Archaeological records indicate that horse racing occurred in ancient Babylon, Syria, and Egypt, and was an event in Greek Olympics by 648 B.C.
The style and distance of racing vary significantly by the country in which the race is occurring. There are three major types of racing: flat racing, steeplechase (racing over jumps), and harness racing, where horses trot or pace while pulling a driver in a sulky.
While thoroughbred racing was popular with aristocrats and royalty of British society, earning it the title “Sport of Kings,” both thoroughbred flat racing and fox hunt steeplechase were brought from England to the Eastern shores of America with great popularity among American gentry and aristocracy.
Hugh Bancroft, Jr., early owner and CEO of the Wall Street Journal kept a stable of thoroughbreds on his Bostonian estate and was well-recognized for his superiority in steeplechase and fox hunt competition.
However, when Hugh Bancroft, Jr. married Jackie and they moved to a ranch in Eastern New Mexico, Jackie became enamored with the American quarter horse. This American breed of horse excels at sprinting short distances. Its name came from its ability to outdistance other breeds in races of a quarter-mile or less; some have been clocked at speeds up to 55 mph.
The quarter horse breed probably began in Virginia but quickly moved West, as it proved to be best for working cattle. It was not recognized as an official breed until 1940, and by the late ’40s, organized racing was occurring in the Western United States.
Although thoroughbred racing is still the largest competition in the United States, quarter horse racing is the most popular in many places in the Western United States. Today, it is a billion-dollar industry, and highly competitive. Gambling is of great importance to the economic foundation of all horse racing. A 2008 estimate stated that worldwide it provided US$115 billion.
Quarter horse racing was an integral part of Wall Street Journal heiress Jackie Bancroft Spencer Morgan’s life. I was with her on occasion when she would drop as much as $150,000 for an unproven yearling colt with good blood line. This was not an unusual occurrence. However, she was successful, as that term might be defined in horse racing. She won the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico, with Strawberry Silk. This is the richest quarter horse race, usually paying a million dollars to the winner. Jackie accomplished that feat, a race every quarter horse owner wants to win, but very few do.
I write of Jackie’s life and racing in my book: “Observer: The Ronnie Lee and Jackie Bancroft Spencer Morgan Story, a tale of people, greed, envy, manipulation — even crime”.