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Major Races & Meetings in the UK & Ireland

Horse racing has always been a bettor’s paradise. The thoroughbred scene in the United Kingdom and Ireland showcases some of the best races in the world. Believe it or not, horse racing is the second largest spectator sport in all of Great Britain.

With a season that spans from March to December, there is no shortage of action throughout the year. With some races dating back hundreds of years it comes as no surprise that these sporting events are near and dear to their countries’ hearts.

Many of the races are seen as focal points in both the social and sporting calendars in both the United Kingdom and Ireland. It’s no wonder people are flocking to the gates or their computers to place their bets.

Below you will find a brief overview of some of the major horse races, meetings, and festivals that take place throughout the season in the UK and Ireland. Additionally, more detailed information can be found on each race via the links within their breakdown.

The major races and festival in the UK and Ireland include:

  • 2,000 Guinea Stakes
  • 1,000 Guinea Stakes
  • Epsom Derby
  • Epsom Oaks
  • Leger Stakes
  • Royal Ascot Festival
  • Irish Triple Crown Races
  • The Grand National
  • King George VI Chase
  • Cheltenham Festival
  • Newbury Winter Festival
  • Irish Grand National
  • Punchestown Festival
  • Galway Races

The British Classics

The British Classics are five long-standing horse races run during the traditional flat racing season. Flat races are races contested on flat courses without fences or ditches for the horses to jump over. These five races are restricted to three-year-old horses and traditionally represent the pinnacle of achievement for race horses against their own age group.

The five British Classics are:

  • 2,000 Guinea Stakes
  • 1,000 Guinea Stakes
  • Epsom Derby
  • Epsom Oaks
  • Leger Stakes

The 1,000 Guinea Stakes and the Epsom Oaks are both restricted to fillies only. The 2,000 Guinea Stakes, the Epsom Derby, and the St. Leger Stakes make up what is known as the English Triple Crown and are open to both fillies and colts. An English Triple Crown winner has not been crowned since Nijinsky in 1970.

The races are held at Newmarket (1,000 & 2,000 Guinea Stakes), Epsom Downs (Epsom Derby & Epsom Oaks), and Doncaster (St. Leger Stakes).

The Irish Triple Crown

The Irish Triple Crown was inspired by the English Triple Crown and finds its races sharing the same names. The Irish Triple Crown consists of the Irish 2,000 Guineas, the Irish Derby, and the Irish St. Leger.

The first time all three races were contested in Triple Crown Fashion was all the way back in 1921. Even though it has been nearly 100 years, we have only seen two Irish Triple Crown Winners – Museum in 1935 and Windsor Slipper in 1942.

The Irish Triple Crown is typically spread out from May – September with all three races being held at Curragh Racecourse.

Royal Ascot Festival

The Royal Ascot is the centerpiece of the Ascot Racecourse’s year and is comprised of 30 races that always span five days from Tuesday to Saturday during a week in June. Over 300,000 people make the annual visit to Berkshire, England, during Royal Ascot week.

Among the hundreds of thousands of spectators, Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Royal Family attend every year, arriving by horse-drawn carriage.

The Royal Ascot is a major event in the British social calendar with plenty of press and celebrities on hand every day and millions and millions of pounds in prize money on the line.

The Grand National

The Grand National is a National Hunt horse race held annually at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool in England. Hunt races are the name given to races where horses are required to jump over fences and ditches along the course.

With a distance of over 4 miles and fences that are higher than that of other National Hunt races, the Grand National is one of the toughest and most physically demanding horse races of the season. It has been often referred to as the ultimate test of horse and rider.

An estimated 500 to 600 million people across 140 countries watch the Grand National. The race is popular amongst many people who do not normally watch or bet on horse racing throughout the year.

Cheltenham Festival

The Cheltenham Festival is a meeting in the National Hunt racing calendar in the UK with prize money second only to the Grand National. The festival takes place annually in March and brings out the best British and Irish trained horses that race to an extent that is typically rare during the rest of the season.

The festival is comprised of a number of races, including four championship races – The Champion Hurdle, The Queen Mother Champion Chase, The World Hurdle, and The Cheltenham Gold Cup. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most prestigious chase of all National Hunt races. Chases are races in which competitors are required to jump over diverse fence and ditch obstacles.

The meeting usually coincides with St. Patrick’s Day and is particularly popular with Irish horse race fans.

King George VI Chase

The King George VI Chase is the second most prestigious chase in England, surpassed only by the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Spanning a distance of 3 miles with 18 fences to jump, The King George VI Chase typically takes place on Boxing Day as part of the 32Red Winter Festival.

Newbury Winter Festival

The Newbury Winter Festival is being rebranded as the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival. Taking place at the Newbury Racecourse, the racecourse has entered into a valuable long-term partnership with Ladbrokes. Of the number of races run during the festival in early December of each year, 2017 will be highlighted for the first time by the Ladbrokes Gold Cup.

For the past 60 years, the race was called the Hennessy Gold Cup after its former sponsor. The Gold Cup is a handicap race and one of the most prestigious chase races on the year.

Irish Grand National

The Irish Grand National is a National Hunt chase that is based on the English equivalent the Grand National, though not quite as challenging. It is a handicap race for five-year-olds and up and is scheduled to take place every year on Easter Monday.

Emanating from at the Fairyhouse during the annual Fairyhouse Easter Festival, the Irish Grand National is a 3-mile chase race that is currently sponsored by Boylesports.

Punchestown Irish National Hunt Festival

The Punchestown Irish National Hunt Festival is one of the highlights of the Irish social and sporting calendar. The Festival is considered the grand finale of the jump season and is the major festival of the Irish National Hunt season.

Often regarded as the Irish equivalent of the Cheltenham Festival, Punchestown follows the usual horse race festival schedule of Tuesday – Saturday and takes place in April.

Of the many races held over the five day period, the Punchestown Irish National Hunt Festival features an astounding 10 championship races.

Galway Races

The Galway Races is an Irish horse racing festival that starts on the last Monday in July every year.  Taking place at Ballybrit Racecourse, the Galway Races is widely regarded as the highlight of the summer season in Ireland.

Galway Races is held over 7 days and is one of the longest of all the race meets that take place in Ireland. The Galway Plate and Galway Hurdle are the two most sought-after races of the festival.

How to Take Part

Horse racing in both the United Kingdom and Ireland are big business at the sportsbook. If it’s your first time betting on the races or if you simply are unsure of where to go to place a wager, check out our comprehensive guide to horse racing betting sites in the United Kingdom.

There are plenty of great races to choose from and even plenty of more ways to get in on the betting action.