Types of Horse Racing

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For someone who is new to racing, understanding the difference between the many types of horse racing and the jargon that goes with it can be confusing and overwhelming. 

Today I am going to go over the various different types, classes and conditions of races to give you a better understanding of the races themselves and subsequently help you better evaluate a horses chances of winning a particular race.

All horse races can be broken down into two main categories. These are Flat Racing and National Hunt Races.

Flat Racing

types of horse racing flat racing

Starting off with a simple one that is fairly self explanatory. Flat Racing is any race where the horse is not required to jump over any obstacles (with the exception of bumper races, which we’ll get onto shortly)

Flat Races in the UK can vary in length with the shortest being 5 furlongs and longest being over 2 miles.

You may hear the shorter races being referred to as sprints, anything around the 1.5 mile mark being referred to as middle distance and the longer races being referred to as stayers.

Track Surface

Flat racing can either take place on a turf course or an All Weather course.

Turf racing is when the horses race on a grass surface and All Weather racing is when the horses race on an artificial man made surface.

Synthetic tracks allow racing to still take place when the weather is poor, hence the name, All Weather.

The materials used for All Weather tracks differ from course to course but the most common All Weather surface in the UK is Polytrack which is a mixture of silica sands, synthetic fibers and rubber.

It is important to consider what type of track surface a horse ran on in previous races when looking at their form.

Just because they ran well on Polytrack doesn’t necessarily mean they will run well on a different All Weather surface such as Fibresand.

National Hunt

National Hunt races generally involve the horses jumping over obstacles such as fences or hedges as they race round the track.

The two different types of jumps races are known as steeple chases and hurdles races.

The National Hunt season takes places over the Winter months as the ground is usually softer and easier on the horses when jumping, usually starting in October and ending in the following April.


types of horse racing national hunt racing

A steeplechase is a distance race where the horses must jump over large fences which must be a minimum of 4 and 1/2 feet.

The most famous of these steeplechase’s is the Grand National which  is held at Aintree every April where the horse jump over 30 fences across a distance of 4 miles and 3 1/2 furlongs.


Hurdles also involve the horses jumping over obstacles but these differ from steeplechases as the hurdles are smaller and only have to be a minimum of 3 and 1/2 feet high.

As well as being smaller than fences, hurdles tend to have a little give in them making it easier for the horses to finish the race without falling.

Bumper Races (NH Flat)

A bumper is the only type of National Hunt race that does not involve a horse jumping over obstacles.

Bumper races are ran under the same rules as a jumps race. The traditional purpose of a bumper race is to get horses used to the distance and conditions of National Hunt racing before they enter a hurdle or steeplechase.

Horse Racing Classes

Flat Racing and National Hunt racing are split further into separate classes signifying the skill level of the horses competing and the importance of the race.

These classes range from class 1, which is the highest level of horse racing, all the way down to class 7.


Handicap races involve horses with varying degrees of skill and are made to carry weight in order to handicap them.

How much weight a horse is required to carry can be determined by what handicap rating they have, their gender and their age. A horse must either win a race or run 3 races and place in the top 6 to be given a handicap rating.

A horse with a low handicap rating will carry less weight than a horse with a higher handicap rating. A horses handicap rating can be updated weekly and will be increased or decreased based on how the horse has preformed in it’s most recent races.

In a perfectly handicapped race all the horses would cross the line at the same time.


This is a handicap race which is limited to 2 year old’s only.

Non Handicap

In a non handicap race the amount of weight horses are required to carry is not intended to give every horse and equal chance of winning.

Instead the weight a horse carries is determined by certain conditions of the race. For example the conditions of a race might state that if a horse has won a race within the last season they must carry additional weight.

Maiden Races

Horses who are yet to win a race are known as maidens.

Maiden races are generally the main starting point for a horses career.

If a horse wins they can go to enter more competitive races, however, if a horse fails to win a maiden races time and time again the horse will likely be retired from its racing career.

Novice Races

A novice race is a National Hunt race for a horse who has not won a particular type of race prior to the start of the current National Hunt season.

A novice who goes on to win a particular type of race will still remain a novice until the end of the season.

For example, a novice horse who has never won a hurdle race before goes on to win a hurdle race near the start of a new National Hunt season.

That horse can then continue to enter and win novice hurdle races for the remainder of the season.

The next again season the horse would no longer be able to enter novice hurdle races but if they were yet to win a steeplechase they would still be able to enter novice chases.

Juvenile Races

Juvenile races are limited to 2 year olds only.

An interesting thing to note is that all horses turn two on the 1st of January, two years after the year the horse was born.

For example if a horse was born in the year 2012, they would officially be considered 2 years old on the 1st of January 2014.

Claimers and Sellers

The horses in claimers and sellers races are all up for sale. However there is a slight difference between claimers and sellers.

In a claimers race the owner will enter a horse to carry a weight in which he feels the horse can run competitively. The weight the horse runs at will affect the eventual sale price of the horse with money being deducted for carrying less weight.

In a sellers race the price is not directly determined by the weight the horse carries and is instead just sold to the highest bidder after the race.

Understanding Types of Horse Racing

Hopefully you now should have a basic understanding of the various different types of horse racing and some of the terminology that is commonly used.

It is crucial to have a good understanding of the type of race a horse is competing in order to gauge what chance the horse has of winning that race.