Horse Racing Meetings

Horse racing is big business in the UK and the races come thick and fast. In fact, there are hundreds of races hosted each and every week from over 80 recourses based throughout the UK and Ireland.

The season is predominantly split into two parts; National Hunt Racing and Flat Racing. The National hunt races are held over the winter months and the flat racing held over the summer months. But, there is actually a mix of both running all year round at some of the smaller courses, however these races tend to be lower profile and not really classed as anything other than low rated domestic racing.

UK & Irish Racing Calendar Highlights

Below we have listed some of the biggest meetings that take place in the UK and Ireland for both flat and National Hunt racing alongside links to our coverage of the event - including tips, stats and history. For international racing see this page.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

National Hunt Meetings

National Hunt racing takes place over the winter months with the official opening of the season taking place in October. But, it’s widely agreed that the first major meeting of the year isn’t until November time when the Grade 3 Cheltenham Gold Cup is run, and the flat season is finished for good.

The reasoning behind the winter months being used for National hunt racing is mainly because of the softer ground, meaning that it’s a little less harsh on the horses as they navigate over the jumps. Also, it means that there is a little more cushioning if riders fall or come out of their seat.

It’s probably fair to say that this form is more popular than flat racing, but that’s usually because there are more races and more horses to choose from. As the majority of National Hunt horses are |geldings, it makes them much cheaper to buy, meaning that stables can be bigger and spread horses in different races across the country. Horses are usually running much longer than flat racing horses as well, which means that there is often more of an attachment from racing fans as they see more of them.

The sport is most popular in Britain, Ireland and France, with countries like the US, South Africa and UAE favouring the faster flat races. As horses don’t need to be thoroughbreds, often horses can come from the most unlikely or sources, but it also means that when they are retired, they don’t fetch as much money when they are put out to stud.

The whole season is set up towards two main meetings, which come in the form of the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National. These are not only two of the biggest horse racing meetings in the UK, but also the world

Cheltenham festival is hosted at Cheltenham racecourse and is run in the middle of March each year. It often coincides with St Patricks day, which means that the event has a huge following from Ireland as a result and often the Irish horses are ones that do well here.

The highlight race is that of the Gold Cup. The Grade 1 race is run over 3miles 2 ½ furlongs and commands a purse of £525,000. Previous winners include the likes of Dawn Run, Kauto Star, Denman, Desert Orchid, Bet Mate, Golden Miller and of course, Arkle.

The Grand National is hosted at Aintree Racecourse and is probably the most famous National Hunt race in the world. Due to it being over 4 miles in length not only is one of the longest, but also one of the toughest races, with a staggering field size of 40 for each race.

The course is as famous as the horses when it comes to the Grand National, with many of the jumps being household names, such as Becher’s Brook, Canal Turn, The Chair and the Water Jump. The purse is almost double that of the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, with £1,000,000 in total, and just over half going to the winner.

Whilst these two meetings are probably as big as they come, the beauty of National Hunt racing means that there are plenty of other meetings throughout the year that are just as strong, each offering a number of Grade 1 races and entertaining the best horses in the world. These include the likes of the Punchestown Festival in Ireland, The Tringle Creek at Sandown, Scottish grand National at Ayr, King George VI Chase at Kempton, Welsh Grand National at Chepstow and the Irish National at Fairyhouse.

Types of National Hunt Race

There are three types of races that you will come across when working within National Hunt racing. These include:

  • Chase
  • Hurdling
  • National Hunt Flat Race (NH Flat)

The Chase is probably the most common of the three and with this horses will be asked to jump over fences that measure a minimum of 4 ½ feet in total height. This may not seem all that high, but when the courses in question have to be 2 to 4 ½ miles, the tracks can become very tough indeed.

Hurdling is where the height of the fences are reduced to a minimum height of 3 ½ feet. These races are usually set up for younger horses in races that aren’t quite as competitive as they might be. Race distances will vary from 2 to 3 ½ miles in total distance.

National Hunt Flat Racing are designed to help bed in horses that have not run over hurdles or flat races. The races are flat, but they are run at a distance of between 1 ½ mile to 2 ½ mile. These races are often not graded and instead used more as a guide for the trainers to see how they react in race scenarios and to get used to competitive racing.

Classifications

As with all horse races, each that takes place within the National hunt season will be graded and classed accordingly. In total there are 9 classes of races that take place:

  • Grade 1
  • Grade 2
  • Grade 3
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 6
  • Listed
  • Handicaps
  • Bumpers

The most prestigious of all the races are that of the Grade 1 races. These commands the most in terms of prizemoney and also have the biggest following in terms of viewing figures. Some of the more notable Grade 1 National Hunt races include Betfair Chase (1st of the season), Christmas Hurdle, Ascot Chase, Champion Hurdle, RSA Chase, Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Betway Bowl, to name just a small handful to go along with others that have already been mentioned in this article.

Flat Racing Meetings

Flat racing takes over from National hunt racing around late March/early April and is the summer variant of the sport, even though both forms do have some racing throughout the year. The opening meeting is that of the Lincoln Handicap which is supposes to signify the switch from National Hunt to that of flat racing.

The summer months suit flat racing really well because it allows the ground to dry and in turn speed up. Flat racing is all about speed and races are able to take place from as short as 5 furlongs right up to 2 miles 5 furlongs, although to be honest, the majority are somewhere in the middle of this. The ground actually plays a huge role in flat racing, probably just as much, if not more than National Hunt. Slightly soft or heavy ground can mean that half of the field are ruled out before the race has stared, such is the effect on these dialled in horses.

The surface that flat racing takes place on can differ quite a lot and includes both turf and all-weather tracks. The latter of which are made up of a mixture of sand and synthetic properties to provide more of an even-keel when racing throughout the year. These all-weather tracks are pretty much the norm in the likes of the US and UAE as they can be maintained much easier than turf in those extreme climates. In the UK, winter flat racing is run on all-weather tracks.

There are several different breeds for the flat, but the most dominant and most successful is that of the thoroughbred. This is also a key reason why flat racing horses have much shorter careers than national hunt as they can breed successful horses and make almost as much money from breeding as they do racing.

To put it into some perspective, The Green Monkey is the most expensive racehorse ever sold for a fee of $16million. The reason was because of if being a descendant of Northern Dancer, who was one of the most successful flat racing horses of the 1960’s, winning 7 major titles in an illustrious career.

Britain is blessed with some of the biggest flat race meetings in the world. The five British Classics are the headline events for each season, with these including the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, The Oaks, The Derby and the St Leger. All of the races have been running since the 18th and 19th century, which not only makes them some of the most prestigious, but also some of the oldest flat races in the world.

In terms of prize money, the 5 races combined are worth over £3.7million, with the biggest being that of The Derby, offering up a massive £1.5milion alone.

Again, the UK and Ireland really are blessed with a fine host of major meetings. These include the Epsom Downs at Epsom Racecourse, Guineas Meeting at Newmarket, Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse, Glorious Goodwood at Goodwood Racecourse, Ebor Festival at York and the St Leger Meeting at Doncaster, to name just a very small number.

Types of Flat Race

With flat racing there are two types of races that take place:

  • Conditions races (further split into patterns and listed)
  • Handicap races

Conditions races are where horses will carry a certain amount of weight depending on factors such as sex, age and quality of runners. Bear in mind that this is not to be congussed with handicap racing as these are set guidelines that are laid out for each and every race regardless of the quality of that specific horse.

Handicap races are where an official member from the Jockey Club will come up with a weight that each horse should carry based on the chances they think that they will have to win that race. The weakest horse in the field might carry no weight, then as they improve the weight will start to increase.

Classifications

Flat racing comes with 4 main groups:

  • Group 1 – These are the elite races in the country and are either Classics or have major international importance
  • Group 2 – International based races and recognised around the world, but less important than Group 1
  • Group 3 – Domestic races
  • Listed – Listed races are the lowest rank of the four groups, but it is held in higher regards compared to that of handicap racing.

It’s worth noting that all these classifications fall into the “Conditions” category as mentioned above and non are handicap races.