Top 10 Biggest Horse Races In The World

April 10th, 2024

Long before basketball, football, or baseball were invented, horse racing entertained the masses, as far back as 700 BC.

The "Sport of Kings" is one of the most popular pastimes to watch and bet on year-round, with numerous races held almost every day and nearly 300 dirt track or turf courses operating around the globe.

Some horse races carry far more prestige, prize money, and public appeal than others, and attract thousands to the track every year. Below we look at the 10 biggest horse races in the world, from the “race that stops a nation” to the “fastest two minutes in sports.”  

10. The Everest

Date: Second or Third Saturday in October
Location: Randwick Racecourse, Sydney, Australia
Purse: A$15 million (or $11.290 million)
Inaugural race: 2017

The world’s richest race on turf, the Everest just recently got its start in 2017 and is not yet eligible for Grade 1/Group 1 status, but the amount of prize money on the line makes it worth circling on the calendar.

The 1,200-meter (about six-furlong) weight-for-age event requires an entry fee, similar to the Pegasus World Cup (G1), with 12 slots in the starting gate sold for $600,000 each. The feature race of the Sydney Spring Carnival, the Everest was won by five-year-old gelding Redzel in 2017 and saw him repeat as the winner a year later.

9. Epsom Derby

Date: First Saturday in June
Location: Epsom Downs, Surrey, England
Purse: £1,125,000 (or $1.485 million)
Inaugural race: 1780

The second leg of the English Triple Crown, the Epsom Derby (also known as the Derby Stakes or Cazoo Derby) is a Group 1 flat race for three-year-old colts and fillies run at 2,420 meters (about 1 mile, four furlongs) at historic Epsom Downs.

First run in 1780, England’s premier Thoroughbred race is the richest flat race in the UK and typically lures around 130,000 spectators each year, including British royalty.

Born out of a gathering between Sir Charles Bunbury and Edward Stanley, the 12th earl of Derby, the colleagues drummed up the idea of a race at the Downs for colts and fillies and let a coin toss decide which individual would name the race. Derby won, and the rest is history.

The Kentucky Derby and many other races across the world have since been named after the Epsom Derby, the most prestigious of the five British Classic races. The 2000 Guineas (the first leg of the English Triple Crown), the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks, and the St. Leger (the third leg of the Triple Crown) are the other Classics.

8. Melbourne Cup

Date: First Tuesday in November
Location: Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia
Purse: A$8 million (or $6.021 million)
Inaugural race: 1861

The most famous Thoroughbred race in Australia, the annual Melbourne Cup, dubbed “the race that stops a nation,” is a 3,200-meter (about 2-mile) turf handicap for three-year-olds and up. It is the second-richest turf race in the world, behind The Everest.

The event is hosted by the Victoria Racing Club as part of the four-day Melbourne Cup Carnival  and is so important to the region, Melbourne Cup day is designated a public holiday for all those working within metropolitan Melbourne and parts of Victoria. 

Four horses have won the Melbourne Cup at odds of 100-1, including most recently in 2015, with Prince of Penzance.

7. Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

Date: First Saturday in October
Location: Longchamp Racecourse, Paris, France
Purse: €5,000,000 (or $5.49 million)
Inaugural race: 1920

Named after the World War I monument the Arc de Triomphe, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the richest horse race in Europe and the fifth richest race in the world on turf, behind three Australian races and one in Dubai.

The 2,400-meter Group 1 weight-for-age flat race is open to three-year-olds and up, but not geldings, with the best horses from the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, and the rest of the globe competing for the top prize of €2,857,000, more than $3.1 million.

The quality of the field it attracts is such that it has been rated the best race in the world by international handicappers as part of the Longines World Racing Awards for four of the past six years.

6. Belmont Stakes

Date: First or second Saturday of June
Location: Belmont Park, Elmont, New York
Purse: $1.5 million
Inaugural race: 1867

The Grade 1 race for Thoroughbreds ranks as one of the five most attended racing events in North America each year, as is especially popular among racing fans when a Triple Crown title is on the line.

Nicknamed "The Test of the Champion," the Belmont S. challenges three-year-olds to stretch 1 1/2 miles on dirt and has witnessed 13 colts secure the Triple Crown, from Sir Barton in 1919 to Justify in 2018.

The Belmont's record for TV viewership is 21.9 million in 2004, the year then-undefeated Smarty Jones was upset by 36-1 longshot Birdstone in the final leg of the Triple Crown.

5. Preakness Stakes

Date: Third Saturday in May
Location: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore, Maryland
Purse: $1 million
Inaugural race: 1873

The second leg of the U.S. Triple Crown, the 1 3/16-mile-long Preakness S. is usually the second-highest attended Thoroughbred stakes race in North America, behind the Kentucky Derby.

Also known as the “The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans,” the party in Pimlico has seen 36 Kentucky Derby winners triumph at the Preakness, but 23 of those failed to win their Belmont S. start.

4. Dubai World Cup

Date: Last Saturday in March
Location: Meydan Racecourse, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Purse: $12 million
Inaugural race: 1996

Part of the Dubai World Cup Night of races, the Dubai World Cup is a Group 1 flat race on dirt for Northern Hemisphere Thoroughbreds age four and up, and Southern Hemisphere Thoroughbreds age three and up, run at a distance of 2,000 meters, or about 10 furlongs.

While the event is fairly new in the grand scheme of horse racing tradition, it has quickly become a major attraction for the world's top racing connections.

Since 2019, the Dubai World Cup has carried a purse of $12 million. In 2022, Dubai World Cup Night offered a total of $30.5 million in prize money across eight Thoroughbred races and one Pure Arabian race.

3. Gold Cup at Ascot

Date: Mid to late June
Location: Ascot Racecourse, Ascot, England
Purse: £375,625 ($495,231)
Inaugural race:

Another race fit for royalty, the Gold Cup at Ascot Racecourse is Britain's most esteemed event for "stayers," or horses that specialize in long distances.

The Group 1 flat race for four-year-olds and up is run over a distance of 4,014 meters (about 2 miles and four furlongs), and is held on Ladies' Day, the third day of the four-day Royal Ascot meeting, where high fashion, high society, and horse racing collide.

Located only six miles from Windsor Castle, Ascot is a frequent stop of the Royal Family. An owner and breeder of Thoroughbred horses, the Queen herself has won a number of times at Royal Ascot, including the 2013 Gold Cup with Irish-bred filly Estimate.

2. Breeders' Cup Classic

Date: First Saturday in November
Location: Rotating venues each year
Purse: $6 million
Inaugural race: 1984

The Grade 1 weight-for-age race for Thoroughbreds age three and up, the Breeders’ Cup Classic is regarded as one of the most prestigious races in North America and comprises the fourth and final leg of horse racing’s Grand Slam, which only one Thoroughbred, American Pharoah in 2015, has achieved.

With a $6 million purse, the Breeders’ Cup Classic was once the richest race in the world and is typically one of the highest-attended horse racing events in the U.S., behind the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Kentucky Oaks, and sometimes the Belmont.

The winner of the 1 1/4 mile-race on dirt typically goes on to win the Eclipse Award for American Horse of the Year, including the two most recent Classic champions, Knicks Go and Authentic.

1. Kentucky Derby

Date: First Saturday in May
Location: Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky
Purse: $3 million
Inaugural race: 1875

Known as “the fastest two minutes in sports” and the “Run for the Roses,” the Kentucky Derby (G1) is the most anticipated horse race of the year and the longest continuously-run sporting event in America.

Hundreds of thousands of people, including some of the world’s most famous celebrities, flock to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May to witness three-year-old Thoroughbreds run the 1 1/4-mile race on dirt that makes up the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Tradition and spectacle unite under the Twin Spires, where attendees frolic in their "Saturday" best, sip on Mint Juleps, and wager on a number of stakes races throughout the day.

From Secretariat to American Pharoah, some of the most iconic racehorses have etched their name into history at the Kentucky Derby and sported the famed garland of roses inside the winner's circle.

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