No sport personifies Britain’s unique sporting heritage and history more than horse racing. Renowned as the sport of kings, horse racing events have been a spectator sport in England since the Roman Emperor Hadrian erected a wall between Scotland and England.
That probably meant that the poor Scots had to wait until the Romans had packed up and left before being able to enjoy the illustrious horse-racing spectacle.
Today’s British punters are fortunate since they have a year-long feast of equine racing events to attend with major races and meetings continually cropping up in the racing calendar.
In no particular order of importance, the most popular courses are at York, Ascot, Aintree, Goodwood and of course Cheltenham.
There are heaps of smaller tracks that attract large local crowds and are just as much part and parcel of the provincial social scene as Royal Ascot is for the metropolitan elite.
Flat Horse Racing In The UK
Broadly the Flat season takes place between the spring equinox and autumn equinox. Like all sports, there are divisions so races are classified as Group 1, 2 or 3. Then there are handicap races. Ordinarily, all horses in a race will carry the same weight. If they all run on a level playing field, the theory is that the best horse will win.
With a handicapped race, the horses are ranked in order by their Offical Rating, starting with the highest. That horse will carry the most weight. From there, the weights reduce in descending order. The idea is that even a not-so-good horse has a chance of winning against a great horse.
The Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster, first run in 1853, is the traditional curtain-raiser on the first Saturday of the Flat season. With a £100,000 purse, it is a handicapped race.
When it comes to the Group 1 races, they begin in earnest with the 1,000 Guineas and 2,000 Guineas Stakes staged at Newmarket. They are scheduled to take place each year in late April or early May.
Thereafter the Flat season really takes off with the other major Classics. They are the Epsom Oaks and the Epsom Derby and the St. Leger Stakes, which is also run at Doncaster.
Sandwiched in between the Classics are the major Flat festivals at Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood.
In terms of cold hard cash, the Epsom Derby is the most lucrative with a prize fun of £1.125m in 2021. The winner will take home over £900,000!
National Hunt Racing
The National Hunt season, which is the name given to jump racing, tends to be concentrated between November and April. Just as Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood define high summer, the Cheltenham Festival and the three-day Grand National meeting stand at the pinnacle of a long winter’s jump season.
But of course they aren’t the only prestigious racing events to take place throughout the year. National Hunt racing is divided into two distinct categories – chases over fences and hurdles. There are also divisions for Grade 1, 2, 3 as well as others that don’t fall into those categories.
Hurdles are a specific type of obstacle the horse is required to jump over. These are smaller than fences and are a minimum of three and a half feet high. They are typically made of a series of panels made of brush and are flexible.
Chases or fences can vary in difficulty and style. They are more substantial, higher, and less yielding so are more difficult to navigate.
In terms of the National Hunt racing events, the opener is generally the Betfair Chase at Haydock which takes place in November. Over the course of the season there are more than 200 National Hunt races, 28 of which are at the Cheltenham Festival.
You can bet on all of them online though you should bear in mind that favourites don’t tend to offer very good value!