20 Biggest Horse Races in the UK

From the Cheltenham Festival to Royal Ascot there are countless huge meetings on the UK horse racing calendar and here we take a look at the 20 biggest single races in the UK.

We’ve opted for 10 flat and 10 jump races, whilst we’ve also thrown in a bonus five of the biggest global horse races too. So whether you’re looking to plan a trip away or are just interested in knowing what the biggest races are, we’ve got all you need right here.

10 Biggest Jumps Races in the UK

Grand National

Aintree Racecourse Grand National

The next race on our list is not only one of the biggest races in the UK, it is the most famous jumps horse race in the world. This is the one everyone tunes in to, from housewives to die hard racing nuts and from young kids having their first bet to old-timers betting on the National like they have for the last 60 years.

The race certainly offers a spectacle quite unlike any other with its marathon 4m4f trip and imposing fences. Being a handicap, it may not be the highest class race of the year but in terms of thrills and spills the Grand National is tough to beat. The race is held in early April each year.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

The concluding day of the Cheltenham Festival features the best race of the National Hunt calendar. The real superstars of the jumping game arrive to tackle the 22 fences spread over a trip of 3m2 ½ f. An ability to jump with fluency allied with copper bottomed stamina are what is required in order to triumph in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Golden Miller, Arkle, Desert Orchid, Best Mate and Kauto Star are amongst the most famous racehorses of all time and all tasted success in this race, which offers a scintillating climax for the final day of Cheltenham.


The Stayers’ Hurdle

Highlight of the penultimate day of the Cheltenham Festival, the Stayers’ Hurdle is the season’s most prestigious race for staying hurdlers. Three miles around Cheltenham provides a thorough examination of the contenders’ stamina. Some mighty horses have won this over the years, including one of the all-time great staying hurdlers, Big Buck’s, who took this prize four years in succession from 2009-12.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

Cheltenham Racecourse

It is the chasers who are to the fore on the second day of the Festival in this two mile contest. This is the championship event for the season’s two mile chasers. The Queen Mother Champion Chase was given its current title in 1980 as a tribute to the Queen Mother and her support of racing. Famous winners include Moscow Flyer, Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre.

King George VI Chase

After the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the King George VI is the most prestigious jumps race of year. Run every year at Kempton on Boxing Day over a trip of three miles, the race is named after the monarch at the time of its inception way back in 1937. Due to the unique combination of staying and jumping ability required to prevail here, multiple winners are common. Desert Orchid won this four times whilst Kauto Star went one better with five victories.

BetVictor Gold Cup

The action at Cheltenham isn’t confined to the Festival and in November comes one of the most exciting handicaps of the early jumps season, the BetVictor Gold Cup (previously the Paddy Power Gold Cup). This is the feature race of the November Meeting at Cheltenham. Run over a trip of 2m4 ½ f the race often attracts some high class grade one performers dropping into handicap company in pursuit of the big prize on offer.

Ladbrokes Trophy Chase (Hennessy Gold Cup)

Newbury Racecourse
RacingKel, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Offering a prize fund of around £250,000 the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase (formerly known as the Hennessy Gold Cup) s the richest chase handicap with the exception of the English and Scottish Grand Nationals. Run at Newbury in late November/Early December each year, it takes a high class performer to come out on top here. Arkle, Denman and Bobs Worth all won this before subsequently landing the Cheltenham Gold Cup – enough said.

Betfair Chase

Run at Haydock in November the Betfair Chase is the first Grade One Event of the National Hunt season. Having only been with us since 2005 it is a relatively new addition to the horse racing calendar. Run over a trip of three miles and featuring 18 stiff fences, the race often provides some useful pointers ahead of the Cheltenham Gold Cup later in the jumping year.

Champion Hurdle

Another contest from the highlight of the National Hunt year, the Cheltenham Festival in March. The Champion Hurdle is the feature race of the first day of the Festival and the pinnacle of the season for the top horses over the smaller obstacles. Speed and hurdling ability are tested to the full over the trip of two miles and half a furlong.

Bet365 Gold Cup

Sandown Races

Following the Grand National in April we have one of the most popular staying handicap chases of the year, the Bet365 Gold Cup, run at Sandown. 24 fences and 3m5 1/2f are “all” that lie between the runners and the finish line. The race features as part of an excellent mixed jumps and flat meeting. First run in 1957, the original sponsors were Whitbread, in fact this was the first UK race to attract commercial sponsorship of any kind – another for the trivia buffs out there!

10 Biggest Flat Races in the UK

2,000 Guineas Stakes

Newmarket Racecourse Royal Mile 2000 Guineas
Alarnsen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first of the British Classics, the 2,000 Guineas takes place in early May of each year and is held at the headquarters of flat racing, Newmarket. The race is run over the straight mile of the Rowley Mile course and is open to thoroughbred three-year-old colts and fillies. Whilst fillies do occasionally enter it has been won by a colt every year since 1944. Along with The Derby and St Leger the race makes up the British triple-crown.

1,000 Guineas Stakes

The second of the British classics, the 1,000 Guineas is held the day after the 2,000 Guineas over the same course and distance. This is the mile championship race for three-year-old fillies and acts as the first leg of the fillies’ triple-crown, followed by the Oaks and St Leger. The antiquated title of the race comes from the original prize fund of the race’s inaugural running in 1814.

Epsom Oaks


First run in 1779 and named after the estate of the 12th Earl of Derby, who devised the race, The Oaks is the second of the British Classics which is restricted to three-year-old fillies. Run over the Derby course and a distance of a shade over a mile and a half, the race offers a prestigious prize and adds significant breeding value to the winner.

Epsom Derby

Epsom Racecourse
Framax97, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most famous flat horse races in the world, The Derby is run at one of the most unique and challenging courses the UK has to offer. The undulations and turns of Epsom provide a thorough test of the best middle distance three-year-olds. Six fillies have won the race but none since 1914 and they are rarely entered these days. All the top breeders, trainers and owners target this race which is, for many, the jewel in the crown of the British flat racing season.

St Leger

The final Classic of the season, the St Leger is run in South Yorkshire at Doncaster in September over a trip of one mile, six furlongs and 132 yards. An old saying states “The fastest horse wins the Guineas; the luckiest the Derby – and the best horse wins the St Leger.” Whether you agree with this or not the race is nevertheless a thrilling spectacle and one of the highlights of the late flat season. First run in 1776, it is the oldest of the Classic races and takes its name from the gentleman who founded it, one Anthony St Leger.

King’s Stand Stakes

The first non-Classic on our list, this race is one for the real speedballs. Run as part of the Royal Ascot meeting in June, the King’s Stand Stakes is the premier five furlong event of the British season. The race is open to thoroughbreds aged three years and over and is interesting in that it came into being almost entirely by chance. A race known as The Royal Stand Stakes was originally run over two miles, however due to horrendous weather in 1860 the distance was shortened to the only five furlongs of the track deemed raceable. A nice bit of trivia for those that like that sort of thing!

Ascot Gold Cup

Ascot Racecourse

From the shortest flat race on this list to the longest. The Ascot Gold Cup is run over the marathon trip of two miles and four furlongs and is open to all horses aged four or older. Run on the third day of the Royal Ascot meeting it effectively determines the champion flat stayer of the season. Aiden O’Briens’ Yeats is one of the races most famous winners, achieving an amazing four consecutive victories from 2006-2009.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes

One of the richest and most prestigious mile and a half contests of the racing calendar comes at Ascot in July. The list of previous winners in the King George VI is littered with all-time greats; Nijinsky, Brigadier Gerard and Montjeu to name just a few. Open to horses three-years-old and upwards it regularly attracts the very best horses from British and Irish soils as well as raiders from further afield.

Champion Stakes

Another high class race at Ascot comes in the twilight of the flat racing season each year. October sees Champions Day arrive at the Berkshire track. Highlight of the day is this event over a trip of one mile and two furlongs. The Champion Stakes is always an intriguing contest as it allows us the opportunity to see the best of the Classic generation locking horns with their elders.

Racing Post Trophy

Doncaster Racecourse
www.badobadop.co.uk, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)

One of the last top class races of the season comes at Doncaster in October. A mile contest for the season’s best two-year-olds, it serves as an often informative preview for the following season. The Racing Post Trophy is open to both colts and fillies with numerous winners subsequently going on to land a Classic in their three-year-old season.

Five Biggest Horse Races From The Rest Of The World

Dubai World Cup

Weydan Racecourse Dubai
Jaguar MENA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Run on the tapeta surface at Meydan over a mile and a quarter, the richest horse race in the world is a relative newcomer to the international racing circuit, making its debut in 1996. The race is the highlight of Dubai World Cup Night which is held at the end of March each year. With total prize money in excess of £6million it is always a fiercely competitive contest, attracting the top class middle distance horses from around the world. The USA has an excellent record in this race.

Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby
TEDD LiGGETT, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This famous 1m2f race for three-year-olds has been run every year since 1875 and, together with the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, it makes up the American triple-crown. Taking place at the beginning of May each year at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby, otherwise known as “The Run for The Roses”, is the most popular race in the USA in terms of attendance and an interesting day out if Hunter S Thompson is to be believed.

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe:

Longchamp Racecourse
DPA DPA, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Run at Longchamp over a mile and a half on the first Sunday in October, for many the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe the most prestigious horse race in Europe bar none. Open to horses aged three and upwards, it pits the best of the classic generation against the top ranking older horses from around Europe. The French are a tough nut to crack on their own turf and have dominated the race over the years.

Breeders’ Cup Classic

Breeders Cup Classic
Lisa Andres from Riverside, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is both the most prestigious and the richest race of the American racing year, with total prize money of around $5 million. Since its inception in 1984 “The Classic” has taken place at various tracks in North America and is the highlight of the Breeders Cup meeting run in late October. Tiznow is the only horse to have won this tough 1m 2f race on more than one occasion (as of 2014).

Melbourne Cup

Flemington Racecourse
Chris Phutully from Australia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Held at Flemington racecourse on the first Tuesday in November, the Melbourne Cup is far and away the biggest race in Australia. Host state Victoria has a public holiday in the race’s honour and attendance at the track is regularly over the 100,000 mark, with drinking starting early for many of those! Run over a distance of two miles, “the race that stops a nation” is the richest handicap race in the world. The prestige and prize money on offer regularly attracts runners from Europe, the USA and Japan.