Types of Horse Races Explained
Whether it’s on the flat or in the National Hunt sphere, we’re treated to plenty of racing on a near daily basis. From maidens to cross country races, each sphere has plenty of different types of races over a variety of distances.
If you’re betting on racing, it’s vital to understand the types of races you’re betting on, so we’ve listed them all below! If you’re looking for today’s races, you can find them all in our racecard section.
What is National Hunt Racing?
National Hunt racing encompasses all racing that is contested over hurdles and steeplechase fences. It’s far less popular globally, with Great Britain and Ireland hosting the most races by a wide margin. Horses will have to jump a certain amount of obstacles, either hurdles or fences, with all races contested over 1m 7f or beyond.
Usually, Hurdles races contested by younger, less experienced horses, who then transition to Chase races after gaining experience. This isn’t always the case, however, with some horses only having a short hurdling campaign before going chasing. Conversely, some horses never go over steeplechase fences.
What are the types of National Hunt Races?
There are three main types of races in the National Hunt/Jumps sphere:
- Hurdles Races – the smallest types of obstacles which can easily be knocked out the way
- Steeplechase (Chase) Races larger obstacles which are more difficult to jump
- National Hunt Flat (Bumper) Races – featuring no obstacles, used as a starting point for young horses
Within these types of races, there are more specific races:
- Maiden Race – For horses who are yet to win a race.
- Juvenile Race – juvenile races are only for horses aged three years old (October – December) or four years old (January to April).
- Novices’ Race – only for horses who hadn’t won a race before the start of the season. Once a horse has won a novice race, they will carry extra weight in future novice races.
- Handicap Race – Horses carry a predetermined weight that is set by the handicapper; the better the horse, the higher rating they have. See our full guide to handicaps here.
- Graded Race – These are the highest category of races; Grade 1 is the best of the best, but Grade 2 and Grade 3 contests are also very prestigious.
- Cross Country Race – Special type of chase race, Cross Country races involve a number of different and unique types of obstacles.
- Hunters’ Chase Races – Special category of races only open to horses with hunter certificates, awarded if the horse has hunted for at least four days before the start of the year.
What is Flat Racing?
As in the name, flat racing is contested on the level over a predetermined distance of five furlongs to the maximum distance of 2m 4f. It’s the more lucrative of the two racing spheres, with there being more prize money and the very expensive breeding business.
There are less types of races on the flat, with this owing to the fact there isn’t three types of disciplines within the sphere. The main race types are listed below:
What are the types of Flat Races?
- Maiden Race – For horses who are yet to have won a race.
- Novice Race – For horses who have not won more than two Flat races (or one race but has run more than twice, two year olds excluded)
- Selling/Claiming Race – The winners (and sometimes the other runners too) are sold or auctioned after the race.
- Handicap – As with jumps racing, every horse is allocated a rating by the handicapper which is used to set the weights. In theory, every horse should finish at the exact same time. See our full guide to handicaps here.
- Nursery – a race for two year old horses only.
- Group Races – Similar to Graded races in National Hunt, these are the top races for the best horses. There are Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3 contests, with Group 1 being the top class of races in the world.
- Auction Races – entry is limited to horses which fulfill certain criteria based around their auction price and the average auction price of their stallion’s progeny.
There are a multitude of different races every day, including races which fall into more than one of the above types or subset variations of those listed. They may include being limited to certain types of jockeys, horses or winners of certain races (like a qualification system). There may also be bonuses awarded within races to certain horses which fulfill extra criteria.
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