"The Sport of Kings", or horse racing, has a long tradition within the culture of the British Crown dating back to 1174, when Henry II held the first recorded royal race at Smithfield. James I had a palace and track at Newmarket where he spent so much time racing that Parliament objected to his absences. Charles I and Charles II continued the tradition and by 1750 racing became the first regulated sport, with the British jockey Club's insistence of establishing rules for racing. In the mid 18th century two horses raced in a "matched race" running straight over longer distances with the emphasis of the race on stamina. Eventually stamina and distance racing was replaced by younger horses racing shorter distances for speed or "class races" as is done now.
William Whitley moved from Virginia to the Kentucky frontier just prior to the American Revolution. During the war with Great Britain, American Indians, allied with the British, terrorized the rebellious colonists. On March 7, 1777 William Ray with his brother and two other young teenagers were clearing land at Shawnee Springs near Fort Harrod when they were attacked. William Ray was one of the boys killed, scalped and mutilated. Whitley saw the corpse and was so affected by the horrific sight that he spoke of it throughout his life and developed
an extreme hatred of the British crown and culture. When he established the race track at Sportsman's Hill, everything was opposite to the traditions of the British "Sport of Kings". The race was run counterclockwise, not clockwise. The track was of clay rather that grass turf, and the spectators were in the center of the track, not on the side of the track. Thus horse racing as we know it today, began here at Sportsman's Hill in 1788.