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Race Types

Race Types, Flat, National Hunt and All Weather racing

By The UK Horse Racing Tipster

There are multiple different forms of horse racing and especially in National Hunt racing the names can be confusing as abbreviations are used making it sound as if one form of racing is easier than another. This is a guide to the different forms of racing.

The two main categories which are then split into sub-categories are "jumps" and "flat" racing.

Jumps or National Hunt racing consists of many types of races where the horse has to race whilst overcoming different obstacles they must jump over. These obstacles come in different sizes which is why the main split in the style is between Chasing and Hurdling. However just to confuse you even more they even have National Hunt Flat Races with no obstacles (or "Bumpers").

The other category is Flat racing where the horses are not only raced over shorter distances 5f to 2m but have much shorter racing careers. Whilst a great National Hunt horse like Big Buck's or Hurricane Fly can race until 12 the very best flat horses can be retired as early as 3 giving them just 2 years of racing. It seems to me that flat racing has become more concerned about the breeding side of matters than keeping the fans happy plus a billionaire Qatari Sheikh who may own such a star horse as the unbeaten Frankel would still retire him at 4 whether or not they needed the stud money.

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.

The jumps continue through the summer with low quality races just as our All Weather flat racing keeps flat fans happy over the colder months with the numerous courses that have sprung up to accomodate both AW and Turf racing.

The UK has recently introduced new events to improve the quality and image of All Weather racing so it's not just a stop gap between the flat season but an event in itself. This has seen the introduction of the All Weather Championships (2013+) which are flat races on All Weather tracks and include major prize races as the Winter Derby and finish off with the Coral Easter Classic, last won by Grensidar in 2016.

National Hunt - Chasing

The Grand National SteeplechaseIn National Hunt races, chasing is a shortened version of the word Steeplechase and it's where horses run over fences which are the larger objects a horse will jump.

Two of the most well known races of this type are the The Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup. These major races are just two examples of big steeplechase races where the minimum height of the fence is 4.5 ft or 1.37 metres.

What makes these two races special apart from the prestige of winning is the difficulty involved. The top jump jockey of our time, AP McCoy only won the Grand National once and put it amongst his top achievments. The races are long and hard with Cheltenham having a tough hill to climb to finish and the Aintree course having a wide range of famous obstacles as well as being the longest race in the world. It has a very long distance between the last jump and the finishing line and many horses have been overtaken during this last leg to winning.

Chases are usually ran over distances of 2 to 4½ miles and the runners jump over a variety of obstacles with a minimum height of 4.5 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.

A horse has to be a good jumper to compete as a chaser and it is not uncommon to see even the best horses fall in a chase event. A horse who is a great jumper over steeplechase fences can make up a lot of time during a race by jumping well and it is not uncommon to see even good chasers have a bad jumping style where they veer off to a particular side or another.

With all forms of National Hunt racing being on turf and the season being held almost throughout the year now despite the summer supposedly being a break time you will find a lot of races happen on very wet or muddy ground (e.g Heavy going). Some trainers have become well-known for getting their horses to perform particularly well on the mud whereas other horses won't run if it becomes too soft a going as they need the harder grass for speed between jumps.

When it comes to the most famous National Hunt race in the world e.g the Grand National you will find that less than half the starting 40 runners finish the race. Running 4 miles in an often heavy tacky turf which flicks up into the eyes of the jockeys and horses behind them it is a common reason for many of the horses to be pulled up before the end of the race due to tiredness. Either that or they fall at some of the most famous and lethal jumps in the world of steeplechasing such as "The Chair" or "Beechers Brook".

Despite the Grand National only being a Grade 3 race it is probably the most famous steeplechase race around the world just because of the spectacle of 40 horses competing over some of the toughest jumps in chasing over the longest distance of any race for 9 gruelling minutes. Horses who win the National are held in high esteem and the most famous must be 3 time winner Red Rum who came 1st in 1973, 1974, 2nd in 1975 and 1976 and then won it for a final time in 1977.

The top hurdling event in terms of class is the Cheltenham Gold Cup which is the key race in the week-long Cheltenham festival held in May each year over 3 miles 2 furlongs. There are a number of other great chases during that week including the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase and the Novices' Chase.


National Hunt - Hurdling

Hurricane FlyHurdling is usually run over distances of 2 to 31/2 miles and over shorter jumps made from wooden fences which are at least 31/2 feet high.

There have been many great Hurdlers in recent years from Big Buck's who won an amazing 18 races in a row and Hurricane Fly who has won the most ever Grade One events at the time of writing (22).

There are a lot less falls in hurdle races due to the lower height of the objects and the fact they are made out of brush which enables a horse with less jumping ability to still hit the object as they jump without hurting themselves or falling over.

There are many great hurdling races which happen at festivals around the year. The 2 biggest include Cheltenham in England and Punchestown in Ireland. Top races at both include the the World Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle.

National Hunt - Bumper Races or National Hunt Flat Races

National Hunt Flat RacingNational Hunt Flat Races or "Bumpers" are races with no obstacles but raced by jumping horses, usually novices, to gain experience over distance without having to jump.

They are usually ran over distances of 13-20 furlongs (roughly 1½ - 2½ miles) and are for horses who have not yet competed either in flat racing or races over obstacles.

In the old days only amateurs took part in these races and they were known for their dodgem style of racing compared to the professionals. These races are not run much in England anymore but Irish race meetings usually include a Bumper at the end of their card still.

The "bumper" race probably sits at the bottom of the National Hunt hierarchy however the sport allows for all kinds of racing from no whips allowed, hands and knees only, to amateurs, female only racing and much more besides.

Here are some of the categories of National Hunt races broken down into more detail with some examples of the more famous races.

The Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals

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 is 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.

Followers of the top horses will usually keep an eye out for the top horses running in these two festivals as many of the star horses such as the now retired Quevega used to only run twice a year, once at Cheltenham and the other at Punchestown. If you are lucky though you might catch your favourite horse having a few prelimary races in the early months of the season to get a race into them and they may turn out at the other major English National Hunt festival at Aintree.

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 despite being the most famous jump race in the world and having a prize of a million pounds, is still only a Grade 3 race!

Let's look at some of the grades that the National Hunt races are broken down into.


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 relatively 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 Cupthe Bet365 Gold Cup and of course the biggest jump race in the world, the Grand National.

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.

Flat Racing - Turf

KingmanThe majority of flat racing in the UK is done on Turf and because of that the major races take place between spring and Autumn when the ground is the firmest in England. Whilst many flat races have been held on heavy going there are not many horses who can handle racing on both soft and firm ground.

There is great debate over the start and finish of the "flat season".

Some will argue that it stops and starts with meetings at Doncaster, starting with the Lincoln meeting around the 20th March and ending with their November meeting which holds the Racing Post Trophy a major race for 2 year olds and a good indicator of future 3-year-old classic contenders.

Others will claim the flat season stops and starts the other end of the country, in the south at Newmarket. Starting with the mid April Craven stakes going all the way back to 1771 and ending with their Newmarket meeting around the 2nd week of October where they hold the the Cesarewitch Handicap. The plush green surrounding area around the Newmarket course hosts some of the top flat racing stables in the country.

However despite these older debates during recent years both England and Ireland have created multi million pound "Champions Days" which involve a variety of races from short 5 furlong sprints to long 2 mile races and are supposed to be the highlight ending to their own flat seasons.

Britain's Champions Day is held at Ascot midway through October and it started with a bang in 2011 when the unbeaten Frankel beat the number 2 ranked horse in the world at the time Cirrus Des Aigles in the QIPCO British Champions Stakes.

The highest paid flat race for total prize money in Britain today is still England's premier Group 1 race, the Derby, which had a prize of £813,221.40 for the winner Golden Horn in 2015, compared to the QIPCO British Champions Stakes which is run over 2 furlongs less than the Derby at 1 mile 2 furlongs and gave out £770,547.12 to the winner, Fascinating Rock in 2016.

Group 1 races are the premier class of flat race with the English Classic's being the elite of these Group 1's for 3-year-old colts and fillies. The Colts compete in the 2,000 Guineas, The Derby and St. Leger whilst the Fillies compete in the 1,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St. Leger.

However despite the classics there are many other Group 1's for horses of all ages such as those held during the famous Royal Ascot festival during June that allow 3 year olds and older horses to compete against each other in races such as the Queen Anne or Prince of Wales's Stakes.

All Weather Flat Racing

Southwell All WeatherThe multiple All Weather race courses in Britain has allowed for the edges between the "real" flat season and the National Hunt season to be blurred due to the ability of all-weather courses to allow flat racing to continue right throughout the winter and whatever the British weather can throw at it.

Through snow and rain, sleet and hail, there will always be a few people in the big grandstand at Kempton Park watching racing during the winter months.

There are many kinds of all-weather surfaces and whilst the Americans prefer to go for straight old dirt or sand, there are also Tapeta, Fibresand and Polytrack, the last two which are most commonly used in this country. You can find a list of all the various synthetic racetrack types here.

Whilst the UK leads the way in complex fibres for their all-weather courses which allow for faster drainage of the rain we are used to compared to natural surfaces. Meydan introduced their own brand of polyfibre, Tapeta, when it opened its huge new stadium in Dubai during 2010.

Despite this after only 4 years they have now reversed their decision and replace the whole track with dirt to try and attract more American horses back to their big Dubai Carnival event held at the beginning of each year, especially the Dubai World Cup.

Meydan RacecourseAlthough officials say this is down to questions over the tracks stability it is more likely to do with their ability to attract the best US horses to the course as American horses have found it difficult to run on the track despite knocking up some major victories over the years Meydan has been open.

Meydan obviously wants to attract the greatest horses from around the globe for it's $20 million show piece Dubai World Cup night in the spring and they have had a lack of top US talent in recent years for the richest prize race in the world which has a massive multi million prize fund for it's top race and gave out almost $6 million (£4,081,632.65) to it's 2016 winner California Chrome.

Whilst All Weather racing allow for the continuation of flat races throughout the colder months of the year many people complain that it has diluted the sport by having far too much racing, and too many "bookie races" e.g. low prize funded bookmaker sponsored events. It has also allowed for hardcore bettors and gamblers to enjoy their sport of kings almost 365 days of the year.

The creation of the All Weather Championships in 2014 was aimed at putting these claims to bed and attracting top all weather flat horses and jockeys to our best AW tracks and increasing the prize funds for existing events such as the Winter Derby which have become part of the All Weather Championship which ends in the finals day at Lingfield on Easter Friday. As they say themselves:

The All-Weather Championships, especially the £1.1million Finals Day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday, are now an established part of the British Racing Calendar.

Here is a list of the various types of flat groupings you will find in the sport.

English Flat Races

After the foreign races and the triple crown of English 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" wherever you are in the world and Group 1 races include all the English classics plus a number of other famous races usually mentioning an ex royal family member or palace and usually 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 yet.

You can read more about major international racing events in the Flat season here.

© 2015 The UK Horse Racing Tipster