Flat racing’s biggest races: A guide to the Classics in Britain and Ireland

Epsom Racecourse

A large part of the Flat season is built around five races which are collectively known as the Classics. Not only are they some of the most prestigious and valuable races on the calendar, they can have a significant impact on the breeding industry.

We’ve created a guide to the Classics which will provide everything you need to know about them, including what the races are, when they take place and key historical facts. Check out our free tips page for daily content across British and Irish racing.

What are the Classics?

The Classics are a series of very important and influential races on the Flat calendar and there are British and Irish equivalents. Below is the complete list of the races in question, along with a summary of each and the most successful trainer in the race’s history.

2000 Guineas

This race is race for three-year-old colts over a mile which takes place at Newmarket in May. It’s a race that everyone wants to win and some of the all-time greats have done so. Trainer Aidan O’Brien holds the record with 10 wins in the race and is always someone to look out for. The Irish equivalent, which is run at the Curragh, also takes place in May but usually three weeks later meaning some horses will run in both. O’Brien has historically dominated the Irish 2000 Guineas as well, winning the race 12 times.

1000 Guineas

Run over the same trip as the 2000 Guineas, this race is the fillies’ equivalent and takes place on the same weekends as the colts’ versions. Robert Robson holds the record, having trained nine winners in the race between 1818 and 1827 and is yet to be caught. It’ll be no surprise to hear that Aidan O’Brien holds the record in Ireland with 10 victories and counting.


Taking place at Epsom at the start of June, this Group 1 over 1m4f is one of the most valuable prize money races and is infinitely more precious to breeders. Three-year-old fillies compete for this prize and Robert Robson is once again the man to beat with a whopping 13 victories to his name. No prizes for guessing who has the most Irish Oaks victories as it’s Aidan O’Brien once again.


The Epsom Derby is probably the most famous Flat race in the world and it’s one that almost everyone has heard of. It takes place the day after the Oaks and it’s probably the most important Flat race with regards to it’s economic value from a breeding perspective. Aidan O’Brien has 12 victories in the Curragh’s Irish Derby and nine in Epsom’s English equivalent.

St Leger

One for the stayers, this race is run over 1m6f at the Curragh in Ireland and around half-a-furlong further at Doncaster in England in September. It’s arguably the least prestigious classic but it has a long and illustrious history nonetheless. 19th century trainer John Scott has 16 wins in the Doncaster race, whilst the legendary Vincent O’Brien is the winning-most trainer in Ireland with nine victories.

What is the Triple Crown?

Colts’ Triple Crown

This gargantuan achievement requires a horse to win the 2000 Guineas, the Derby and the St Leger, over trips varying from a mile to an extended 1m6f. The last horse to do so was the indomitable Nijinsky for Vincent O’Brien and Lester Piggott in 1970.

Fillies’ Triple Crown

A similarly daunting task, a three-year-old filly needs to win the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St Leger. Oh So Sharp completed the amazing feat for Henry Cecil in 1985 and no filly has matched it since.

Differences between Britain and Ireland

There are only two major differences between the British and Irish classics. The 2000 and 1000 Guineas are run at Newmarket, the Oaks and Derby at Epsom and the St Leger is at Doncaster, whereas all of Ireland’s are run at the Curragh. One other key difference to note is that the Irish St Leger is open to three-year-olds and upwards whereas Britain’s is only for three-year-olds.

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