The Biggest Annual International Horse Racing Events

Photo by Paul / CC BY 2.0

Horse racing is steeped in history, as it dates back more than 2,000 years to the Ancient Greek Olympic Games. Since its launch, people from across the planet have been hooked on the thrill and excitement of backing their favorite horses on a track.

However, many iconic horse racing events have emerged throughout the centuries that have blown all other races out the water. Check out the biggest annual international horse racing events.

Pegasus World Cup
Where: Gulfstream Park Hallandale Beach, Florida, United States
When: Mid-to-late January
The Pegasus World Cup’s first running was on January 28, 2017, and it quickly became one of the most prestigious thoroughbred horse races in America. The event is open to four-year-old horses and older that race across 1 1/8 miles of dirt. While it originally offered a purse of a staggering $12 million, and then $16 million in 2018, the Pegasus World Cup reduced the prize money to $9 million in 2019.

Cheltenham Festival
Where: Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire, England
When: March (it usually coincides with St. Patrick’s Day)
The first Cheltenham Festival was originally held in 1860 at Market Harborough and was then known as the Grand National Hunt Meeting. While different racecourses have hosted the event throughout the decades, it was in 1904 that a new course was established at Prestbury Park, where the event has been held ever since.

The four-day event features many Grade I races, such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Champion Hurdle and Stayers’ Hurdle. As the race meeting often proves popular with Irish visitors, the event tends to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day. While everyone will be eager to find out whom will win the £625,000 prize money, most spectators will attend the event to soak up the unrivalled atmosphere, which has been coined the “Cheltenham roar”.

Dubai World Cup
Where: Meydan Racecourse, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
When: The last Saturday in March
While the Dubai World Cup might be one of the newest annual horse racing events on this list, it is undoubtedly one of the most hotly-anticipated. The thoroughbred horse race was first held in 1996 at Meydan Racecourse and currently offers eight thoroughbred races and one Purebred Arabian contest.

While the Pegasus World Cup originally held the title of the world’s richest horse race in 2017 and 2018, the Dubai World Cup increased its purse to a whopping $12 million in 2019 to reclaim its title.

The Grand National
Where: Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool, England
When: First Saturday in April
The Grand National is undoubtedly the most valuable jump race in all of Europe, offering a purse of £1 million. The annual horse racing event has been held in Liverpool since 1839 and requires horses and jockeys to race approximately four miles and 2 ½ furlongs, jumping over thirty fences in two laps.

It is also one of the most challenging races a horse and jockey can face, as the event features much larger fences in comparison to those found at conventional race tracks, such as the world-famous Beecher’s Brook, the Canal Turn, and The Chair.

Photo by Bill Brine / CC BY 2.0

Kentucky Derby
Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
When: First Saturday in May
The Kentucky Derby is held at Churchill Downs, Louisville, on the first Saturday in May each year. The historic sporting event began in 1875, and it is now one of the biggest and most lucrative horse races in America, offering a prize purse of a whopping $2 million. Regarded as the “fastest two minutes in sports”, the Kentucky Derby never fails to disappoint in terms of excitement and action, which is why millions of people head to the likes of Oddschecker to potentially pick the winning horse. In fact, it is so popular that back in 2015 fans in the US alone wagered an incredible $133 million on the historic race.

Epsom Derby
Where: Epsom Downs Racecourse, Surrey, England
When: The first Saturday of June
Originally held in 1780, the Epsom Derby is the oldest horse racing event on this list. Every June, millions of people across the world will tune in to the flat horse racing event, while it features a crowd of approximately 120,000.

The one-mile-and-four-furlongs race is open to three-year-old thoroughbred fillies and colts, and guests in attendance commonly include the royals—most notably the queen— which adds to the prestige and excitement of the event. The winner will also receive a £1.325 million prize purse.

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
Where: Longchamp Racecourse, Paris, France
When: First Sunday in October
Affectionately known as the “Arc”, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is one of the most prestigious horse racing events in Europe. Only the most highly-acclaimed horses will feature in the 2,400-meter race, which welcomes thoroughbreds of three years or older onto the track. It is also the second richest turf race in the world behind The Everest.

During the Arc Weekend, which features seven superb races at group one and two levels, it also hosts the Arabian World Cup, which is the richest race on the planet for purebred Arabian horses, offering a purse of €1,000,000.

Breeders’ Cup Classic
Where: North America (changes yearly)
When: Late October or early November
While the Kentucky Derby might be more widely known by casual horse racing fans, the Breeders’ Cup Classic is the ultimate event for those passionate about the sport in the US. The thoroughbred horse race is open to 3-year-olds and older and requires them to run across 1 ¼ miles.

However, unlike for many races on this list, the racecourse will change each year, but the winners of the race will be placed on the U.S. Horse of the Year honors list. Due to the high caliber of horses participating in the event, it is almost impossible to predict which one will take home the $6 million purse.

So, if you want to add an exciting sporting event onto your calendar, you cannot go wrong with the above options.