Horse Racing Ground & Track Types Explained: Full Guide

UK Horse Racing Track Types

Understanding Horse Racing when you’re new to the sport can be difficult. The Ground, or ‘the Going” as some call it, is one of the most important aspects in horse racing. Alongside the type of track that the horses run on.

In this article, we’re going to explain everything. By the end of reading this article you will know;

  1. All Ground Types.
  2. All Track Types.
  3. How The Ground is Determined.
  4. Why Ground Types Are So Important.
  5. The Importance Of Understanding Ground Types And Track Types.

Horse Racing Ground Explained

There are so many variations of what types of ground horses can race on. To break it down simply; Firm is the hardest the ground can be, and Heavy is the softest the ground can be.

There are lots of variations in between but in a nutshell, the more it rains the softer the ground.

The official goings for British turf courses are:

  • Firm (Fm)
  • Good to Firm (GF)
  • Good (Gd)
  • Good to Soft (GS)
  • Soft (Sft)
  • Heavy (Hy)

Before we explain all of them, note that it’s possible to have two types of ground in one description. For example, Good to Soft, Soft in places. This means that the track is mainly Good to Soft, but there are places of Soft ground along the way.

The most important factor to remember is the more it rains the softer the ground.

Firm (Fm) Ground

If we had no rain, the ground would be classed Firm. This isn’t as common as it once was because the racecourses now water their course to “keep the ground safe.” Basically, take the impact out of the ground so that less injuries occur. You will normally get this type of ground in the summer months. Firm ground means horses can run faster, and that’s usually when track records are set.

Good to Firm (GF)

After Firm ground, we have Good to Firm. This is when we’ve had enough rain (or watering) to take most of the firmness out of the ground but it’s still on the fast side. This is a lot more common than Firm ground because racecourses water the ground. Especially if there is no rain forecast.

Good to firm ground

Good (Gd)

This is when we’ve had enough rain to take all of the firmness out of the ground. It’s fair to say that this is the best type of ground, and usually the type of ground that suits most horses. It’s easy to run on for horses and produces big fields because it’s the fairest type of ground. Of course, you may have horses who like really Soft ground. However, they could still race on Good ground.

In comparison to Firm ground where they would have to withdraw. Good ground is the most common type of ground at all racecourses – it’s just the perfect ground to race on.

Good to Soft (GS)

Next up is Good to Soft Ground. This is simply Good ground that is holding more water. It’s as simple as that!

We usually get this type of ground at the start and towards the end of the jumps and flat seasons (out-of-season ground usually). It would suit the majority of horses. The only horses that struggle with this are those that run better on firm ground.

Soft (Sft)

This is when we’ve have had rain and it’s softened the ground, but the track can take more. Soft ground is very common in the jumps season. When we get more wet weather and it takes longer to dry out.

Horses will find this ground a lot harder to run on than Good ground, and the races will be much slower because of that. There are however horses that excel on soft ground and it would suit them better than racing on Good ground.

Heavy (Hy)

Heavy is the worst the ground can be – the most rain that the track can take as fallen without resulting in the race being called off. This is when a horses stamina is tested to the max and it’s a real struggle to run on Heavy ground. A very select number of horses would love this ground, but for most of them, it’s a real challenge and a tough day at the office!

Other Types Of Ground You Should Know…

Understanding the ground can be as simple or as difficult as you like! But it really is easy once you break it down. There are some other terms you should know before going any further:


This is unique to Irish Racing. It’s basically the same as Good to Soft in the UK but not quite as close to call it the exact same.

You will see variations like “Good to Yielding” or “Yielding to Soft” in Ireland; Yielding is just a fraction less than Good ground and it is quite common to see Yielding in the ground description in Ireland. It would more than likely fall between “Good” and “Good to Soft” on the list in the UK.

Wolverhampton AW Course

All Weather Going:

All Weather Racing has different ground!

Most All Weather tracks are made of sand, among other more advanced components. Depending on the weather the track can change – this won’t be a huge change when compared to the turf courses. However it is still worth noting.


This is when the surface is dry and there is very little moisture in the sand. The track is fast and the horses can run faster, setting faster times.


This is the description for most All Weather meetings. Basically the track is riding how it is supposed to be; the ground is completely optimal and has perfect conditions.


This means that the track has a lot of moisture in it and it is slightly harder work for the horses than usual. You will only see this after a lot of rain, or when we get snow during the winter.

So now you have all the ground descriptions, you’re probably wondering how they decide what to call the ground each day!

How The Ground Is Determined

In the past, the clerk of the course would walk the track on the morning of the race meeting and select which type of ground we had. That system worked pretty well for a while but as technology advanced it always came into question. Since we have started timing races, people used to often question the clerks decision. Then we had the introduction of The Going Stick.

The Going Stick was introduced in 2007 but made mandatory for all British racecourses in 2008. It reads how much moisture is in the ground and produces a number. These numbers will fall into a category and the ground will be determined based on that.

Going stick measure ground

The device measures the amount of force needed to push the tip into the ground and then the amount of energy needed to pull the stick back to a 45 degree angle. The Going Stick is only used on turf courses, the clerk of the course will still decide what the ground description will be.

Why Is The Ground So Important?

The Ground is the single most important factor in horse racing!

Think about it, for horses to run to their best they need their favourite conditions. If a horse likes Heavy ground then they just aren’t going to perform to their best on Good ground.  Or at least it’s much more unlikely to happen!

People within racing usually determine which type of ground a horse will enjoy by their knee action. A high knee action will usually enjoy Soft ground. This type of action is usually described as “grabbing at the ground” or an exaggerated knee action. On the other side of that, a low knee action will enjoy Firm or fast conditions. These horses won’t pick their knees up as much and run with faster action.

Obviously, like with everything in life, there can be exceptions. Horses are not machines after all and horses can enjoy the opposite ground than their knee action will suggest. There are also horses who can run their race on any type of ground. Every horse is a different individual at the end of the day. However the knee action rule is a good standard to start with.

Track Types Explained

Another huge factor in Horse Racing is the track.

Even if a horse has their preferred ground, we also have horses who like certain tracks. Obviously this isn’t as common as horses to have a preference for ground. However it is still something we should be aware of!

Betfair Event Black

Right hand and Left-hand Tracks

Every track will have a way which the horses turn around the bend. You might think this is minor but for some horses, it’s actually a very big deal. Especially in the jumps season. you will see horses jumping out the “wrong” way and that costs them massive ground. Jumping left on the right-hand track or vice versa just gives away ground and at the elite level, you just can’t do that.

Right hand or left hand preference is less common in flat racing, but it does still happen. A lot of flat races take place on a straight course. But there are horses out there who perform much better going right or left handed. To sum up; this is definitely something to be aware of in jumps racing. It can be easily viewed by the horses jumping.

Flat And Stiff Tracks

You will hear racing commentators calling certain tracks flat and stiff. This is very important in relation to a horses stamina. A flat track is usually one where it’s easy to run on and you need speed. (It will suit horses who are short on stamina and have more of a turn of foot). The opposite happens on stiff tracks. (You more than likely have an uphill finish and it’s tough work for horses to finish their races).

Places like Sandown and Kempton are good examples of a flat track.

It’s a small flat ring and it will suit the speedy types. Whereas the likes of Chepstow and (the now gone!) Towcester are great examples of stiff tracks. They are big, open and have long uphill finishes that saps the stamina from horses. Obviously all tracks are different but some horses will really love certain tracks.

You might even find that courses with two tracks that are completely different even though they are the same place! Cheltenham is a good example of this. The inner track will suit the speedy types while the outer track will be more of a test. You might have the same ground and trip, but the layout of the track can really shape a race differently.

Combining Ground And Track Analysis For Sports Betting

A lot of work goes into getting the ground and track right for horses. Owners and Trainers will always be trying to get their horses to run in the conditions that suit them the best. You should take the time to look into race times more because they can tell you a lot about a race.

The times of each race will always tell you what the ground is riding like. Is it faster or slower than standard on the “official” ground. Professional Punters and Traders put a huge amount of work into getting these decisions right. It’s worth the time putting the work in to find an edge in the markets.

Often sports bettors will consider the form of the horse without looking at the conditions they performed on. Being able to identify the ideal conditions for a horse to run in, can be the difference between a bet that has a lot of value and one that has none.

After this reading article you should now have a much better understanding of horse racing ground and track types. This knowledge can really push you forward with your horse racing betting and trading!

Related: All Weather Racing Surfaces Explained (Polytrack, Fibresand & Tapeta)

4 thoughts on “Horse Racing Ground & Track Types Explained: Full Guide

  1. Please tell me how many mm of rain is required on average to render a Turf race track un raceable. Can the rainfall average measured give me an average indication of what the penetrometer reading would be? e.g. overnight rain of 13mm would probably give me a pen reading of X which would be not suitable for racing. The reason I am asking is that in Kwa Zulu Natal, racing is often postponed due to slightest of rains, which is possibly due to poor tracks and not because of the amount of rainfall.

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