The sport of horse racing has a long and extensive history and is massively popular in many parts of the world today, largely because of the amount of people that enjoy the betting side of horse racing. There are records of horse racing events in ancient Greek Olympics in the 7th century BC, and many believe the sport goes back even further than that. Horse racing has undoubtedly evolved over time, with different types of horse racing events.
The name is pretty self-explanatory. Unlike National Hunt racing, flat racing does not require horses to jump over an obstacle. Without the thrills, spills and general uncertainty that come with hurdles, flat racing is seen by many as a purer form of racing in which races are ultimately decided by the horses’ speed and stamina and the jockeys’ skill and judgement are tested more effectively.
Flat racing in the UK varies in length from five furlongs (1,006m) to over two miles, with the shorter races being categorised as sprints and the longer distance named as ‘stayers’ and the rest as middle distance races. Most of the races carrying high levels of prestige such as the five British Classics tend to be over the middle distances.
This type of racing can be run over natural grass, known as turf or a synthetic surfaced dubbed the all-weather surface and there are different categories of race based on their based importance.
The most popular and highest regarded racing on the flat surface in the British calendar are the five classics, with Royal Ascot in London being the primary flat racing festival of the year, with the Queen often in attendance throughout the week.
National Hunt Racing
With the risk of complicating and confusing, there are some National Hunt races that are held over flat courses, these are called ‘bumpers’. These types of races are designated for horses that have not previously raced on either flat or over hurdles or fences; therefore it gives them some experience before attempting a hurdle.
However, the vast majority of National Hunt racing can split into one of two branches: hurdles and steeplechases. Hurdle races require horses to jump over hurdles, which as generally constructed so that a horse can crash into the top of barrier and would be unlikely to fall of succumb to injury. They are built to a minimum height of three foot.
While steeplechase horses must negotiate fences, but also open ditches and water jumps. The fences are constructed with more solidity and height than hurdles- often natural bushes are used and less forgiving, meaning horses must jump higher and cleaner to avoid a fall.
The majority of the National Hunt season in the UK takes place between autumn and spring, when the ground in generally softer to minimise the possibility of the horse being injured in the event of a fall. As with flat racing, National Hunt races are graded according to their importance, with grade 1’s attracting the best horses, jockeys and trainers.
Both hurdles and steeplechasers are divided into categories based on their age and the experience of the horse, while also taking into account the distance over which the race is being run. Steeple chasing has novice and open categories while hurdles also has the same two categories and also juvenile.
Juvenile races are open to three-year old horses if the race takes place between October and December. Novice races are only open to those horses that have not yet won a race at the beginning of the current jumps season, while open races, as you could guess, has no restrictions. If a horse is yet to win a race, it is referred to as a maiden while there are also maiden races for such losers.
The biggest of all the National Hunt meetings is the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with the four day Cheltenham Festival in March being the biggest meeting in the jumps calendar with all the top-quality horses and jockeys there for the week.