Historically, equestrians honed their skills through games and races. Equestrian sports provided entertainment for crowds and honed the excellent horsemanship that was needed in battle. Many sports, such as dressage, eventing and show jumping, have origins in military training, which were focused on control and balance of both horse and rider. Other sports, such as rodeo, developed from practical skills such as those needed on working ranches and stations. Sport hunting from horseback evolved from earlier practical hunting techniques. Horse racing of all types evolved from impromptu competitions between riders or drivers. All forms of competition, requiring demanding and specialized skills from both horse and rider, resulted in the systematic development of specialized breeds and equipment for each sport. The popularity of equestrian sports through the centuries has resulted in the preservation of skills that would otherwise have disappeared after horses stopped being used in combat.
Horse racing is an equestrian sport and major international industry, watched in almost every nation of the world. There are three types: "flat" racing; steeplechasing, i.e. racing over jumps; and harness racing, where horses trot or pace while pulling a driver in a small, light cart known as a sulky. A major part of horse racing's economic importance lies in the gambling associated with it, an activity that in 2008 generated a world-wide market worth around US$115 billion
The Jersey Act was introduced to prevent the registration of most American-bred Thoroughbred horses in the British General Stud Book. It had its roots in the desire of the British to halt the influx of American-bred racehorses of possibly impure bloodlines during the early 1900s. Many American-bred horses were exported to Europe to race and retire to a breeding career after a number of US states banned gambling, which depressed Thoroughbred racing as well as breeding in that country. The loss of breeding records during the American Civil War and the late beginning of the registration of American Thoroughbreds led many in the British racing establishment to doubt that the American-bred horses were purebred.
In 1913 the Jockey Club and the owners of the General Stud Book passed a regulation named by the foreign press after the Jockey Club's senior steward, Lord Jersey, prohibiting the registration of horses in the book unless all of their ancestors had been registered.
The original track and its accompanying Jockey Club were social draws in the late 1800s, but modern developments and changes in the law led to the decline of both. In its prime, the track was an especially important social gathering place on opening day and the day of the American Derby, which ranked as one of horse racing's highest purses. The Jockey club, designed by Solon Spencer Beman, hosted a social gathering led by GeneralPhilip Sheridan who was an early leader of the track and club. The track was closed and reopened according to the contemporary state and local laws on gambling and eventually waned in popularity and social importance.
The race has been held since 1861 (see list of Melbourne Cup winners) and was originally held over two miles (about 3,218 metres) but following preparation for Australia's adoption of the metric system in the 1970s, the current race distance of 3,200 metres was established in 1972. This reduced the distance by 18.688 metres (61.31 ft), and Rain Lover's 1968 race record of 3min.19.1sec was accordingly adjusted to 3min.17.9sec. The present record holder is the 1990 winner Kingston Rule with a time of 3min 16.3sec. The world record of 3:13.4 over 3,200 metres is held by Japanese horse Deep Impact.