UK Horse Racing
Horse Racing in the UK is split into two seasons; the flat racing from spring through to the autumn followed by winter jump racing. In recent years, the development of All-Weather Racing has meant that flat racing continues all-year round and the arrival of Summer Jump Racing has meant that the seasons are less clearly defined. However, the traditional programme of events remains largely unchanged.
The Classic Races
The feature races of the U.K. racing season are the five classics: 1000 Guineas, 2000 Guineas, Derby, Oaks and St. Leger. These races are restricted to three-year-olds with the fillies contesting the 1000 Guineas over a mile and the Oaks over a mile and a half. The colts’ classics are the 2000 Guineas and the Derby, although fillies can also enter these races.
Newmarket is the venue of the Guineas meeting in May when the best of the three-year-old generation compete for the first classic races. Many of the top juveniles from the previous season will have only one prep race for the first classic with others having their seasonal debut. There are ante-post betting markets on all five classics that open the previous summer.
The more stoutly-bred winners and placed horses in the Guineas are very likely to be aimed at the mile and a half Derby and Oaks at Epsom, with the horses that are unlikely to have the stamina heading to Royal Ascot in June. There are numerous trials for the classics in the early part of the season at Newmarket, Newbury, York, Chester and Lingfield and the betting market can change very quickly.
The final classic of the season is the St. Leger at Doncaster in September over one and three-quarter miles. This is the oldest of the five classics, dating back to 1776. It was traditionally the third leg of the English Triple Crown after the 2000 Guineas and Derby but the recent trend towards speed horses means that very few Derby winners attempt the Leger distance. No horse has won the Triple Crown since Nijinsky in 1970 although Camelot attempted to emulate him in 2012, beaten into second place by Encke in the St. Leger.
Royal Ascot is the biggest festival meeting of the flat racing season with Group 1 events attracting the best thoroughbreds from all over the world. It runs for five days in June and is one of the major events in the British social calendar, attracting in excess of 300,000 visitors each summer. In 2012 the two highest rated horses in the world took part with Frankel winning the opening Queen Anne Stakes and Black Caviar travelling from Australia to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on the closing day.
The meeting has Group 1 races for all ages over a variety of distances. The classic generation of milers target the Coronation Stakes for fillies or the St. James’s Palace Stakes for colts. Despite the breeding industry’s bias towards speed, the Ascot Gold Cup over two and a half-miles is still one of the most sought after prizes of the meeting. There are also hugely competitive handicaps, notably the six-furlong Wokingham Stakes and the one-mile Royal Hunt Cup. These races are particularly popular with the betting public.
As well as Royal Ascot, there are several other festival meetings featuring top class races. York stages the Dante meeting in the Spring featuring trials for the Derby and Oaks and also the Ebor meeting with the feature race being a highly prized handicap. Newmarket also holds a summer meeting on the July course with the July Cup attracting the best sprinters in the world. Glorious Goodwood takes place in July with the Sussex Stakes often seeing the best three-year-olds meeting the older generation for the first time.
There are top handicaps throughout the season with big betting races almost every weekend to keep punters fully entertained. The turf races season runs from March until November.
Selected meetings; (May) Newmarket – Guineas Festival, Newbury – Lockinge Stakes, (June) Epsom – Derby & Oaks, Royal Ascot, (July) Sandown – Eclipse Stakes, Newmarket – The July Festival, Ascot – King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, Glorious Goodwood, (August) York – Ebor Festival, (September) Haydock – Betfred Sprint Cup, Doncaster – St. Leger, (October) Newmarket – Cambridgeshire Meeting, Ascot – British Champions’ Day, Doncaster – Racing Post Trophy
National Hunt Racing
The Jump racing season gets into top gear in November as the top stables begin to introduce their best horses. The whole National Hunt season is geared towards the Cheltenham festival in March with ante-post markets available on every race run at the meeting.
The highlight of the festival meeting is the Cheltenham Gold Cup over three and a quarter miles. This is the championship race of the season for staying chasers. The top hurdlers contest the Champion Hurdle over two miles. The other main events of the week are the World Hurdle for staying hurdlers, dominated in recent years by Big Buck’s, the Queen Mother Champion Chase for two-mile chasers and the Triumph Hurdle for juvenile hurdlers.
There are also championship races for novice hurdlers, chasers and bumper horses (national hunt bred horses that have not raced on the flat). The meeting is also packed with competitive handicap races with more money gambled than at any other racing festival. This makes it a must attend for us at racebooksonline.com and other horse racing fans.
The Grand National
The only National Hunt meeting to rival Cheltenham is the Aintree Grand National meeting in April. The four and a half mile steeplechase remains the most famous horse race in the world with massive betting turnover. The race is a handicap but has been attracting a higher class of horse in recent years following various changes to qualification and improved safety. The meeting also stages events that compliment the championship races at Cheltenham in March so many of the top horses run at both festivals.
There are many other significant races throughout the jumping season. The King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day is a level stakes race for the best chasers and was won four times by Desert Orchid and five times by the recently retired Kauto Star. The other big race of the Christmas period is the Welsh National at Chepstow. The Scottish National and Irish National take place later in the season with big prizes and trials for Cheltenham hopefuls almost every weekend in Britain and Ireland.
Selected meetings; (November) Cheltenham – The Open meeting, Haydock Park – Betfair Chase, Newbury – Hennessy Gold Cup, Newcastle – Fighting Fifth Hurdle, (December) Sandown Park – Tingle Creek Chase, Ascot – Long Walk Hurdle, Kempton Park – King George VI Chase, Chepstow – Welsh National, (January) Ascot – Victor Chandler Chase, (February) Ascot – Commercial First Ascot Chase, (March) The Cheltenham Festival, (April) Aintree – Grand National meeting, Ayr – Scottish National, Sandown Park – bet365 Gold Cup
Author Profile: Harvey Mayson+