The Jockey Club stands as an emblem of tradition, authority and stewardship in the world of horse racing. With a history that spans centuries, the Jockey Club has played an integral role in shaping the landscape of British horse racing, promoting integrity, professionalism and the welfare of both the sport and its participants.
The roots of the Jockey Club trace back to the early 18th century, a time when horse racing was becoming an increasingly popular pastime across Britain. In 1750, a group of prominent racing enthusiasts, breeders and owners convened to formalise the organisation that would become the Jockey Club.
Its establishment aimed to regulate and standardise the rules of racing, ensuring fair competition and maintaining the sport’s credibility. At its core, the modern day Jockey Club is a regulatory body responsible for overseeing and governing horse racing in the United Kingdom. It sets and enforces rules that govern racing practices, track conditions, horse welfare and jockey conduct.
The Club’s regulations are designed to maintain the integrity of the sport, prevent unfair practices and uphold the highest standards of sportsmanship across all of the races that come under its remit.
The Foundation Of The Jockey Club
The exact origins of the Jockey Club are, believe it or not, somewhat unclear. For a long time, it was believed that around 1750 was the year that the organisation was founded, with the Jockey Club celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2002, with 1752 chosen as the year of foundation because that was when the Sporting Kalanedar had made an announcement about a forthcoming Newmarket race that was going to be run by horses ‘the property of the noblemen and gentlemen of the Jockey Club at the Star and Garter in Pall Mall.’ The date, it was assumed, was a reasonable approximation.
In the 21st century, however, more and more newspapers from the 18th century began to be digitised and put online. As a result, it made them much easier to search, with evidence showing that references were made to a ‘Newmarket Jockey Club’ in newspapers dating back to the 1720s, with other references appearing in the 1730s and 1740s. There were references to meetings held in coffee shops in London that had membership that overlapped with the Club thought of as being founded in 1750, to say nothing of interests in racing in Newmarket.
There are newspaper reports from 1729, for example, that talk of a meeting ‘at Harkwood, the Duke of Bolton’s seat in Hampshire, to consider of Methods for the better keeping of their respective Strings of Horses at New Market.’ The report said that the Jockey Club was ‘consisting of several Noblemen and Gentlemen.’ The third Duke of Bolton, Charles Powlett, was reportedly a driving force in the foundation of the organisation. Powlett was Hampshire’s principal land owner, being Lord Lieutenant of the County in addition to being the Governor of the Isle of Wight and Colonel of the Royal Horse Guards.
He was a leading racehorse owner, racing his horses at Newmarket in the meetings in April and October. Alongside the Earl of Godolphin, the Earl of Halifax, Sir William Morgan and Mr Panton, the group raced their horses at Newmarket more regularly than the 40 or so other owners who raced their horses there. It is likely, therefore, that they were amongst the founding owners of what would go on to become the Jockey Club. What is interesting is what happened to force the hand of horse racing in general, which the Duke and his friends were almost certainly behind.
Racing Not For Everyone
In the later years of the 1730s, there was support growing from the Catholics and Jacobites that were in favour of the exiled king Charles Stuart to return. Throughout the country, horse racing for small prizes was growing in popularity, encouraging idleness and resulting to members of the formative Jockey Club backing an Act that forced most of the meetings out of existence.
The Act insisted that all races needed to have a prize of at least £50, meaning that the number of race meetings taking place across Britain decreased dramatically. That also affected Newmarket, with fewer entries and therefore less races.
There is, therefore, a belief from some that the early days of the Jockey Club were about elite political interest groups that shared Protestant religious beliefs hoping to exert influence over the government. The Club’s actual founding, therefore, might well have been closer to 1717, which was when the Protestant King George I visited Newmarket.
Whether the Club that is considered to have been founded 33 years later was a continuation of that original Club or something of a relaunch after the first Club ceased to exist isn’t exactly clear, but it is an intriguing insight into the early days of the Jockey Club.
Historical Significance & Evolution
Throughout its history, the Jockey Club has witnessed numerous changes and adaptations that reflect the evolution of horse racing in general and its place in society. The Club has weathered challenges, including debates about amateur versus professional jockeys, advancements in technology and the impact of gambling on the sport’s image.
Its ability to adapt and respond to these challenges has contributed to its enduring relevance. In the early years, though, it was seen as being a place for the most influential of British figures to get together over their shared passion for horse racing.
The Star and Garter in London’s Pall Mall was where the original meetings were held, as well as at locations in St James’ Street and Hyde Park. In 1752, the Jockey Club leased a plot of land in the area of Newmarket, with a coffee house being erected as a place where the members of the Club could meet.
The freehold was purchased and the Jockey Club Rooms were born. The Club first began to establish rules for racing that was taking place on the Newmarket Heath, with the aim being to ensure that these races were run fairly. They proved to be successful to the point that they were gradually adopted by other racecourses.
Soon, the Rules of Racing that the Jockey Club had established were being used not just around the United Kingdom, but internationally. Over time, the Jockey Club began to take on the role of being the governing body for the sport of horse racing in Britain. By 1964, this desire to ensure that it was acting for the good of horse racing in general meant that the Jockey Club formed Jockey Club Racecourses, which was then known as Racecourse Holdings Trust. Cheltenham Racecourse was bought in order to secure the future of the track, with Wincanton, Nottingham, Warwick and Market Rasen all following.
Interestingly, in spite of the Jockey Club’s historical links to Newmarket, Newmarket Racecourses didn’t become part of the Jockey Club until 1974, with Haydock Park following four years later and Aintree coming in 1982. Huntingdon joined the Club a decade later, whilst in 1993 the British Horseracing Board was established with the aim of governing racing in Britain.
The Jockey Club remained in place as the sport’s regulator, both devising and enforcing the Rules of Racing. The Club also kept expanding, adding Epsom Downs, Kempton Park and Sandown Park to the list of courses under its control.
The Jockey Club has historically been associated with ownership and management of several prominent racecourses, including Newmarket, Epsom and Aintree, which host some of the most prestigious and iconic races in the world. These include the likes of the Grand National and the Derby.
The Club’s involvement in racecourse management ensures that these venues maintain their historical significance and offer a world-class experience for racing enthusiasts. The Club was also aware of possible criticisms that could be levelled at it, though, making moves to make it more transparent.
In 2006, for example, the Horseracing Regulatory Authority took on the Jockey Club’s role of policing the sport. In July of the following year, a merger happened in order to link the British Horseracing Board and the HRA, with the result being the formation of the British Horseracing Authority as the governor and regulator of the sport of horse racing.
The Jockey Club was, therefore, freed up to be able to focus on generating returns from its commercial interests that could then be put back into the sport as a whole, with the National Stud transferred to government ownership in 2008.
Stewardship and Integrity
A significant facet of the Jockey Club’s responsibilities is ensuring the integrity of horse racing. The Club appoints stewards who oversee race meetings, monitor compliance with rules and address any concerns related to misconduct or breaches of regulations. By doing so, the Club upholds the reputation of the sport and maintains public trust.
In the modern era, the Jockey Club remains a linchpin of equestrian governance and management. Its commitment to ensuring the welfare of horses and the safety of jockeys, coupled with its dedication to maintaining fair competition, aligns with broader societal shifts toward ethical and responsible practices in sports.
Beyond its regulatory functions, the Jockey Club also plays a role in promoting horse racing culture. The organisation hosts events, exhibitions and educational initiatives that celebrate the history and heritage of the sport. By fostering a deeper connection between the public and the world of horse racing, the Club contributes to the sport’s continued growth and relevance.
The Jockey Club’s enduring legacy is one of stewardship, integrity, and a commitment to the preservation and advancement of horse racing. From its inception in the 18th century to its contemporary role as a regulator, promoter and guardian of the sport, the Jockey Club’s influence reaches far beyond the racetrack.
The Jockey Club In The Modern World
In 2011, the QIPCO British Champions Series was launched, having been created a year before. The Jockey Club was pivotal in this, demonstrating its desire to ensure the future of horse racing as a sport. The same year, racing’s first ever loyalty programme, known as Rewards4Racing, was introduced. It continues to be a lead investor in the Racing for Change project, showing that the Jockey Club is keen on ensuring that the sport continues to get investment from whatever places it can. It is still headquartered in London, sharing offices wit the British horse racing authorities.
The modern version of the Jockey Club works under a corporate structure, being the largest commercial group in horse racing as a sport. In terms of what they do, anyone who has gone to a racecourse owned by the Jockey Club will have seen their work, with the Club doing what it can to ensure that your day is full of fun and making it a special occasion for all concerned. You can download the Jockey Club app, for example, in order to get an up-to-date race card and exclusive content, including being able to take part in competitions that the organisations runs.
The Jockey Club is also responsible for deciding the likes of dress codes, which have been relaxed in recent times in order to make it more inclusive for everyone. People are now invited to wear whatever they feel the most comfortable and confident in, rather than having to meet certain criteria. That isn’t the only thing that the organisation has done to make people feel more welcome at racecourses, with the likes of ‘Learn the Lingo’ pages available for people to find out about the words and phrases used by all of those involved in the sport that might seem alien to an outsider.
The Jockey Club is also responsible for the likes of ensuring the welfare of the horses that take part in competitions run on their tracks. British racing is one of the most regulated in the world, with more than 6,000 people in employment to look after the 14,000 or so horses in training.
The Jockey Club does what it can to invest in facilities for the best treatment of the horses that run, whilst they also support the Retraining of Racehorses scheme that is run by British horse racing with the aim of finding a life after running for the horses themselves.