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Flat Racing in the UK & Ireland

Flat racing is one of the two main types of horse racing that take place in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the other one being National Hunt racing.

The term flat refers to the fact that races of this type take place on courses where there are no obstacles for the horses to jump.

As such, flat racing is basically all about speed.

On this page we have provided a few details about flat racing in the UK and Ireland, covering aspects such as how the races are classified, the important races and the major courses.

Overview

The main flat season takes place from spring until the autumn, although there are some races at other times of the year too. The vast majority of courses are turf surfaces and races are run over varying distances.

They can be as short as five furlongs (just over 1,000 meters) or as long as over 2 miles. Only Thoroughbred horses can take part and they typically begin their racing careers as two year olds.

In Ireland, National Hunt racing is far more prevalent but in the UK the two codes are more balanced in terms of number of races and popularity.

Flat racing is, generally speaking, considered more prestigious though.

The prize money certainly tends to be higher. The very best horses are considered very valuable and some are retired as early as the end of their three year old racing season for breeding.

Classification of Races

There are two primary categories of flat races in the UK and Ireland; conditions races and handicaps. Conditions races are the higher quality ones, and any weight that the horses are required to carry is determined by the specific conditions of a race.

The conditions of a race, and therefore the weight carried by the horses competing in it, typically relate to the age, sex and ability of a horse.

Conditions races are further classified at different levels based on additional criteria, such as their relative importance and the size of the prize pool. This classification is carried out on an annual basis by the European Pattern Committee.

The highest level is Group 1, followed by Group 2 and then Group 3. Then there are listed races, which are just below the standard of Group 3s.

Approximately 50% of all the flat races that take place in the UK and Ireland are handicaps. These are somewhat less prestigious, but they are important for gamblers and most horses have to prove themselves at this level before stepping up in class.

In these, the weight carried is determined by an official handicapper in an attempt to effectively equalize the ability of all the competing horses.

Within the main handicap category of race, there are other types too. These are as follows.

  • Nursery (for two year olds only)
  • Maiden (for horses that have not won)
  • Novice (for two year olds that have not won more than twice)
  • Claimer (races where the horses can subsequently be bought for a fixed price)
  • Apprentice (for apprentice jockeys only)
  • Amateur (for amateur jockeys only)
  • Lady (for female amateurs and apprentices)
  • Gentlemen (for male amateurs only)

All Weather Racing

Most flat racing in the UK and Ireland is done on the turf but there are also a few courses with synthetic surfaces. These are known as all-weather tracks and they are a relatively new development to racing in the region, with the first one having been introduced in 1989.

The idea was that they would provide options for when the weather was too severe for turf courses.

All-weather racing now plays an integral role in the flat scene, although it does tend to involve lower quality races. There are four all-weather tracks in the UK – Lingfield Park, Kempton Park, Southwell and Wolverhampton – and one in Ireland – Dundalk.

The British Classics & The English Triple Crown

There are five Group 1 races held in the UK that are considered to be the most prestigious, and they are referred to as the British Classics. They all have a long history and each one was first run over 200 years ago.

Three of them make up the English Triple Crown and winning all three is considered one of the greatest possible accomplishments for a Thoroughbred. Only 15 horses have ever achieved it, the last one (Nijinsky) in 1970

The three races that make up the English Triple Crown are as follows. For additional information on them, please follow the links.

The other two British Classics are as follows and we have provided additional information on both of these too.

Irish Triple Crown Races

There is an Irish Triple Crown as well, which is basically modeled on the equivalent in England. It has only been achieved twice, once in 1935 and once in 1942. The three races that form the Irish Triple Crown are as follows.

  • Irish 2,000 Guineas
  • Irish Derby
  • Irish St. Leger

Major Flat Racecourses

Below we have listed some of the most important racecourses for flat racing in the UK and Ireland. Please note that some of these tracks host National Hunt racing too.

UK Flag IconUnited Kingdom
  • Ascot
  • Ayr
  • Chester
  • Doncaster
  • Epsom
  • Ffos Las
  • Goodwood
  • Newmarket
  • Windsor
  • York
Ireland Flag IconIreland
  • Curragh
  • Dundalk
  • Laytown
  • Leopardstown
  • Galway
  • Limerick