Horse Racing: UK/Ireland

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244,820 km2
60,975,000 (2009)

Horse racing is a popular spectator sport in Great Britain, and gambling on horseraces is the cornerstone of the British betting industry. Horse racing in Ireland is run on an All Ireland basis, so the two racecourses in Northern Ireland are not part of the British racing industry.

It is thought that the first races to take place in Britain were organised by soldiers of the Roman Empire in Yorkshire around 200 AD, although the first recorded race meeting was during the reign of Henry II at Smithfield, London in 1174 during a horse fair.

It is believed that the first occurrence of a trophy being presented to the winner of a race was in 1512 by organisers of a fair in Chester and was a small wooden ball decorated with flowers.

Early in the 16th century Henry VIII imported a large number of stallions and mares for breeding although it was not until the 17th and 18th centuries that the breeding of thoroughbreds began as we know it now.

Feature Race: King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes

The King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes is a Group 1 flat horse race in the United Kingdom open to thoroughbreds which are three-years-old or above. It is run over a distance of 1 mile and 4 furlongs (2,414 metres) at Ascot Racecourse, and it takes place annually in late July.

The race was created as the result of an amalgamation of the King George VI Stakes, a two-mile race for three-year-olds run in October since 1946, and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, which had been run each July since 1948 at one and a half miles. The amalgamated race was first run during the Festival of Britain in 1951, and was called the Festival of Britain King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. This became the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 1952, and the race continued with this title until 1974.

From 1972 to 2006 the race was sponsored by the diamond company De Beers, and in 1975 permission was given by Queen Elizabeth II for the word Diamond to be included in the title. As a result, from 1975 it was run as the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. With De Beers ending their sponsorship after the 2006 running, the race reverted to its old title and was run in 2007 without sponsorship.

It is probably the highest quality race in the United Kingdom, and it is an opportunity for the leading middle-distance three-year-olds to compete against the more established older horses. This race can often put the merits of the Classic generation into context. In recent years, however, there has been a decline in the number of three-year-olds participating. No horse of this age has contested the race since 2005.

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