Horse racing is one of the most ancient sports with the nomadic tribesmen of Central Asia racing horses since early domestication and horse racing has long been an organised sport in many countries throughout history.

Horse racing as a professional sport in the UK can be traced back to the 12th Century after the English knights returned from the Crusades with Arab horses. These horses were bred with English horses to produce the Thoroughbred horse that is the breed of horse used in horse racing in the UK today.

During the reign of Charles II from 1660 to 1685 the King held horse races between two horses on private courses or open fields with prizes awarded to the winners and Newmarket was the venue for the first horse racing meetings in Britain.

Under the reign of Queen Anne during the period 1702-1714 horse races involving several horses on which spectators placed bets took over from match racing and horse racing became a professional sport with racecourses founded throughout England, including Ascot which was founded by Queen Anne in 1711.

In 1750 horse racing's elite met at Newmarket to form the Jockey Club to oversee and control English horse racing. The Jockey Club wrote a comprehensive set of rules for horse racing and sanctioned racecourses to conduct horse racing meetings under their rules and in 1814 5 races for three year olds were designated as "classics": The 2000 Guineas, The Epsom Derby and The St Ledger all open to colts and fillies and which make up The Triple Crown, and the 1,000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks open to fillies only.

Steps were also taken to regulate the breeding of race horses and James Weatherby, an accountant of the Jockey Club, was assigned the task to trace the pedigree and compile the family history of all race horses in England. His work resulted in the Introduction to the General Stud Book being published in 1791 and since 1793 Weatherby have recorded the pedigree of every foal born to race horses in the General Stud Book. Thoroughbred horses are so inbred that the pedigree of every horse can be traced back to one of three stallions, Byerley Turk (1680-1696), Darley Arabian (1700-1733) and the Godolphin Arabian (1724-1753), and these are known as the "Foundation sires". From the early 1800s the only horses that could be called "Thoroughbreds" and allowed to race professionally were those listed in the General Stud Book.

The Jockey Club continues to regulate horse racing and point-to-pointing today, but the British Horseracing Board became the governing authority for horse racing in Great Britain in 1993 and The National Hunt Committee was established in 1866.