Horse racing was best before British, says historian

Historians in the News

Dr Natalie Zacek, from The University of Manchester says the 1861–1865 Civil War changed American racing forever, by forcing it to modernise using the English model.

The American researcher, who grew up near the world famous Saratoga Race Track in New York, said before the late 1850s, a cross section of all citizens - from Presidents to slaves - took a passionate interest in the sport.

It was so popular that Congress would go out of session when a race was held, George Washington was one the country’s top jockeys and Presidents Jackson and Jefferson were leading breeders of thoroughbreds.

Dr Zacek said: “Before the Civil War, a horse’s stamina was more important than its speed as races, run on dirt, were in three heats of three or four miles.

“The animals weren’t so young as they are today and would walk a couple of hundred miles between races. Nowadays, they just aren’t up to that.

“Because of today’s pressures to be ever faster – which began in the 1860s - inbreeding has gone too far: horses are too young and lightweight, but their strength makes them delicate.

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