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The sport of horse racing employs more than 85,000 people in the UK, with many of them caring for Britain's 14,000 race horses' needs. It is known as the "sport of kings" because the royal family has traditionally been involved in horse racing for centuries. Generating around £3.39 billion for the British economy, this includes the money spent at numerous major horse racing events, such as Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot - two of the most important dates in the international horse racing and high society calendar. The horses' welfare is paramount and the people involved in the sport provide a level of care and quality of life that is almost unmatched by other domestic animals. Every jockey, owner and trainer must adhere to the strict horse welfare standards demanded by law. More than 1,400 horse racing fixtures take place annually in the UK and unless welfare standards set out by the British Horseracing Authority are met, the races won't go ahead. Read on to find out the origins of this distinguished and popular sport...   Horse racing timeline Horse racing was a sport of the Central Asian nomadic tribesmen from around 900 BC. Their homeland was the endless flat carpet of grass, known as the Eurasian steppe, stretching from Mongolia to what is the Ukraine today. They were said to be the world's first society who climbed on domesticated horses and learned to ride. They lived a nomadic lifestyle and spent their life on horseback, roaming the vast steppe, hunting for food and farming great herds of cattle, goats, sheep, camels and horses. Horse racing was a popular sport in Ancient Rome, a period in history that began in 753 BC with the Kingdom of Rome. In fact, many of the sport's rules and traditions originated during this era. Archaeological records show horse racing also took place in Ancient Greece, Egypt, Babylon and Syria. Mounted horse racing and chariot racing were events in the Olympics in Ancient Greece in 648 BC. Both sports became major industries of the Roman Empire, providing employment and contributing to the economy. Horse racing became a professional sport in the UK when the English knights brought Arab horses back from the Crusades in the 12th century. Arab horses were bred with English horses to create the thoroughbred breed that is still used in horse racing today. During the reign of James I, from 1603 to 1625, the measured distance for a horse race was set at around four miles. Ultimately, this became the standard distance for most races, although shorter races were also introduced. Between 1660 and 1685, King Charles II held horse races on private courses or in fields, awarding prizes to the winners. The venue for the first official horse racing meeting in Britain was Newmarket. During Queen Anne's reign between 1702 and 1714, spectators began placing bets on horse races. Numerous new racecourses were founded across Britain, as the professional sport's popularity grew. Queen Anne founded Ascot herself in 1711. The Jockey Club was formed after the leading figures in horse racing met at Newmarket in 1750 to oversee and regulate the sport in England. The Jockey Club's set of rules were the foundation of today's regulations. In 1791, the breeding of racehorses was regulated. Jockey Club accountant James Weatherby began the arduous task of tracing the racehorses' pedigree and compiling the family line of every horse in England. The resulting document was the General Stud Book, published later that year. From 1793 onwards, every foal born to racing horses has been recorded in the General Stud Book. In 1866, the National Hunt Committee was established to regulate horse racing and point-to-pointing alongside the Jockey Club. The Jockey Club continues to oversee horse racing today, but the British Horseracing Board, formed in 1993, has become the main governing authority for the sport in Britain.   How well are the horses treated? Usually, the people who care for horses love them and you would be hard-pressed to find an exercise rider or groom who didn't actually like their horses. The BHA is responsible for the welfare of racehorses. As with most sports and activities, there is an element of risk to horse racing. However, as a result of the industry's investment in welfare, health and safety measures, the number of horses that have died on the racecourse has decreased by one-third over the past 20 years to 0.18% of the runners. The BHA says it always strives to improve the safety measures further and constantly invests more funding in welfare and education to ensure the horses have the best possible life. The latest scientific research suggests horses have reduced colour vision compared to people. Consequently, a recommendation has been approved by the Racecourse Committee to launch a trial to make jumps safer. The plan involves using fluorescent white paint for take-off boards at fences and fluorescent yellow for hurdles and guard-rails to maximise visibility for both horses and riders. This is just one of a whole series of safety measures that have been introduced over the decades to ensure horse welfare comes first.   Well-known horses, jockeys and trainers There have been many famous racehorses, jockeys and trainers. For many, the best racehorse of all time was Arkle, a steeplechaser born in Ireland in 1957. Bought as a three-year-old by Mary, Duchess of Westminster, for around £1,150, his major victories included the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966, the King George VI Chase 1965 and the Irish Grand National of 1964. Red Rum, born in 1965, was trained in England and enjoyed his golden years in the seventies, winning the Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also won the Scottish Grand National in 1974 and enjoyed a glorious career lasting a decade. Perhaps the most famous British jockey of all time is Lester Piggott, now 85, who had a staggering 4,493 career wins, including nine victories in the Epsom Derby. He is regarded by many as the leading flat racing jockey in history. Willie Carson, now 78, was British Champion Jockey five times between 1972 and 1983. He won 17 British Classic Races and achieved 3,828 career wins. One of the most famous British racehorse trainers is Jenny Pitman, 74. She became the first female trainer of a Grand National winner, after Corbiere won the famous race in 1983. She also trained two winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Burrough Hill Lad in 1984 and Garrison Savanah in 1991.   Sport of kings - and queens! The British royal family has a long history of supporting horse racing. In particular, Queen Elizabeth II loves the sport. In 1945, she was a young princess when she attended her first major meeting, Royal Ascot. Since then, she has followed the sport and has had several winners herself from the royal stable. Extremely knowledgeable about racehorses and horse breeding, she personally monitors the progress of her own horses at the Royal Stud at Hampton Court and her other studs at Polhampton, Sandringham and Wolferton. Currently, Queen Elizabeth has around 25 horses in training. Her first winner in 1957 was Carrozza, who was trained by Noel Murless at Warren Place Stables, in Newmarket. The three-year-old won the Epsom Oaks, ridden by the legendary Lester Piggott. The Queen was the 1957 Champion Owner. Her love of horses has been passed to the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, whose forte is showjumping.