What are the Biggest Horse Races in the US?
Horse racing is hugely popular in the US and fans flock to meetings throughout the year all across the country. There are a number of big meetings that always attract a lot of attention and have become a major part of the sporting calendar.
With online sport betting laws and regulations making it much easier for the American public to take a punt on the big races, these meetings have, if anything, become even more popular. The ‘sport of kings’ continues to hold a special place in the hearts of the American public, so here is a rundown of the biggest races and meetings that the country has to offer.
This is the biggest and most famous race of them all. Much like the Grand National in the UK, the Kentucky Derby has transcended horse racing and become a major part of the sporting year. Even people with no interest in horse racing stop to take notice of the Kentucky Derby – and it really is an event like no other.
Almost always taking place on the first Saturday of May, the race tops the bill at the Kentucky Derby Festival at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY. This Grade I race is a one and a quarter mile gallop around the famous racetrack and offers a cool $2 million in prize money. The best three-year-old thoroughbreds compete for the prestigious title that is the maiden leg of the famous American Triple Crown.
John Velazquez rode his second winner in two years when he finished first on Medina Spirit this year, after triumphing on Authentic in 2020.
If the Kentucky Derby kicks off May in great style, the Preakness Stakes continues the elite horse racing just two weeks later at the Pimlico Racetrack in Baltimore, Maryland. This is the second leg of the American Triple Crown and attracts the finest three-year-olds and is run over 9.6 furlongs on dirt.
First held way back in 1873, the Preakness Stakes predates the Kentucky Derby by two years and still ranks second in North America. If the winner has previously won the Kentucky Derby at the beginning of the month the horse racing world gets very excited at the prospect of a single horse claiming the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.
Flavien Prat rode Rombauer to victory in 2021, just two years after winning the Kentucky Derby on Country House.
Horse racing fans have to wait until June for the final leg of the American Triple Crown, as Belmont Park in Elmont, New York welcomes the very best thoroughbreds. The Belmont Stakes is run over one and a half miles (or 12 furlongs) on dirt and offers a purse of $1.5 million.
Only 13 horses have actually ever won all three prestigious races in a single year to claim the Triple Crown, with Justify the most recent in 2018. Mike Smith was the jockey on all three occasions. But even he would be hard pushed to beat the Belmont Stakes record set by Ron Turcotte who won the race known as the ‘The Test of the Champion’ by an incredible 31 lengths back in 1973.
The biggest event in American horse racing outside the Triple Crown is probably the prestigious Breeders’ Cup, a series of Grade I thoroughbred horse races that now take place over two days at different venues each year.
The purse for each race ranges from $1 million to $6 million and attracts huge crowds wherever it is held. Keeneland in Lexington Kentucky is the destination for the 2022 event.