Word of the Day



a track used for racing horses

Origin and usage

The Late Old English word ‘race’ comes from the old Norse ‘rás’, meaning ‘current’. The word ‘course’ refers to a group with common features. The term racecourse is commonly used in the UK, India, Australia and parts of Asia, whereas the term ‘racetrack’ is more common in the US.


A racecourse can be used for automobile racing and athletic competitions, but some of the earliest racecourses were used for chariot racing in the Roman coliseums. Horse racing as a sport began as early as 4500 BC in Central Asia where horses first became domesticated, and various horse racing events were popular in the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece. The beginning of modern horse racing as it is known today was developed in the 12th century by English nobility and became a professional sport at the beginning of the 1700s. The Jockey Club was formed in 1750 and to this day remains the regulatory body for English racing, which includes the sanctioning of racecourses.

Horse racing arrived in the United States in the mid-1600s when a British commander named Colonel Richard Nicholls laid out the first two-mile long American racecourse in Long Island, New York. Racecourses in the 19th and 20th century were made from materials such as limestone, pea gravel, concrete and clay, but most contemporary racecourses are made from dirt and asphalt.


“I was born in the city’s general hospital on November 15, 1930, and we lived at 31 Amherst Avenue in the western suburbs. It was a magical place. There were receptions at the French Club, race meetings at the Shanghai Racecourse, and various patriotic gatherings at the British Embassy on the Bund, the city’s glamorous waterfront area.”

(J.G. Ballard)



View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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