Monday, June 24, 2024

200 years of horse racing in Germany | Trainer Magazine | European Trainer Article Index

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The oldest continuous race in Germany is the Union Race, first held in 1834. Created as a supreme test for three-year-olds it was eventually relegated by the Deutsches Derby. The Norddeutsches Derby, as it was originally known, was established at Hamburg in 1869, becoming the now-familiar Deutsches Derby in 1889. During the wars it was staged at Grunewald in 1919, Hoppegarten in 1943 and 1944, Munich in 1946 and Cologne in 1947. The great Königsstuhl, in winning the Henckel-Rennen, Deutsches Derby and St-Leger in 1979, remains the only horse to win the German Triple Crown.

The first commercial German bookmakers sprang up in the middle of the 19th century and, following the French model, a totaliser was set up in Berlin in 1875. From 1905 to 1922 bookmaker bets were banned in Germany, but since then the Tote and bookmakers have been competing with each other.

The early part of the 20th century saw racing clubs springing up as vigorously as the grass and in 1912 there were more than 100 racecourses in Germany. Obviously, world events saw that blossoming situation change drastically. The First World War represented a turning point in the fate of German racing, but it was the Second World War that had a lasting and damaging impact.

Appropriately, racing returned to West Germany after the war years on 12 August 1945 at Leipzig, but in the German Democratic Republic racing became, at best, a marginal sport. Hoppegarten was nationalised and one of only six racecourses hosting racing.

It was a brighter new start in the West and the racing season resumed in full at Munich in April 1946. A steady resurgence followed, and Cologne developed into the leading training centre, while Hamburg remained the home of the Deutsche Derby. 

As with other European racing nations there was little change in the ensuing years, but 1980 marked another significant milestone when Dortmund became the first all-weather track in Europe, for the first time making winter racing under floodlights possible.

Following the reunification of Germany, racing came more into focus with the public and Berlin’s Hoppegarten, in particular, enjoyed renewed popularity. In 2021, the Group 1 LONGINES 131st Grand Prix of Berlin received great international recognition when it was included in the top 100 of the world’s best races. However, it is Baden-Baden that is regarded as the leading German racecourse, in terms of betting turnover and also from a sporting, social and international viewpoint, staging popular meetings in spring, summer and autumn.

As already mentioned, the breeding of German thoroughbreds has always been carefully regulated to ensure continuing success. The German breeding industry began around 1800, originally in Mecklenburg.  In 1842 the first Deutsche Stud Book was published. It contained 242 breeders who between them kept 779 broodmares. Less than 10% had more than 10 mares. This has hardly changed to this day; there are only a few large stud farms, but many breeders with only one or two mares. Currently, about 460 breeders have around 1,300 broodmares.

One of the great traditional studs is the Prussian State Stud in Graditz, near Leipzig, founded in 1668 and already dedicated solely to thoroughbred breeding by the first half of the 19th century. Twelve Derby winners were raised there from 1886 (Potrimpos) to 1937 (Abendfrieden) and Graditz-produced horses were esteemed to the extent that there were times when they had to carry additional weight to give their rivals a better chance. 

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