Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

2012: How horse racing became cool

By Sheena McKenzie, CNN
December 20, 2012 -- Updated 1549 GMT (2349 HKT)
Horse racing is the second biggest spectator sport in Britain after football, with around 6 million people heading to the track every year. "People used to focus on the day out, rather than the race," said Simon Bazalgette, chief executive of The Jockey Club. Horse racing is the second biggest spectator sport in Britain after football, with around 6 million people heading to the track every year. "People used to focus on the day out, rather than the race," said Simon Bazalgette, chief executive of The Jockey Club.
HIDE CAPTION
Crowd pleaser
Bumper year
Fabulous Frankel
Media frenzy
Enter Black Caviar
Aussie pride
Marketing mare
Myth of Camelot
Sir Henry Cecil
Royal reception
Dettori's shame
Female jockeys
A weighty issue
Weather weary
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 2012 is a big year in horse racing as 6 million people head to the track
  • Rise of celebrity horses Frankel and Black Caviar helps create buzz
  • Female jockey Chantal Sutherland in naked photoshoot before retiring
  • Biggest challenge is British weather, with 119 races canceled

(CNN) -- A buzz ripples through the packed stadium as word quickly spreads: "He's here."

The jostling crowd surges forward, camera phones held high to catch a glimpse of the superstar flanked by a dense entourage.

But it's not an A-list actor or musician throwing the fans into a frenzy. Instead, a four-year-old horse called Frankel is about to make history by winning his 14th -- and final -- consecutive race.

A sold-out crowd of 32,500 people watched Frankel win Champions Day at Ascot in October -- the highest number for an autumn flat racing event in Britain.

Equine massage therapist Gillian Higgins paints horses' anatomies on their coats, as part of an innovative teaching aid for students. Equine massage therapist Gillian Higgins paints horses' anatomies on their coats, as part of an innovative teaching aid for students.
Anatomy art
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
Healing hands: The art of equine massage Healing hands: The art of equine massage
Animals have long been used in therapy. Renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who died in 1939, believed dogs helped his patients relax during sessions. Animals have long been used in therapy. Renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who died in 1939, believed dogs helped his patients relax during sessions.
Talk to the animals
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
Rollover Sigmund Freud: Rise of equine therapy Rollover Sigmund Freud: Rise of equine therapy
Champion thoroughbred Black Caviar appears on the December issue of Vogue Australia. It is the first time in the 53-year history of the magazine that a horse has featured on the front cover.
Champion thoroughbred Black Caviar appears on the December issue of Vogue Australia. It is the first time in the 53-year history of the magazine that a horse has featured on the front cover.
In Vogue
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
Vogue\'s most controversial cover model? Vogue's most controversial cover model?

It's a testament to the popularity of the celebrity colt who, much like Madonna, Prince or Beyonce, needs no last name. But it's also an indication of just how far horse racing has come in 2012.

Changing perceptions

It's the second biggest spectator sport in Britain after football, with around 6 million people heading to the track every year.

But the pomp and pageantry of racing -- think silly hats, freeflowing champagne and manicured gardens -- means that the general public has long viewed it as a fun day out, rather than a competitive sport.

This year however, racing attracted a new audience who knew the names of horses, recognized industry heavyweights and understood the importance of big competitions.

"Probably the most amazing moment of the year was Frankel winning the Champion Stakes. You had 32,000 people all on their feet, cheering him on, it was just the most emotional moment," Simon Bazalgette, chief executive of The Jockey Club, said of the horse's last race.

"It's a bit of an eccentric world, horse racing. But once you understand the theater of it, once you know the big names, it becomes so much more enjoyable."

Rise of the celebrity horse

A lot of the hype was due to celebrity horses such as Frankel and Australia's Black Caviar, who remains unbeaten in 22 consecutive races and even appeared on the front cover of Vogue.

Hong Kong's celebrity jockeys
World's only three-story stables
What do winners eat for lunch?

These were champions of a caliber rarely seen in one generation, let alone competing at the peaks of their careers in the same year.

Read: Tall, dark and handsome muse... is a horse

In a new digital age, their fame was carefully cultivated. Marketing teams set up Twitter accounts, Facebook profiles, and pedaled merchandise online.

And it seemed to work. Attendance at races starring Frankel were up 20% on last year.

Similarly, a small army of Black Caviar fans -- draped in the horse's native Australian flag or salmon pink silks -- cheered on the mare to victory at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. However, the overall figure of 280,000 for all five days was down 14,000 from last year.

Meanwhile, a record 130,000 punters attended the prestigious Epsom Derby in July, which launched Queen Elizabeth's official jubilee celebrations, making it the largest sports crowd in Britain in 2012.

More people were also watching horse racing on TV, with 11 million tuning in to Britain's biggest competition, The Grand National -- up 2 million on last year.

Dettori's shame

However, it wasn't a flawless year for racing. The sport's poster boy, Italian jockey Frankie Dettori, was given a six-month ban earlier this month after failing a drugs test in France.

The three-time champion, who earlier announced the end of his long tenure with the Godolphin stable, said it was not a performance-enhancing substance.

First lady of Australian horse racing
Frankel ends career in dramatic style

"He's admitted it was a moment of madness," Bazalgette said. "It's a shame. He's an important face in horse racing."

"Frankel was a cracking name -- it jumped out of the microphone," says racing commentator Cornelius Lysaught. The superstar colt, who recently retired after an unblemished 14-win career, scooped the main prize at the 2012 UK Horse of the Year awards. "Frankel was a cracking name -- it jumped out of the microphone," says racing commentator Cornelius Lysaught. The superstar colt, who recently retired after an unblemished 14-win career, scooped the main prize at the 2012 UK Horse of the Year awards.
Fabulous Frankel
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
Betting on a winner: What\'s in a name? Betting on a winner: What's in a name?

"When it comes to talking to the media, jockeys are a bit of a challenge. These guys are living and breathing the sport, putting in a huge number of hours. They can be difficult to pin down."

Far better recognized were celebrity owners such as TV entertainers Ant and Dec, actress Judi Dench and Britain's Queen Elizabeth. Frankel's trainer Henry Cecil, who is battling cancer, was also "hugely loved," Bazalgette added.

Ladies' Day

One jockey not shying away from the camera this year was Canadian Chantal Sutherland.

The 36-year-old made history after becoming the first woman to compete in the world's richest horse race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup, in March.

But the model perhaps garnered more attention off the track for her naked photoshoot on a horse in Vanity Fair in June.

Read: Jockey who refused to stay in the kitchen

Sutherland, who did much to raise the profile of female jockeys in a traditionally male-dominated sport, retired in October. Not just a pretty face, she had more than 900 wins in a career spanning 12 years.

A weighty issue

Sutherland said she was now looking forward to "cutting loose and having a cheeseburger or some pizza."

British colt Frankel powers home to take the Champion Stakes at Ascot -- his 14th consecutive win. British colt Frankel powers home to take the Champion Stakes at Ascot -- his 14th consecutive win.
Super stud
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
The \'Brangelina\' of horse racing? The 'Brangelina' of horse racing?
Artist Michael Kirkbride's painting, "Armchair Ride," was inspired by a poem about Frankel demolishing the field in last year's 2000 Guineas race. Artist Michael Kirkbride's painting, "Armchair Ride," was inspired by a poem about Frankel demolishing the field in last year's 2000 Guineas race.
Fabulous Frankel
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
My muse: A race horse called Frankel My muse: A race horse called Frankel
British model Jean Shrimpton caused a huge uproar after arrving at the Melbourne Cup Carnival in 1965 wearing a minidress five inches above the knees, with no stockings, gloves or hat.
British model Jean Shrimpton caused a huge uproar after arrving at the Melbourne Cup Carnival in 1965 wearing a minidress five inches above the knees, with no stockings, gloves or hat.
THAT dress
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
The legs that stopped a nation The legs that stopped a nation

"Those types of indulgences are not allowed when you constantly have to monitor your weight," she added.

Jockeys are put under enormous pressure to meet miniature weight requirements, with sweat suits, saunas, hot baths and starvation are some of the methods used to keep trim.

Read: Hidden world of jockey heaving bowls

But some relief is in sight -- albeit slight -- after the British Horseracing Authority last month raised the minimum weight by two pounds to 8 stone (50 kg), from January next year.

International highlights

Across the Atlantic, the winner of the United States' premier race, the Kentucky Derby, was denied the chance of a Triple Crown after being forced to retire ahead of the Belmont Stakes.

I'll Have Another developed a foreleg injury that trainer Doug O'Neill described as "freakish."

The three-year-old had been seeking to be the first horse in 34 years to win the treble, having triumphed at the 138th Kentucky showpiece in May and then the Preakness Stakes.

Racing authorities also confirmed that the legendary Secretariat set a record time in winning the 1973 Preakness event, ending a controversy that had lasted almost four decades.

In Australia, the Melbourne Cup was won by a home horse for the first time since 2009 as Green Moon headed off a strong field of "international invaders."

France's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe was won by four-year-old filly Solemia, who denied Japan's Orfevre in his bid to become the first non-European trained victor. Danedream was unable to defend her title due to an outbreak of equine infectious anaemia at the racing yard in the German city of Cologne where she is trained.

Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed celebrated as Mikael Barzalona rode Monterosso to victory in the the emirate's World Cup in April, but the result was somewhat overshadowed by the death of another Godolphin horse, Fox Hunt, in the inaugural Gold Cup held earlier in the meeting.

Weathering the storm

The biggest challenge for the UK racing industry this year? The great British weather -- which forced the cancellation of 119 races up to the start of December.

"After the Diamond Jubilee weekend it didn't stop raining until the end of July," Bazalgette said. "There was a good six weeks when we lost meetings."

Whatever the weather, the outlook looks bright for horse racing in 2013.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
Ever thought zebras couldn't be tamed? Think again. Gary Witheford has a remarkable way with wild animals -- which he proved after a pub boast.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 1435 GMT (2235 HKT)
The internet went wild for so-called "horse yoga" -- but there was something deeper going on that reconnects humans with the animal world.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1323 GMT (2123 HKT)
The going is always soft and the only permanent building is a toilet block. It's the antithesis to the pomp of Royal Ascot ... welcome to Irish beach racing.
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1107 GMT (1907 HKT)
Each August, over a thousand tents and hundreds of horses converge on Little Big Horn River in Montana for the Crow Fair and Rodeo.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 0957 GMT (1757 HKT)
Show me the money! Hollywood star Tom Cruise was a big hit when he visited the Glorious Goodwood festival.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Little-known outside the tribes of the Rocky Mountains in the American northwest, Indian Relay is a "magical" horse-racing relay.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1325 GMT (2125 HKT)
Now in his 50s, one of the world's most successful jockeys explains why he gave up acting to return to the sport that nearly crippled him.
Winning Post's Francesca Cumani is impressed by the all-round multitasking skills of Ireland's champion trainer Aidan O'Brien.
June 7, 2014 -- Updated 0853 GMT (1653 HKT)
 An infrared camera was used to create this image.) A horse and exercise rider head to the main track for morning training at Belmont Park on June 4, 2014 in Elmont, New York.
More people have walked on the moon than have won the fabled Triple Crown of U.S. horse racing. California Chrome is seeking to square that score.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
A long history of controversy made him the "enfant terrible" of horse racing, but veteran jockey Kieren Fallon is looking for redemption.
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1131 GMT (1931 HKT)
Joel Rosario on Animal Kingdom competes to win the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race, at Meydan race track in Dubai on March 30, 2013. The 2011 Kentucky Derby winner (11/2), trained by American Graham Motion and ridden by Rosario, beat home English raider Red Cadeaux by two lengths while another English-trained runner Planteur was third.
With owners ranging from presidents to sheikhs and queens, horse racing is known as the "Sport of Kings" for good reason.
ADVERTISEMENT