Top Races

Top Worldwide Horse Races

This is a list of some of the best horse races in the world from the UK and Ireland to France, Japan, Hong Kong all the way to Dubai, the USA and Australia.

I also break down the different grades of racing we have here in the UK and Ireland for both flat and National Hunt races.

The list is split into two groups, flat racing which is usually short races from 5f to 2m without jumps and with starting stalls, and National Hunt races which don’t have starting stalls and can range from a usual 2 miles over small fences up to long 4 mile 4f races over big bushy fences like the Grand National.

This marathon, and most famous of races includes well-known jumps such as the Brook and the Chair, and in recent years the number of horses finishing the course has been less than half the starting 40.

This is usually due to horses unseating riders or refusing to jump and in recent years at least a couple of deaths. These have been horrible scenes which has meant multiple blue Vets tents out on the 2nd lap and runners skipping certain jumps on their second lap of the course.

This has caused quite a stir in the racing world and has caused Aintree to change some of the jumps to make them safer in future. However it is not a course I would let any of my horses run over without previous experience.


Flat Racing

Flat races are run throughout the spring and summer and ending in early Autumn. The official British Turf season starts with the Lincoln meeting at Doncaster which is usually around the 20th March and ends with the Doncaster November Handicap meeting  which is usually around the 10th November.

Traditionalists say that the British Flat season should really start and finish with the Newmarket meetings i.e the April Craven meeting and October British Champions Meeting. However with the multiple all-weather courses we now have in this country the flat season carries on with lower class races throughout the winter months, usually at night in empty and cold courses like Kempton Park.


The English Flat Classics:

These are the premier flat races of the season and are open to 3 year old Colts and Fillies and held over a variety of distances and courses.

The 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas –  Newmarket – May:

2,000 Guineas Stakes – the first classic of the season and run on the first weekend in May. It is open to 3 year old Colts and Fillies and run over 1 mile. It is also the first leg of the Triple Crown for colts.

1,000 Guineas Stakes – held the day after the 2000 Guineas and the youngest of all the classics going back to only 1814. It is only open to 3 year old Fillies but is also run over 1 mile and is also the first leg of the Triple Crown for fillies.

The Oaks – Epsom - June:

The Oaks – held the day before the Derby on the first weekend in June is open to 3 year old Fillies and run over 1 mile 4 furlongs. The winner takes home £226,840 out of a total prize money of £400,000.

The Oaks is the 2nd leg of the fillies Triple Crown, following on from the 1,000 Guineas and ending in the St. Leger.

The Derby – still the greatest flat race in the world and dates back to 1780. Open to 3 year old Colts and Fillies and run over 1 mile 4 furlongs. The race is full of history and despite the prize money being over taken by other international events like the Breeders Cup the race is still considered one of the greatest Group 1 races in the world. In 2012 the total prize money was £1,325,000 with the winner claiming £751,407.50.

The Derby is the 2nd leg in the 3 year old colts Triple Crown which is made up of the 2,000 Guineas, The Derby and then ends in the St. Leger.

If you are interested in visiting the Derby then read this article. The following page lists all the recent Derby winners since 1970.

The St. Leger – Doncaster – September:

The St. Leger – this is the oldest classic race dating back to 1776 and is open to 3 year old Colts and Fillies and run over the longest classic distance of 1 mile and 6 furlongs. It is the last leg of the famous Triple Crown which hasn’t been won since Nijinksky in 1970 and was last attempted by Camelot in 2012.

The Triple Crown – A combination of 3 races – The 1,000 / 2,000 Guineas,  The Oaks / The Derby and the St. Leger

This used to be called “the true test of thoroughbred horse” and includes the 3 English classics that are open to 3 year old Colts:  The 2,000 Guineas, The Derby and The St. Leger.

The St. Leger is also open to 3 year old fillies and ends their own Triple Crown which is made up of The 1,000 Guineas, The Oaks and finally The St. Leger.

Camelot failed in his attempt at it in 2012 and we may have to wait another 30 years before we see another horse willing to attempt this thoroughbred test as the last winner was Nijinsky in 1970 and before that Bahram in 1935.

The Triple Crown is not an easy feat to accomplish and in recent years winners of both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby have tended to skip the St. Leger and concentrate on the biggest prize race in Europe instead, The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp instead.


Famous International Big Prize Group 1 Races

The UK is not the only country to hold premier horse racing events. Countries like Australia, Dubai, The United States and Japan have all surpassed us on the amount of prize money they give out for their top races even if they cannot compete on the historical prestige of winning a famous historical English classic.

Here is a list of the richest 4 horse racing events in the world at the current time (2013).

The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe

Held on the first Sunday of October, it is one of the last great Group 1 races in Europe and the winner rightly gets to claim the crown “Champion of Europe”. Only open to thoroughbreds over 3 years old (apart from Geldings).

The race is run over 1m 4f and is competed by the top flat horses around the world for a prize of just under £2 million. You can view a list of previous Arc winners here.

The Dubai World Cup

The Dubai World Cup has only been ran since 1996 and is only open to thoroughbreds. Oddly it is only open to Northern Hemisphere thoroughbreds who are 4 years and older  but for Southern Hemisphere thoroughbreds 3 year olds can run.

It is run at the Meydan Racecourse over 1m 2f and is the final race of the Dubai World Cup night. The winner claims a massive $10 million (roughly £6,250,000) and it is the worlds richest race on earth at the present time.

It is also run over an all-weather surface which can make it hard for horses not used to the particular substance they use, Tapeta, a synthetic dirt. The race is held on the last Saturday in March making it one of the great opening spectacles of the flat season as horses from Japan, America and Australia all compete for the world richest race.

The Melbourne Cup

The Melbourne Cup is nicknamed “The race that stops a nation”, and is Australia’s top thoroughbred horse race. Run over 2 miles at the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria, the race is the richest two mile handicap in the world with a purse of A$6,175,000 (roughly £3,639,495).

It is held on the first Tuesday in November making it one of the last great flat races for northern spectators.

The Japan Cup

The Japan Cup is the one of the most highly ranked races in Japan. Raced on the last Sunday of November at Tokyo Racecourse over 1m 2f, the race is run under weight for age conditions, with a maximum of 18 horses all racing on turf.

With a purse of ¥476 million (roughly £3,023,470), The Japan Cup is one of the richest races in the world and brings runners from all corners of the globe. As it is run late November it counts as one of the final great flat races of the year.

The Hong Kong Cup

The Hong Kong Cup is another rich end of year flat race held at the Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong in mid December. It’s a right-handed turf based course and run over 1m 2f, or 2,000 metres for a prize of $22,000,000 Hong Kong dollars (or around £1,773,182) making it one of the richest races over this distance in the world.

When it was first run in 1988 the races distance was only 1800 metres and the race was restricted purely to horses trained in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. The next season horses from the Southern Continent (Australia and New Zealand) were allowed in before those from Europe in 1990 and USA the following year. Japan and Canada were allowed to enter horses in 1992.

Just before the millennium in 1999 the length of the race was increased by 200 metres making it a middle distance 1m 4f race and it also gained Group 1 status making Hong Kong a common location for big races and jockeys to race. UK trainers also have started to target their horses to this end of year flat race instead of other options such as the Breeders Cup or the Arc. However this race along with the Japan Cup have showed how much horse racing has grown in strength out in the far east.

The Breeders Cup

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships is an annual series of thoroughbred horse races run at different locations across America, and once in Canada, in early November. The racing event was created as a year-end championship for North American thoroughbred racing but it also attracts quality horses from all over the world, especially Europe who have had a number of winners recently.

Since 2007 the cup has become a 2 day event with a number of race over various distances and surfaces which attract world class horses from all over the world to compete in the competition for prize purses ranging from $500,000 to $5,000,000 (roughly £3,132,000).

The Breeders Cup was considered the richest sporting event in the world until a couple of races were moved from day 2 to day 1 which dropped the total prize money for that day to $17 million. This then made The Dubai World Cup the richest horse racing event in the world.

The races, and prize money per race for 2012 included:

Day 1 – Friday
  • $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon (gr. II)
  • $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. I)
  • $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I)
  • $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT)
  • $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I)
Day 2 – Saturday
  • $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT)
  • $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I)
  • $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I)
  • $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IT)
  • $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I)
  • $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT)
  • $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I)
  • $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT)
  • $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I)


Non Classic Flat Races

After the triple crown of classics for 3 year old fillies and colts we have a number of grades of flat races which are open to horses from the age of 2 and above.

Whilst it is common for English Colts to retire early at 3 or 4 (unless they are gelded), abroad horses can run much longer and in the USA it is not uncommon to see horses of 6 years old or above competing in high class races.

A Group 1 Race:

These are “top of the tree races” and the Group 1 races include all the classics plus a number of other famous races usually mentioning an ex royal family member or palace and also ending in the word “Stakes“.

We have races open to just 2 or 3 year olds and others which allow colts, fillies, horses and mares to run from 3 years up. Quality races such as The King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes, The Queen Anne Stakes, The St James’s Palace Stakes or The Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

For the 2 year olds we have The Dewherst Stakes and The Racing Post Trophy and these have become key races for identifying future 3 year old classic contenders.

A Group 2 – 3 Race:

Group 2 and Group 3 races are still quality races and bring top horses to the track to compete. Horses in these groups are usually trying to work their way back up to a Group 1 or have just had a poor Group 1 race performance. Races include The Dante Stakes, The Lancashire Oaks and The Goodwood Cup (Group 2), and The Craven Stakes, The Chester Vase and Bahrain Trophy (Group 3)

Listed Races.

These are still very good races and only one step below group races.

Selling Races:

The winner of these races is put up for sale at the end of the race.

Claiming Races:

Similar to Selling Races but the winner has a price tag attached. Usually the horses weights will depend on the amount of money required to buy the horse.

Nursery Handicaps:

This a handicap race for 2-year-old horses only.

A Handicap:

Horses are given different weights to try to even out the field and give each horse the same chance of winning.

Condition & Stake Races:

These are races where the horses may carry different weights depending on the age, sex and how many races the horse has won previously. This is not the same as a handicap and some races are restricted to just mares, fillies or colts etc.

A Maiden Race:

For horses that have not won a flat race.

National Hunt Racing

The “jump season” or National Hunt season is supposed to run from Autumn to the following Spring however at this present time in the UK and Ireland there is usually a long overlap where racing fans can watch both flat and jump racing.

One of the biggest highlights of the National Hunt calendar is the Cheltenham Festival which is held over four days in the second week of March. The festival features eleven Grade one races, culminating in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the best and most prestigious Chase race in the world, on the Friday.

The Irish equivalent of the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the Punchestown Festival which is held the final week of April and the Festival and held over five days, between Tuesday and Saturday. The format of the Irish festival is very similar to Cheltenham culminating in The Punchestown Gold Gup. Other races of note include the Champion Chase, The Rynair Novice Chase, The Champion Hurdle and The Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle.

The Jump season also has one of the most famous races in the world, the English Grand National. This meeting is held at Aintree over three days every April. Many of the best horses come to these festivals and hundreds of millions of pounds are gambled on betting exchanges and in shops all over the country. Even people who don’t usually gamble like to have a little punt on the Grand National which is only a Grade 3 race!

The main thing to note before we break down the different categories of races are the types of obstacles the horses have to jump over.

  • A Chase (or Steeplechase) is usually ran over distances of 2 to 4½ miles and the runners jump over a variety of obstacles with a minimum height of 41/2 feet high. The jumps include:
    • Plain fence: which are a minimum of 4’6″ in height on the take off side.
    • Water Jump: where horses clear a fence of at least 3 feet in height and land in water 3″ deep.
    • Open Ditch: Are a minimum of 4’6″ in height on the take off side with a ditch on the take off side.
  • Hurdling which is usually run over distances of 2 to 31/2 miles and over wooden fences which are at least 31/2 feet high.
  • National Hunt Flat Races (Bumpers) run over 1½ – 2½ miles which allow novice horses to race on flat ground in order to become accustomed to racing before facing the challenge of jumping. They are for horses who have not yet competed either in flat racing or over obstacles.


Graded Races (1-3):

Like Groups races on the flat, graded races are split into 3 grades with the top horses running in Grade 1 chases which are again split into handicap or non handicap races, the former being seen as more superior.

Grade 1 runners are usually aimed at either the 3 mile Cheltenham Gold Cup or the 2 mile Queen Mother Champion Chase which is also held at the Cheltenham Festival.

However these two races are not the only great spectacles at the 4 day festival and we can see great horse run in races such as the The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, The Arkle Challenge Trophy, The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, The RSA Chase, The Ryanair Chase and The World Hurdle.

Other top Grade 1 races in the National Hunt calendar include the relativley new but respected Betfair Chase in November at Haydock, the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in early December and the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park in December on Boxing Day. These are all seen as signs of progression towards the big festival races at the end of the season.

Whilst the most famous race, and the one offering the most prize money is the Grand National at Aintree. It only holds grade 3 handicap status along with the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Grand National. Therefore not all the biggest races are Grade one!

The biggest Grade 2 races include the Desert Orchid Chase on Boxing Day, the Denman Chase in February and the Scottish Champion Hurdle in April. The biggest Grade 3 races include the the Paddy Power Gold Cup, the Hennesy Gold Cup and one of the final big races of the year the Bet365 Gold Cup.

You can view a break down of the National Hunt calendar and the Grades of races here.

This article will show you all the all the recent winners for the Grand National and this article will help you narrow down your picks for the English Grand National.


A Novice Hurdle:

These are for horses that start the season having not won a hurdle race before. The winner of a novice hurdle will carry a weight penalty the next time it runs in another novice hurdle.

A Maiden Hurdle:

These only allow horses that have not already won a hurdle race. This and Novice Hurdles can involve horses that have won flat races, steeplechase, a National Hunt flat race or a point to point.

Handicap Hurdle:

Horses are given different weights to try to even out the field and give each horse the same chance of winning.

Graded Hurdle:

Some hurdle races carry certain conditions that affects the weight that each horse carries. For example a female horse or a younger horse will carry less weight than a male or an older horse.

Point to Point:

A type of amateur racing over fences. In Ireland many of the horses will appear in these races before they compete in National Hunt races either in Ireland or in the UK. In contrast in England and Wales horses running in point to points are more likely to be at the end of their national hunt careers.

 Bumpers or National Hunt Flat Races:

National Hunt Flat races are also known as Bumper races and are flat races run under National Hunt racing rules in Britain and Ireland. The main idea is for jump horses to gain racing experience on flat conditions of equal length, before beginning a career hurdling or chasing. They are usually put at the end of race meetings and nowadays they are really only held in Ireland.

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