancy hats, the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home,” and the iconic mint julep drink.

It’s a celebration of Southern culture and thoroughbred racing excellence, attracting fans from all over the globe.

Throughout its incredible history, the Kentucky Derby has been won by some truly impressive horses, including Secretariat and American Pharoah.

Secretariat is quite possibly the most legendary racehorse in American history and won the Kentucky Derby in 1973.

His victory at Churchill Downs was remarkable, setting a record time of 1:59, a record that still stands today. He also went on to win the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, capturing the Triple Crown in one of the most dominant performances in horse racing history.

American Pharoah ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought by winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in 2015.

Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah captivated the hearts of racing fans, and his Triple Crown win was a historic moment in horse racing, making him an instant legend.

He is also noted for winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, making him the first horse to win the so-called “Grand Slam” of American horse racing.

Dubai World Cup – United Arab Emirates

From the oldest race at Royal Ascot to the relative newcomer that is the Dubai World Cup, this race is known primarily for the staggering amount of money on offer.

First run in 1996, it quickly rose to prominence thanks to its lavish setting and, more importantly, the $12 million in prize money.

Held at the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, it’s the highlight of the Dubai World Cup Night of racing, and, on March 30th, 2024, was won by Laurel River by an impressive 8½ lengths over nearest rival Ushba Tesoro.

Ridden by Irish jockey and eleven-time UAE Champion, Tadgh O’Shea, connections of Laurel River went home with $7.2 million in prize money.

Melbourne Cup – Australia

From the UK to the other side of the world, the Melbourne Cup is Australia’s most well-known horse racing event.

Held on the first Tuesday in November at Flemington Racecourse, it is so culturally significant in Australia that it is known as “the race that stops a nation,” with even children getting a day of school to watch the action unfold.

Part of a racing festival that includes fashion shows and parades, it is even responsible for a public holiday in Melbourne.

In 2024, the cup will be held on November 5th, and with $4.5 million on the line for the winner, the 3200m race will be one of the most exciting races in the world.

Summary of Popular Racing Festivals

These five popular racing festivals stand out not just for the quality of the racing but also for the unique cultural experiences they offer.

From the Southern charm of the Kentucky Derby to the luxurious spectacle of the Dubai World Cup, each festival brings something special to the world of horse racing.

Whether it’s the prize money, fashion, tradition, or the sheer excitement of each race, these events have earned their place as the top horse racing festivals around the globe.