Most horse races last about two minutes.
An average racehorse’s stride length is 20-21 feet long, while an elite racehorse may have a stride length of 24 feet. Racehorses will take up to 150 strides per minute and their stride frequency is synchronized with breathing frequency. (Kansas State University)
The heart is one of the horse’s strengths in racing. The size of a volleyball, or basketball in elite horses, the average horse’s heart weighs approximately 10 pounds. An elite racehorse’s heart may weigh more than 20 pounds and pump more than 75 gallons of blood per minute during a race. (Kansas State University)
It’s not clear when the first horse race took place – some suggest racing dates back to 4500 BC. On the continent, following the lead from our friends in the UK, horse racing dates back to 1665, with the establishment of the Newmarket course in Salisbury Plains section of the Hempstead Plains of Long Island, New York.
By the turn of the last century, horse racing surpassed all other spectator sports in popularity. And it grew, as noted in the headline of the April 30, 1953 New York Times, “Racing Now Virtual King of Sports, Topping Baseball in Gate Appeal; Horse Racing Tops Baseball At Gate”.
Horse racing, which used to be called the sport of kings, was threatening to become the king of sports. (NY Times, 1953) It is suggested it is nicknamed the ‘Sport of Kings’ because the original patrons of the sport in Europe were members of monarchies, or were closely related to those who were.
So, what about horse racing in the Islands? It had a kingly start here, as well.
June 21, 1803 marked an important day in Hawaiʻi horse history when the Lelia Byrd, an American ship under Captain William Shaler, arrived at Kealakekua Bay with two mares and a stallion on board – they were gifts for King Kamehameha I.
The captain left one of the mares with John Young (a trusted advisor of the King, who begged for one of the animals) then left for Lāhainā, Maui to give the mare and stallion to Kamehameha.
It’s not clear when the first horse race occurred in Hawaiʻi. An early account of a race occurred in the Polynesian on March 6, 1858, “… a horse race came off on the Waikiki race ground between Mr. MM Webster’s bay horse “Eclipse” and Mr. Kaikainahaole’s sorrel horse name unknown, for $350 aside. The outside betting was very spirited … (t)he crowd of spectators of all degrees and classes could not have been short of a thousand”. (The judges declared a “no race” and all bets were off.)
Later, King Kamehameha V, held a celebration on his birthday, December 11, 1871, to honor Kamehameha I; “a public celebration was held with horse-riding and other sports.” The date later moved to June 11, because of the better weather, and celebrated chiefly by horse races in Kapiʻolani Park, but the races eventually gave way to today’s parades of floats and pāʻū riders (that date became Kamehameha Day.)
Later, King Kalākaua dedicated Kapiʻolani Park to allow “families, children, and quiet people” to find “refreshment and recreation” in the “kindly influences of nature,” and to be a “place of innocent refreshment.”
An important part of the initial park was its oval horse race track. King Kalākaua reportedly liked gambling on horse racing and in 1872 he helped form The Hawaiian Jockey Club (this organized the sport according to the rules that governed races elsewhere.) (Kapiʻolani Park’s racetrack closed in 1926.)
This wasn’t Hawaiʻi’s only horse race track.
In the late-1800s and early-1900s there was a horse racing track (Koko O Na Moku Horse Racing Track) at Kāʻanapali Beach that stretched from the present day Kāʻanapali Beach Hotel to the present day Westin Maui Resort. Races, there, ended in 1918.
The Maui County Fair & Horse Racing Association developed the old permanent Fairgrounds on Puʻunene Avenue in Kahului; the Fairgrounds included a horse-racing track. The first County Fair was held in 1918.
In 1939, the Oʻahu Jockey Club built the Kailua Race Track, on the Windward side. In a day and age when Seabiscuit and War Admiral were stealing Mainland sports headlines, more than 6,000 fans turned out for 10 races at the brand new Kailua Race Track. (Hogue, MidWeek) Races there reportedly continued to 1952.
Colonel Zephaniah Spalding built a race track at Waipouli on Kauaʻi in about 1880. His polo playing son, James Spalding, built the polo field inside the race track about 1915. A June 1920 The Garden Island noted: “HORSE PLAY – Saturday, July 3rd will be a big day at Waipouli race track. The morning will be devoted to horse races, of which a splendid program has been arranged. In the afternoon there will be a polo game between the Reds and the Blues.”
Hilo had a track at the Hoʻolulu Park; it was started in 1900 as a horse track, with a circular half-mile loop, and used for other events such as baseball. A grandstand was built in 1925 and nighttime baseball games started in 1928. (Narimatsu) After the 1946 tsunami, it was used as an evacuation center where folks impacted by the tsunami who were tended by the Red Cross workers.
Later, the Honolulu Record noted (June 19, 1958,) “The first horse races in several years were held at the Hoolulu Park race track on Kamehameha Day. The Hawaii Paniola Club sponsored the program. A crowd of some 1,600 fans saw the 19 races run off. Proceeds from the show went to the Big Isle chapter of the Hawaii Cancer Fund.”
Finally, we cannot overlook the track and rodeo facility at Parker Ranch in Waimea on the Big Island. Parker was “importing horses from the finest Mainland and English racing lines to develop the thoroughbred breed in Hawaii … as a result, the thoroughbreds racing today in Hawaii are of the same top blood lines as the prize horses in the United States and England.”
The ranch opened its race track in about 1947; over the years, races consisted of a series of races (relays, quarter mile grade, three-eighths and three-quarter mile thoroughbred.)
Every 4th of July and Labor Day, Parker Ranch continues to host its races and rodeo for thousands of participants, as well as other events throughout the year.