Indulge in long-standing traditions, and place your bets at these legendary horse races around the world, including the Triple Crown races and international favorites like the Dubai World Cup and the Royal Ascot.
Don your fanciest hat, and grab a mint julep to witness the first leg of the US Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing at the Kentucky Derby. Every year on the first Saturday in May, over 150,000 spectators flock to Churchill Downs for this historic event, a tradition since 1875. The race is just 1-1/4 miles and lasts no more than 2 minutes, earning it the reputation as the "Greatest 2 Minutes in Sports." When the winner crosses the finish line, his horse is draped in an elaborate garland made up of hundreds of red roses. Unless you have connections to get a spot on the celebrity-filled Millionaires Row, you'll likely need to watch the race from the crowded infield where 80,000 partiers mix and mingle and maybe catch a glimpse of the horses passing by.
The Preakness Stakes
The second leg of the Triple Crown tears through Baltimore on the third Saturday in May at the annual running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. The race has changed since the first running in 1873, but many traditions remain. The winner is presented with the hefty Woodlawn Vase, a grand silver trophy crafted by Tiffany in 1860, while his horse is draped in a delicate blanket made from Black-Eyed Susans, Maryland's state flower. Tickets for under $100 can be purchased for the Grand Concourse where you can mingle with the society folks in bright colors and over-the-top hats. Cheaper tickets get spectators onto the Infield where the beer flows freely all day and concerts and other events fill the time before the race.
Elmont, New York
The horse-racing community waits for the first Saturday in June for the Belmont Stakes, the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, hoping that a single horse may pull off the great feat of taking all 3 victories in the year's Triple Crown series. The Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the Triple Crown Races dating back to 1867, and also the longest and most challenging at 1-1/2 miles around the track. Secretariat gained his reputation as one of the world's greatest racehorse during the 1973 Belmont Stakes when he ran to victory, breaking world records for speed 31 lengths ahead of his competition. The Belmont Stakes is the Triple Crown's most accessible race, not only because of its close proximity to New York City, but because while there are some reserved seats, the majority of tickets are general admission between $10 and $20.
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
The Qatar Paris Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, known simply as the Arc, is one of Europe's biggest horse-racing events. Thousands of elegant spectators fill the grandstand the first Sunday of October at Longchamp Racecourse on the banks of the Seine. Thanks to its affiliation with the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club, it has one of the highest prizes in the racing world at 4 million Euros. Arrive early to enjoy the champagne and live jazz music, and get a look at the race course's reproduction of the façade of the Doha souk and a Qatar village as well as pony rides for the wee ones.
The Royal Ascot
The Royal Ascot, a week-long racing series with 16 group races, has been a part of British tradition since 1711 with plenty of pomp and circumstance. The Queen and the Royal Party typically attend all of the event's races so you should dress the part of royalty. Depending on where you sit, you'll need to abide by a strict and enforced dress code -- no jeans, sneakers, shorts, halters or bare midriffs. Though it's not likely you'll get into the Royal Enclosure without serious connections, you can enjoy all of the day's traditions, including the Royal Procession, the Military Bands, the plethora of food stalls and the races themselves from the Grandstand areas.
Dubai World Cup
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
A newcomer on the horse-racing scene, the Dubai World Cup first put the United Arab Emirates on the horseracing map in 1996 with its inaugural race at the Meydan Racecourse. It's the richest horse race in the world with a purse of $10 million for the lucky winner. The new Meydan Racecourse opened in 2010 alongside the Jumeirah Meydan Hotel so you can watch the race from the swanky grandstand or from the comfort of an extravagant room or suite at the world's first track-side hotel.
The Grand National
The Grand National in Aintree, England, offers a different kind of horse-racing experience with a pack of horses competing along a 4-mile course studded with 30 fences. This National Hunt horse race, a style popular in France and the United Kingdom, takes place on a Saturday in early April. The drama is spread out over 3 days while spectators gather in the grandstands and all-inclusive restaurants to watch the winning horse pass through the finish line after jumping the last obstacle along the Steeplechase.
Go Down Under for the annual Melbourne Cup Carnival, a tradition dating back to 1861 that is considered by many to be the greatest 3,200-meter horse race in the world. The race has a strong international presence, both in the competition and the attendees who celebrate at the carnival in customary hats. There's even a competition, Fashions on the Field, celebrating the carnival's best-dressed men and women with celebrity judges and high-end sponsors. A combination of general admission and grandstand tickets offer affordable options for the big event on the first Tuesday in November, as well as the other races spread out over the week's worth of events at the carnival.
Breeders' Cup World Championships
The location changes each year for the annual series of thoroughbred horse races that make up the Breeders' Cup. This 2-day event has one of the heftiest purses in horse racing, a combined prize of $21 million in 2008 -- earning it the title of the richest 2 days in sports. Many familiar American thoroughbreds compete alongside international entrants at popular racetracks around the United States, including Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Monmouth Park in New Jersey and Santa Anita Park in California.
Nakayama Grand Jump
Japanese horse-racing enthusiasts eagerly await the annual steeplechase race at the Nakayama Grand Jump. Thousands of spectators flood the grandstand to watch the horses deftly navigate the curved dirt and turf track, jumping over obstacles along the way. Originated in 1999, the race doesn't draw the kind of large international crowd present at larger horse races, but tickets are inexpensive and the crowd is family-friendly and enthusiastic.