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Types of UK Horse Races

When you first start betting on horse racing, you'll notice that there are a number of different types of race that you can bet on, be that using bookmakers free bets or not.

Below is our comprehensive round-up of all the different types of horse races that you're likely to come across when betting on horses at the bookmakers that we feature.

The Steeplechase

Steeplechases are usually run over a distance of between 2 and 4 miles and have larger jumps than those in a Hurdle.

The jumps on a Steeplechase course must be at least 4.5 feet high and are fixed, so that they don't collapse like those in a Hurdle.

Steeplechases are therefore more suitable for more experienced horses and horses cannot take part in Steeplechases until July 1 in the year of their fourth birthday.

The most famous Steeple Chase in British horse racing is the Grand National, which is held annually at Aintree Racecourse. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is also a Steeple Chase.

The Hurdle

Hurdles are run over a minimum distance of 2 miles but can be run up to about 3 miles.

The jumps in a Hurdle race must be at least 3.5 feet high but they tend to be smaller than jumps in Steeplechase races and collapse more easily.

Therefore, Hurdles tend to be more suitable for less experienced horses than Steeplechases, although horses cannot take part in Hurdles until July 1 in the year of their third birthday.

Famous Hurdle races include the Stan James Intermediate Hurdle which is held at Newbury's Hennessey Meeting, and the Champion Hurdle which is held at the Cheltenham Festival.

The All-Weather Race

All-weather horse racing is a relatively new type of racing in the UK.

Horses race in purpose-built all-weather racing stadiums on artificial ground. Although all-weather races can be run throughout the year, they are generally run in the winter.

There aren't many all-weather tracks in the UK at the moment, but more are being built so all-weather races are likely to become a more regular feature of the British horse racing calendar.

The Jump Race

Jump Races are also often known as National Hunt races and are races in which horses have to jump over obstacles such as fences, ditches and water jumps.

Traditionally the jump-racing season has taken place during winter and spring, but nowadays the season runs for longer than this.

The Flat Race

Flat races are races in which the horses race over a long stretch of grass with no fences, open ditches or water jumps. The season runs throughout the summer and autumn.

Flat-racing courses are usually shorter than jump-racing courses. Epsom is a flat racing course.

Although flat racing, jump racing and all-weather racing are the three main categories of horserace in the UK, there are also many other types of race that you will come across within these categories.

Handicap Races

In handicap races, horses of different abilities compete against each other, so in order to make races fairer and more entertaining, each is allocated a weight to carry depending upon its ability.

In most cases, the handicaps are based on a horse's official rating, which is checked after each race it takes part in and may change depending on how well it has done.

The ratings are stored on computer at Weatherby's, and when a horse competes in a handicap race, the computer allocates an appropriate handicap, which is checked by official handicapper.

The official handicapper allocates handicaps to competing horses that don't have official ratings.

The horse with the highest rating is allocated the top weight available, and all other horses are allocated weights in comparison to that depending on ability.

Bumper Races

Although National Hunt races are usually jump-races, there are also National Hunt Flat Races, known as “bumpers” and usually feature young horses to give them experience.

Traditionally, bumper races also tended to feature amateur jockeys, but now you will find experienced jockeys competing as well.

The most famous bumper in British horse racing takes place at the Cheltenham Festival.

Amateur Races

A horse race which is only open to amateur jockeys. You can spot an amateur rider on your race card because his or her name will be prefixed by their title, e.g. Mr, Mrs, Miss etc.

Claiming Races

Claiming races are races which are essentially used to buy and sell horses as the horses running in a claiming race can be bought (or “claimed”) by another trainer after the race.

In claiming races, the trainers effectively give their own horses a handicap of their choice, as the horses are weighted to reflect their perceived value.

Claiming races are used primarily to give horses a chance to win, as the current owner can also claim the horse for themselves at the end of the race.

However, they are becoming more popular as a genuine way of selling racehorses.


Point-to-Point races are steeplechases which are only open to amateur jockeys.

The Point-to-Point season runs from January until June each year. Sometimes Point-to-Point races can provide you with an indication of the horses likely to be future jump-racing stars.

Hunter Chases

Hunter chases are steeplechases which are only open to horses which have been hunted regularly and are qualified to compete in point-to-point races.

Apprentice Races

Apprentice races are only open to apprentice jockeys. Apprenticeship to a stable is the first stage in becoming a flat-racing jockey.

The jump-racing equivalent of an apprentice is known as a conditional jockey.

Apprentices are sometimes allowed to claim weight allowances depending on the rules of the specific race and their own racing experience.

Novice Races

The term Novice race is usually applied to National Hunt jump-races, and means that the race is only open to horses that have not won that particular type of race prior to that season.

Conditions Race

In this type of horse race, the horses carry set weights depending on specific factors such as their age, sex and racing history. Races not classed as handicap races are conditions races.

One of the most famous conditions races is the Epsom Derby. Conditions races are also sometimes referred to as Weight-for-Age races.

Stakes Races

Stakes races are races that are usually run by experienced or high-quality horses and generally provide high prize money. They normally require an entrance fee for horses and riders to be able to compete, which is used to increase the size of the prize fund.