British settlers brought horses and horse racing to America. The first racetrack was laid out on Long Island in 1665. Although the sport was a popular local sport for some time, organized racing did not exist until after the Civil War in 1868 when the American Stud Book was started. For the next several decades, during the industrial expansion, gambling on racehorses, and horse racing itself, exploded. By 1890, there were 314 tracks operating across the United States.
The rapid growth of horse racing without a governing authority led to the domination of many tracks by criminal elements. In 1894, the nation's biggest track and stable owners met in New York to form an American Jockey Club. This organization was modeled on the English and it soon ruled racing with an iron fist and eliminated much of the corruption.
In the early 1900s, racing in the United States was almost wiped out by antigambling sentiment that led almost all states to ban bookmaking. By 1908, only 25 tracks remained. That same year, pari-mutuel betting on the Kentucky Derby was introduced and it created a turnaround for the sport. Many state legislatures agreed to legalize pari-mutuel betting in exchange for a cut of the money wagered. As a result, more tracks opened. By the end of World War I, prosperity and great horses like Man o' War brought spectators flocking to racetracks. Horse racing flourished until World War II. The sport then lost popularity during the 1950s and 1960s. There was a resurgence in the 1970s, triggered by the huge popularity of great horses such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. Each of these horses won the American Triple Crown (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes). However, during the late 1980s to today, another significant decline occurred. This can be attributed to the fact that there has been a long drought without a Triple Crown winner.
Thoroughbred tracks exist in about half the states. General public interest focuses on major Thoroughbred races such as the Triple Crown and the Breeder's Cup races (which begun in 1984). These races offer purses in excess of $1,000,000. State racing commissions have sole authority to license participants and grant racing dates, while sharing the appointment of racing officials and the supervision of racing rules with the Jockey Club. The Jockey Club retains authority over the breeding of Thoroughbreds.
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