In recent years, Irish bred and trained horses have enjoyed considerable success in major races worldwide. Various horses achieved victory in one or more of the British 2000 Guineas, The Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, considered the three most prestigious races in Europe. In the six runnings of the Epsom Derby between 2008 and 2013, Irish horses filled 20 of the first 30 placings, winning the race 5 times.
Animal rights organizations have long criticized horse racing. Activists have sought to expose horse doping, institute a ban on horse whipping by jockeys, limit the number of races a horse (especially three years old and younger) can run in a season, and eliminate dirt tracks in favour of safer synthetic surfaces. Two notable tragedies in the early 21st century helped propel calls for reform: the shattering of bones in one of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro’s legs just seconds after the start of the Preakness Stakes in 2006 (the horse was euthanized eight months later) and the death of three horses during production of the TV series Luck (2011–12), a drama about horse racing. (The deaths and subsequent outcry among many viewers helped lead to the abrupt cancellation of the show after just one season.) Such events—augmented by the changing interests of the global sporting public—contributed to the continuing decline in the popularity of horse racing through the first decades of the 21st century.
Ireland has a rich history of horse racing; point to pointing originated there, and even today, jump racing is more popular than racing on the flat. As a result, every year Irish horse racing fans travel in huge numbers to the highlight event of the National Hunt calendar, the Cheltenham Festival, and in recent years Irish owned or bred horses have dominated the event.[citation needed] Ireland has a thriving Thoroughbred breeding industry, stimulated by favourable tax treatment. The world's largest Thoroughbred stud farm, Coolmore Stud, has its main site there (in addition to major operations in the U.S. and Australia).

The guiding principle for breeding winning racehorses has always been best expressed as “breed the best to the best and hope for the best.” The performance of a breeding horse’s progeny is the real test, but, for horses untried at stud, the qualifications are pedigree, racing ability, and physical conformation. What breeders learned early in the history of horse racing is that crossing bloodlines can potentially overcome flaws in horses. If, for example, one breed is known for stamina and another known for speed, interbreeding the two might result in a healthy mix of both qualities in their offspring.
Horse racing is something like a religion in Hong Kong, whose citizens bet more than anyone else on Earth. Their cathedral is Happy Valley Racecourse, whose grassy oval track and floodlit stands are ringed at night by one of the sport’s grandest views: neon skyscrapers and neat stacks of high-rises, a constellation of illuminated windows, and beyond them, lush hills silhouetted in darkness.
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The following year the Hong Kong Jockey Club phoned Benter at an office he’d established in Happy Valley. He winced, remembering the meaty hand of the Las Vegas pit boss on his shoulder. But instead of threatening him, a Jockey Club salesperson said, “You are one of our best customers. What can we do to help you?” The club wasn’t a casino trying to root out gamblers who regularly beat the house; its incentive was to maximize betting activity so more revenue was available for Hong Kong charities and the government. Benter asked if it was possible to place his bets electronically instead of over the phone. The Jockey Club agreed to install what he called the “Big CIT”—a customer input terminal. He ran a cable from his computers directly into the machine and increased his betting.

In France the first documented horse race was held in 1651 as the result of a wager between two noblemen. During the reign of Louis XIV (1643–1715), racing based on gambling was prevalent. Louis XVI (reigned 1774–93) organized a jockey club and established rules of racing by royal decree that included requiring certificates of origin for horses and imposing extra weight on foreign horses.
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Jump (or jumps) racing in Great Britain and Ireland is known as National Hunt racing (although, confusingly, National Hunt racing also includes flat races taking place at jumps meetings; these are known as National Hunt flat races). Jump racing can be subdivided into steeplechasing and hurdling, according to the type and size of obstacles being jumped. The word "steeplechasing" can also refer collectively to any type of jump race in certain racing jurisdictions, particularly in the United States.
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