Major Horse Racing Meetings

Jockeys Before a Race

Just one of the wonderful things about horse racing is the year-round nature of the sport.

Whilst we do have the set flat and jumps seasons, we also have summer jumping, and all weather racing to see flat fans through the winter months.

Fans don’t have to wait long for their next racing fix and the way the seasons are structured means there’s always a top class festival on the horizon.

Here we take a look at the 10 best racing festivals the UK has to offer, starting with the Cheltenham Festival in March and working our way through the best of the rest including Royal Ascot, the Grand National Festival and plenty more.

The eagle-eyed out there may have noticed that the King George VI Chase doesn’t feature here. That’s because this wonderful race is the only huge renewal in the Kempton Winter Festival. Whilst we don’t class the Winter Festival as a major meeting, there is no doubt the feature is a real highlight. So, if you fancy something to do on Boxing Day, be sure to check out our King George VI Chase page.

Whether you prefer the Cheltenham Festival to Royal Ascot or Glorious Goodwood to the Grand National, let’s take a look at the best of British racing.

Cheltenham Festival – Early March

Cheltenham Festival Crowd
Credit: Carino06 Flickr

For fans of the jumping game this four day festival at the Prestbury Park venue comes pretty close to sporting perfection. There are 12 Grade 1 contests in all with a Championship event on each of the four days.

The action begins on the Tuesday as the famous Cheltenham roar greets the start of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The highlight of the opening day is the season’s championship event for two mile hurdlers, appropriately named the Champion Hurdle. A race graced by such greats as Istabraq and Hurricane Fly. The Arkle Chase and Mares’ Hurdle add to the Grade 1 bonanza on a spectacular first day.

Many festivals seem to have a ladies day these days and Cheltenham is no exception with Wednesday being the day Cheltenham devotes to the fairer sex. There will no doubt be some fine sights in the stands but the action on the track isn’t bad either with the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, RSA Chase, Champion Bumper and Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The course celebrates its very own St Patrick’s Day on the Thursday in honour of the annual pilgrimage to Cheltenham from the Emerald Isle. The JLT Novices Chase, Ryanair Chase and World Hurdle provide a trio of Grade 1 contests on Day Three.

The fourth day is simply known as Gold Cup Day which provides a clue as to the main event on the card. Supported by fellow Grade 1’s, the JCB Triumph Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is just about the highlight of the whole National Hunt Season.

Grand National Festival – Early April

Aintree Racecourse Grand National

Hot on the heels of the Cheltenham extravaganza comes the festival which contains the most famous jumps race of them all. Three days in early April play host to some top class jumping action at the Merseyside venue.

The Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle, Betfred Bowl Chase, Aintree Hurdle, Manifesto Novices Chase, Mildmay Novices Chase, Melling Chase, Sefton Novices Hurdle, Mersey Novices Hurdle, Maghull Novices Chase and Silver Cross Stayers Hurdle is an impressive list of Grade 1 action to cram into just three days but they are all overshadowed by a lowly Grade 3 handicap on the concluding Saturday.

That handicap is of course the Aintree Grand National: a race truly unique in spectacle and one which captures the public’s imagination unlike any other.

Red Rum is one of the most famous horses of all time due largely to his exploits in this race, winning it an amazing three times. This is also one of the only jumps races in which the formidable fences are as famous as the horses themselves. The likes of Becher’s Brook, the Chair and Canal Turn have all seeped into the public consciousness over the long history of the race.

In terms of betting turnover and national focus, nothing comes close to the Grand National. Sadly, it’s darn hard to pick the winner though.

Derby Festival – Early June

Epsom Racecourse Grandstand
Credit: RogerSG Flickr

Heading into the summer months the next highlight of the equine calendar features two Classic contests over its two days. Having traditionally been a midweek meeting, the action now starts on the Friday, a day headed by the second fillies-only Classic of the campaign. The Oaks is run over 1m4f of Epsom’s twisting ups and downs, offering the sternest of challenges to Europe’s top fillies.

The headline race of the Saturday card is the most famous and prestigious of all the horse races run in the UK and one of the most influential in the world. A race so highly regarded, it has laid the international blueprint for Classic racing: the Derby.

Run over the same course and distance as the Oaks, the Derby is open to fillies but is generally only contested by the very best middle distance three-year-old colts. The list of previous winners contains some of the best horses ever to grace a racecourse. Sea Bird, Nijinsky, Shergar, Galileo and Sea The Stars all appear on the Epsom roll of honour.

A second Group 1 takes place on the Saturday in the form of the Coronation Cup. The course and distance are the same as for the Classics but this contest is for those horses aged four and over.

Royal Ascot – June

Royal Ascot Ladies in Hats
Credit: SJDunphy (cropped) Flickr

Whilst the Derby at Epsom is top of the list as far as individual races are concerned, there can be little doubt that the most prestigious meeting of the year takes place over five days in June at Ascot as Royal Ascot comes to the fore. With the Queen in attendance and a Royal procession preceding the racing, the festival certainly can’t be accused of not living up to its billing. The royal theme continues through many of the titles given to the races.

Ascot provides a unique social gathering, spectacular fashion parade and – most importantly – truly outstanding racing. There are eight Group 1 events in all with a further 10 Group contests on the supporting card.

Day one plays host to the one mile Queen Anne Stakes, highly prized sprint the King’s Stand Stakes and the one mile St James’ Palace Stakes for three-year-old colts.

Just the one Group 1 on the Wednesday in the form of the 1m2f Prince Of Wales’s Stakes. In terms of prize money no Ascot event tops this one.

On to the Thursday and again a sole top tier race but one of the most popular of the week. The 2m4f Ascot Gold Cup is the season’s premier event for stayers. The brilliant Yeats won this four times for Aiden O’Brien.

Friday’s focus is on the three-years-olds with the 1m2f Coronation Stakes for the fillies and the Commonwealth Cup for the 6f sprinters.

The Diamond Jubilee Stakes is the top 6f race of the year and acts as the centrepiece of an excellent card on the concluding Saturday.

Guineas Festival – Late April / Early May

Newmarket Racecourse Rowley Mile
EduMark, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The season’s first flat meeting of major significance comes at the headquarters of the turf, Newmarket.

Saturday afternoon is headlined by the first Classic of the British season, the 2000 Guineas. Run over the straight mile of the Rowley Mile course it is often one of the most significant races of the season in terms of pinpointing future winners. Brigadier Gerard, Sea The Stars and Frankel are three of the best winners in the history of the race.

Sunday sees the fillies take centre stage in the 1000 Guineas. Run over the same course and distance as the colts Classic the day before, this is the first of two Classics restricted to fillies. Like the 2000 Guineas it often attracts the top contenders from France and Ireland as well as the best of the domestic three-year-olds.

Newmarket July Meeting – July

Newmarket July Course

Not long to wait for the next high class summer racing action as we head back to HQ for the three-day July meeting. With the action now switching to the July Course we have six Group class events and some top handicapping action to look forward to.

The Princess Of Wales’s Stakes over a mile and a half, 1m5f Bahrain Trophy and 6f July Stakes are the highlights of the opening Thursday.

Friday sees the first of our Group 1’s with the Falmouth Stakes for fillies and mares with support from the Duchess Of Cambridge Stakes.

Saturday’s July Cup is one of the top six furlong sprints of the season and is the highlight of this meeting. Chief support on the final day comes from the popular Bunbury Cup handicap over seven furlongs.

St Leger Meeting – September

Doncaster Racecourse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)

This late summer three-day meeting at Doncaster plays host to the final Classic of the season. The St Leger is the longest running Classic in terms both of how long it has been around and the distance over which it is run.

The opening Thursday sees the St Leger course and distance tackled by the fillies and mares in the Park Hill Stakes. The 1m6f 132 yard trip around this galloping track makes stamina the number one attribute required for success.

The staying theme continues into Friday’s action with the Group 2 Doncaster Cup over 2m2f. A day on which the fillies also take to the track in the Group 2 May Hill Stakes over a mile.

Saturday sees the Champagne Stakes for two-year-old colts and geldings and the Park Stakes for three-year-olds and up providing Group 2 action over 7f in the build up to the big race.

First run in 1776 the St Leger Stakes now acts as the final leg of the triple-crown in British flat racing. While the emphasis is on speed in the Guineas, and a mix of speed and stamina in the Derby and the Oaks, there can be no holes in the staying credentials of the contenders here.

Glorious Goodwood – Late July / Early August

Glorious Goodwood
Drummboi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is little let up in the stream of top level racing over the summer months. High on the agenda of many a punter is the five day Glorious Goodwood meeting. With the weather often living up to the “Glorious” of the title, this is always a well-attended festival.

Top events of the week are Lennox Stakes on the opening day, the 1 mile Sussex Stakes on the Wednesday and the 1m2f Nassau Stakes for fillies and mares on the Saturday. The other Group races are the King George Stakes over 5f, the Lennox Stakes over 7f, The Gordon Stakes over 1m4f and the Goodwood Cup over the staying trip of two miles. Attractive options are thus available for high class performers across the full range of distances.

This festival is particularly notable for the quality of the races for two-year-olds. The Molcomb Stakes, Vintage Stakes and Richmond Stakes being three of the top Juvenile contests of the season.

York Ebor Festival – August

Ebor Festival York Racecourse

Moving further into summer we head north to York’s historic four-day Ebor Festival. The big race of this meeting is a handicap but we have a strong supporting cast of seven Group class contests.

Day one is a cracker with the 1m4f Great Voltigeur for three year old colts and geldings and the high class Group 1 International Stakes over 1m2f, a race won by the likes of Sea The Stars, Frankel and Australia.

Day two’s main events both focus on the fillies. The Lowther Stakes is one of the top fillies’ only 6f races of the season and the Yorkshire Oaks provides the day’s Group 1 action.

Friday’s main events are at polar ends of the spectrum in terms of distance, the Lonsdale Cup over 2 miles is one for the stayers whilst the Nunthorpe Stakes over 5f is unique in allowing the two-year-olds to tackle their elders.

On to the Saturday and the 1m6f Ebor Handicap, a race first run in 1843 and currently the richest flat handicap in Europe. The Gimcrack Stakes provides the Group 2 action on the closing day.

Cheltenham November Meeting – November

Cheltenham Racecourse

We end our journey through the racing year back where we began. Cheltenham’s three-day November Meeting, for many, marks the point at which the jumps season really kicks into gear and the March Cheltenham Festival begins to loom on the horizon.

Until 2017 this meeting was known as The Open but after discussion with golf’s governing body, the R & A, it was decided it would be beneficial to both parties to change the name of Cheltenham’s event.

The Neptune Novices’ Hurdle and a cross country chase provide a relatively low-key start on Friday. Saturday sees the action hot up with a JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial and one of the top early season handicap chases, the Betvictor Gold Cup.

Sunday provides a couple of useful trials, namely the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Trial and the Arkle Trial as a prelude to the day’s top handicap, the Greatwood Hurdle.