It appears that horse-races were customary at public festivals
even as early as the times of the patriarchs. They originated
among the eastern nations, who were the first to discover the
physical aptitudes of the noble animal and the spirited emulation
of which he is capable. The Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, in
succession, all indulged in the excitement; and it is a curious
fact that the Romans, like the English jockeys of the present
day, rode in different colours.
Horse-racing began very early in England. Fitz-Stephen, who
wrote in the time of Henry VIII., mentions the delight taken by
the citizens of London in the diversion. In the reign of Queen
Elizabeth it appears to have greatly flourished, and to have been
carried to such an excess as to have ruined many of the nobility.
The celebrated George, Earl of Cumberland, is said to have wasted
more of his estates than any of his ancestors, and principally by
his love of the turf and the tilt-yard. In the reign of James
I., Croydon in the South, and Garterly in the North, were
celebrated courses. Camden also states that in 1607 there were
meetings near York, and the prize was a small golden bell; hence
the origin of the saying 'bearing off the bell.'