Types of Horse Race

With so many horses running in the UK it is not only the quality which varies but also the preferences and make-up of the individual horses.

Whilst some animals are all speed and best suited to a sprint over a shorter distance, for others stamina is the strong suit and thus a longer trip is required to see them at their best.

Luckily all are catered for in the British racing calendar and here we take a look at the range of distances and types of race on offer as well as some of the best contests in each bracket.

Flat Racing

Flat racing distances and types of race fall into four main categories, detailed below…


Horse Sprint

Races run over trips of 5f to 6f are referred to as sprints. These are the events where the real speed merchants showcase their abilities. With so little room for error over the shorter trips the draw can have a bigger impact in these races than those over longer distances.
There are eight group one races run at sprint trips over the course of the season with some of the highlights being:

The King’s Stand Stakes: Run over 5f as part of the Royal meeting at Ascot in June.
The Diamond Jubilee Stakes: Run over 6f and another feature contest at the Royal meeting
The Middle Park Stakes: The season’s premier sprint for two-year-olds, run over 6f at Newmarket in October.


1000 Guineas

The next class of horses after the sprinters are referred to as milers. There is, however, an intermediary distance of 7f which is worth a mention at this point, without quite warranting a category of its own. The trip is viewed as something of a specialist distance being a sort of half-way house between a sprint and a mile. The Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October is the only Group One 7f race of the year and is restricted to two-year-olds. 7f races are nevertheless a common feature on day to day race-cards.

Back to the mile trip and this is where we see some of the highest class and most exciting races of the year. Speed is still required at this distance but also the stamina to see out the additional distance. Tactics can begin to play a part in these races, particularly in smaller fields. There are more Group One races run over the eight furlongs that make up a mile than at any other distance. Some of the main feature races are:

The 1000 Guineas: The first of the fillies-only Classics is run at Newmarket in late April/Early May.
The 2000 Guineas: Run at Newmarket the day before the 1000 Guineas, this is the first Classic of the British flat season.
Lockinge Stakes: Run at Newbury in May and open to horses four-years-old and up. This race has seen some truly incredible performances over the years.
Sussex Stakes: Open to three year olds and up, this race sees the Classic generation tackle their elders and is one of the highlights of Glorious Goodwood in late July/early August.
Racing Post Trophy: The top mile race of the year for two-year-olds is run at Doncaster in October.

Middle Distance

Queen Elizabeth Stakes
Credit: Qrodo Flickr

Middle distance races encompass all contests run over trips from 1m2f-1m4f. Owners and trainers covet success in these events. Most of the biggest prizes on offer around the world are run at these trips, with considerable prestige and breeding value bestowed upon the winners. An ability to stay allayed to tactical speed i.e. the ability to quicken at a crucial stage, are important factors for success in these races.

The top middle distance races in the UK are:

The Derby: Run at Epsom in June, this is the most famous of all the English Classics and is run over a trip a shade in excess of a mile and half around the turns and undulations of Epsom Downs.
The Oaks: Run the day before The Derby over the same course and distance this is the middle distance classic for three-year-old fillies.
Champion Stakes: The showpiece event of Ascots October meeting, run over 1m2f and open to horses three-years-old and up.
The Eclipse Stakes: Run over 1m2f in July, this is the highlight of the flat racing year at Sandown.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes: Run at Ascot in July, the prestigious “King George” is the top all-age middle distance race of the year in the UK.

Long Distance

DOncaster Racecourse St Leger Stakes
Home of the St Leger Stakes

These are the races for the stayers, those horses whose strong suit is stamina. In general as horses age they need a longer trip to perform to their best although there are of course many exceptions to this rule. Whilst there may not be as many staying races on the calendar as those over shorter distances, there are still a number of top class events at trips of 1m6f and over. Some of the highlights are:

The St Leger Stakes: This is the final Classic of the season and the one run over the longest trip. The race takes place at Doncaster in September over a distance of 1m6f 132 yards.
Ascot Gold Cup: One of the highlights of the Royal Festival in June is this race over the marathon trip of 2m4f. In terms of prestige it is arguably the top staying race of the year.
Cesarewitch Handicap: This race with a rich heritage is run at Newmarket in October over 2m2f and is always an extremely popular betting heat.

Jumps (National Hunt) Racing

Some punters think that only flat racing is worth watching, whilst for many it’s all about the jumps. Whatever your preference, there are three types of National Hunt race, detailed below…

National Hunt Flat Races

National Hunt Flat Race
Credit: Carine06 Flickr

Commonly known as “bumper” races due to the up and down style of the amateurs who originally rode in them, these races are particularly prevalent in Ireland. Usually run over trips ranging from 1m5f to 2m4f their main aim is to provide racecourse experience to those horses just beginning their National Hunt careers.

The Champion Bumper is the only Grade One National Hunt Flat race of the season and features as part of the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Hurdle Races

Horse Race Hurdles
Credit: Vegaseddie Flickr

The first obstacles most jumps horses will encounter in their career are hurdles. At a minimum height of three and a half feet, they are far less intimidating than the more formidable fences of chase races. It is not only their smaller size which makes them easier to jump; they are also far less rigid and thus considerably more forgiving. The hurdles themselves are generally made from a brush-like material which provides them with their flexibility. Hurdle races are run over distances from two to three and a half miles.

The very best hurdle races of the year all come at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Champion Hurdle: This is the feature race of the first day of the festival and is the season’s championship event for two mile hurdlers.
World Hurdle: The season’s premier staying hurdle, over a trip of three miles is held on the third day of the festival
Triumph Hurdle: Run over a trip of 2m1f, the opening race on the final day of the festival is the season’s top contest for juvenile hurdlers.

Chases (Steeplechases)

National Hunt Steeplechase
Paul Holloway from Leeds, United Kingdom, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These are the races which provide a thorough test of a horse’s jumping ability. Fences are fixed obstacles and are required to be a minimum of four and a half feet tall. Fences are far sturdier than hurdles; a horse may occasionally get away with a bad mistake at a hurdle but will rarely do so over a fence. In addition chase races can also feature obstacles such as open ditches and water jumps to further increase the level of difficulty. Chases are run over distances from 2- 4 ½ miles. Some of the top events of the season are:

Grand National: The most famous steeplechase in the world is run at Aintree in April. Famous fences such as The Chair and Bechers Brook are just two of the formidable obstacles that feature as part of the mammoth four and half mile trip.
Cheltenham Gold Cup: The highlight of the Cheltenham Festival comes on the fourth and concluding day. It is the most prestigious chase race of the season and is run over a trip of 3m2f.
King George VI Chase: This traditional Boxing Day feature is the highlight of the Christmas racing period. Kempton plays host as the top chasers battle it out over three miles. The legendary Kauto Star won this a record five times (not bad along with two Cheltenham Gold Cups)