Epsom Derby

At the Epsom Derby, the oldest horserace on our list, it’s not just the thoroughbreds that attract attention from the crowds. (Image: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

The biggest horse races are the ones that garner the most media and press coverage, accumulate millions of dollars in wagers, and possess a historical value that keeps spectators and bidders alike buying tickets year after year. Equestrian sports date back more than 2,000 years to the earliest Ancient Greek Olympic Games, and gamblers have been experiencing the thrill of the ponies ever since!

From draped tunics to elaborate hats and mint juleps, how we dress and watch horse racing has certainly changed over the years, but the racing itself has remained constant; it’s alluring, thrilling, and downright addicting.

Though there are several formats of equestrian events including jump and endurance, it’s the flat racing that attracts the most attention. Here’s a look at the largest, most financially important and celebrated horse races in the world. 

Ranking Strategy

There are thousands of horse races every single day around the world, so narrowing it down to the five most significant contests is surely no easy task, and certainly one open to controversy.

Our experts gathered data from the most renowned races and took into account:

  • Total prize purse for the owners and trainers
  • Total bets placed on the race
  • History and worldwide significance
  • Media coverage
  • Interest garnered from spectators not specifically involved in horse racing

#5. Epsom Derby

The oldest race on the list, the Epsom Derby was first held in 1780. Today, it is the most prestigious flat horse racing event in Britain, an event that is regularly attended by the Royal Family.

Held annually in early June, The Derby serves as the middle leg of England’s Triple Crown and is a one mile, four furlongs and 10-yard race contested on grass open to three-year-old thoroughbred colts and fillies. The Epsom Downs venue in Surrey, England, can pack in an impressive crowd of 120,000.

By the Numbers
Date: Early June
Location: Epsom Downs Racecourse, Surrey, England
Prize Purse: £1.325 million, or around $2 million

#4. Breeders’ Cup Classic

Although it doesn’t carry the same clout as the United States’ Triple Crown members, the Breeders’ Cup Classic makes the list due to it being the richest horse race on American soil. Compared to the other races, the Cup is rather new as its origins date back to only 1984.

Open to three-year-olds and older, the race covers 1.25 miles on dirt and is held at various tracks around the United States, the exception being the 1996 running held in Toronto, Canada. Though it comes with more prize money than the Triple Crown races, its lacking in history drops it to fourth.

By the Numbers
Date: Late October/Early November
Location: Varies
Prize Purse: $5 million

Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe

Paris’ Prix de L’Arc is the richest turf grass race in the world, and one of Europe’s most significant festivals. (Image: Scoopdyga)

#3. Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe

Popularly referred to as the “Arc,” the Prix is arguably Europe’s most prestigious horse racing event. The Longchamp Racecourse in Paris plays host for the annual competition scheduled for the first Sunday in October.

The distance covers 2,400 meters, or about 1.5 miles, with three year-olds and older horses allowed to participate. Since 1920, Europeans have packed into the Longchamp to watch the world’s richest turf race unfold.

By the Numbers
Date: First Sunday in October
Location: Longchamp Racecourse, Paris, France
Prize Purse: €5,000,000 ($5.5 million)

#2. Dubai World Cup

The world’s richest horse race still can’t claim the top prize as the event certainly has way more money than any other, but its history isn’t nearly as rich. As with most things in Dubai, its World Cup is all about the money, guaranteeing a prize pool of $10 million!

The 2,000 meter run (about 1.25 miles) has been held annually at the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai since 1996 and is most commonly held on dirt. The race is open to Northern Hemisphere thoroughbred four-year-olds and up, and for Southern Hemisphere thoroughbred three-year-olds and up.

By the Numbers
Date: Last Saturday in March
Location: Meydan Racecourse, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Prize Purse: $10 million

Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby, the first link of the Triple Crown in America, tops the list as the world’s biggest horse race. (Image: Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

#1. Kentucky Derby

How can the world’s richest horserace not be number one? Because there’s only one Kentucky Derby. First ran in 1875, the leading leg of America’s Triple Crown is the most famous of all horse races.

The 1.25 mile race held on the first Saturday in May is known as the “Fastest Two Minutes in Sports,” and although its purse of just $2 million pales in comparison to the Dubai World Cup, it’s the Kentucky Derby that is horse racing’s biggest annual gambling draw. In 2015, $133 million in the U.S. alone was wagered on the race.

Throw in the extravagant hats, celebrity attendees, and of course those refreshing mint juleps, and you’ve got yourself the biggest horse race in the world.

By the Numbers
Date: First Saturday in May
Location: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky
Prize Purse: $2 million

With marquee events spaced out around the calendar year and around the world, it’s always horse racing season!