Menu
Line up of jockeys setting off from the stalls.
Line up of jockeys setting off from the stalls.
Know Your Flats From Your Jumps?

We have all you need to know about the different types of horse race.

Types Of Races

Understanding the Types of Races

Not all horse races were created equal, and there are many different types you can attend. These differ due to the type of course, type of races and the horses that race.

There are two main types of race that happen in the UK. Flat racing and jump racing (otherwise known as National Hunt Racing). These split down by various groups and races.

Three jockeys racing on a flat course.

Flat Racing

As you would expect from the name, these are races that ran on a flat track over a distance between five furlongs (just over 1000 yards) and two miles. It is considered by some as the more elite style of racing, as without the distraction of jumps of obstacles, the race is purely down to the experience, skill and judgement of the jockey.

Flat races over a shorter distance are called sprints. Those over a longer distance are called stayers, and those in between are called middle distance. All of the five ‘Classic’ British races (including St Leger) are over middle distances.

Classifications in Flat Racing

Each race is split into one of five classifications depending on the value and prestige of the race, and also which age groups and genders are allowed to compete.

  • Group 1 - Is the highest race group, with the highest value in terms of prize money and prestige. These tend to be the most popular races.
  • Groups 2 and 3 - Still of high importance but of slightly lower quality. Also includes penalties in the shape of extra weight carried by the horses who have been successful in similar or higher grades.
  • Listed - Listed races sit under the Group classifications in terms of quality, but do also carry penalties for horses in the form of additional weight.
  • Handicap - Is the most common race classification, with most horses able to compete. Each horse is allocated a rating by officials depending on how well they run. Horses then have to carry a certain amount of additional weight in relation to how well they are performing, with the highest rating horses carrying the most weight. This is to even the field wherever possible.
Jockeys jumping over a hurdle during a race.

National Hunt (Jumps) Races

Jump racing requires horses and jockeys to negotiate obstacles on the track, which vary dependant on the type of jump race. Some see this racing as more exciting to watch, and more challenging to compete in given the risk involved.

Generally these races tend to take place between October and April and split down into three categories.

Generally these races tend to take place between October and April and split down into three categories.

  • Hurdles - Where horses are required to jump over hurdles of at least 1 metre high. These are usually designed and built so that if horses clip the top section of the barrier they are unlikely to fall or injury themselves.
  • Steeplechases - Have more obstacles than just hurdles including open ditches and water jumps. Obstacles are higher, with a minimum height of 1.4 metres, and are far less forgiving. Built with more solidity, horses have to jump far higher to not only clear the height of the obstacle, but to also ensure a clear jump to avoid injury.
  • Listed - Listed races sit under the Group classifications in terms of quality, but do also carry penalties for horses in the form of additional weight.
  • Bumpers - These are a little unusual as though these are National Hunt races, they are ran on a flat track with no obstacles. This is to give horses who have yet to race some experience on the track before they attempt a hurdle. 

As with flat racing, jump racing also uses a classification system depending on the age and experience of the horses.

Downloadable Guide

To learn how to pick a winner, why not download our full beginners guide?

Download

Sign up for the latest news, exclusive offers and details on forthcoming events.