Guide to UK Horse Racing Types, Grades and Classes

Horse racing types and grades image

Trying to understand the growing list of UK horse racing types, grades and classes? This is for you…

There are only two types of horse racing in the UK. However, those two categories are then broken down into several further sub-sections. You have graded races, group races and a range of different class levels. These different classifications express the quality of horses taking part in the race.

Throughout this article will dissect each of those classes individually and explain the difference between group and graded racing.

If you know what you’re looking for specifically, take a shortcut on the links below:

– Flat Racing Types
– Flat Racing Groups & Classifications
– National Hunt Types
– National Hunt Grades & Classifications

Looking for Strategies? Sign Up Here. Get extra info direct to your inbox now…

Two Types of UK Horse Race:

For those who know nothing about horse racing, the two large types are:

  • Flat Racing (April-October)
  • National Hunt Racing (October-April)

What is Flat Racing?

As the name suggests, this type of horse race takes place on a flat course and does not contain obstacles. The type of ground the horses run on is typically turf, although some are run on the ‘all-weather’. Instead of grass, all-weather tracks are artificially created using Polytrack or Fibresand.

More often than not, the best UK horse races are run on the grass!

2 UK Racing Types for Horses
Image: Left to right shows Flat & National Hunt Racing.

Editors Note: If you’re researching the different race types and grades to assist your betting, it’s a logical line to pursue. However, its more important you get the best price available. To do that, we would advise using a betting exchange. With an exchange, there aren’t large margins built into the price.

You can sign up for the worlds largest betting exchange here (getting a free bet in the process).

Flat Racing Specifics:

Flat horse racing is all about speed, pacing and staying power. For this reason, you’ll find horses that race on the flat are typically younger than their National Hunt counter-parts. You’ll see a lot of 2 and 3-year-olds racing on the flat. Although some compete up to the age of 5, their peak is typically around a year earlier.

The races themselves range from 2 miles all the way down to 5-furlong sprints. To help you visualise how far, a furlong is around two hundred metres long. 

Although flat racing usually takes place in the summer months when the weather is good, it’s one of the biggest betting market influences. A little rain can change the going description easily. Beyond going and distance, the external variables are limited.

The remaining differentiations are man-made, such as race classifications. The British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) is responsible for assessment, discussed later in this article.

Different Types of Flat Race in the UK:

It can get confusing when you first look at a racecard, there are so many different types of race!

Here’s a quick guide to the UK flat race types:

  • Handicap – a race where a horse is designated a pre-determined weight, based on previous ability. In an ideal world, if the ‘handicapper’ has done their job effectively, all horses will cross the finish line together. This race type makes up for more than 50% of UK flat races. Horses can only enter races that refect their handicap range.
  • Nursery Handicap – identical the previous type, this category is handicap racing for 2 year olds.
  • Maidens – created for new horses, maiden races are horses that have not previously won a race. Once the horse wins, it is given a rating and is eligible to take part in handicap races. If the horse should lose 3 times its then eligible to be rated. Young horses take part in maiden races.
  • Classified Stakes – horses eligible to take part in a flat classified stakes race must have run 3 times, or run twice and won once.
  • Novices – horses up to three who have previously won a maximum of two times.
  • Claimers – after a claimer race takes place horses are available to be purchased. Horses must carry maximum weight, specified by the race. If the weight is reduced, the price paid is reduced in proportion.
  • Sellers – loosely speaking these are low-grade races. After, the horses are made available for auction.
  • Auction – this race type is for horses that have previously been sold at a specific auction.
  • Conditions Stakes – conditions races are sorted by select criteria including; age, official rating, sex and weight in relation to age.
  • Amateur – a race created for amateur jockeys only.
  • Apprentice – a category where apprentice jockeys will ride.

It’s not hard to see why understanding the different types of horse race is so important. In terms of betting, you may want to avoid or target some categories.

How Does National Hunt Racing Work?

National Hunt racing is the formal name for ‘jumps’ racing in the UK and Ireland, shown below…

Steeplechase Fence

Races are run over middle-long distance including obstacles such as hurdles, fences and multiple types of ditch. These conditions can be quite testing, making them suited to experienced horses. The age range for National Hunt racing is usually between 3 and 7 years.

Prize money for the winter season is considerably less than the flat, although a National Hunt horse’s career is likely to last far longer. There is more variation in the race make-up too, broken down into 3 distinct race types…

Types of UK National Hunt Races:

Unlike the flat, there are only 3 main types of National Hunt race:

  • Steeplechase Races
  • Hurdles Races
  • National Hunt Flat Races (aka Bumpers)

The names are self-explanatory, although in the interest of being thorough, here are the different types of National Hunt race one-by-one.

Steeplechase Horse Racing

Being held on a racecourse today doesn’t do the history of Steeplechase racing justice. This race type was first recorded in Ireland and is the oldest racing category to be recorded. Jockeys would race their mounts from one Church steeple to another, clearing obstacles as they presented.

Now, racecourses mimic obstacles such as fences and hedges on-course.

As you may expect, there are rules and regulations applicable to obstacles to ensure uniformity from one track to another. Plain fences come in at 1.37m and water jumps are to be a minimum of 0.91m. Open ditches include a ditch on the angle of approach (a more difficult obstacle).

Steeplechase racing is the most stamina intensive style of racing, horses are pushed to the absolute maximum. One thing that runs parallel to this difficult test is the number of injuries and unseated jockeys. Steeplechase obstacles are the most unforgiving, the price of a tough test…

The most well-known Steeplechase race is the Grand National, held at Aintree racecourse once a year.

Brush Fence NH

Hurdles Racing

As the name suggests this race type includes a selection of hurdles that must be cleared, with the jockey intact.

Minimum height for a hurdles race in the UK is 1.07m. However, the hurdles are generally more forgiving than the previously mentioned type. Horses often ‘brush’ through the top of these obstacles, making them less likely to unship their jockey.

While hurdles races are still a fair test for horses, they are usually run at a fair pace. Distances vary although on average they are middle-distance races.

National Hunt Flat Racing (Bumpers)

This is where it can appear confusing to the untrained eye. Although National Hunt racing is over hurdles, there are select flat races throughout the season. Usually, these races are at the front or back of a racecard.

Why? Because they’re not considered to be the most important. Also, this means that prize funds are pretty poor.

The purpose of National Hunt Flat Racing is to break young horses in before they race over Hurdles. Experiencing the track and all that comes with it gives them experience without the additional test of difficult obstacles. It makes perfect sense.

For betting purposes, this means there is less interest. Larger price shifts are more likely.

Extra fact: the nickname ‘bumper’ comes from the riding style of their jockeys. Being inexperienced horses, the jockey’s talent usually matches, meaning they bump and bounce around in the saddle.

Now you understand the different types of horse races, we’ll take a closer look at their respective grades and classifications…

Flat Racing Groups & Classifications

Racing on the Flat is broken down into a Grouping (1-3) and Classification (1-7) system.

This portion of our guide will explain how the classifications and ranking system works on the flat.

How Official Rating’s Work:

To understand race classifications you must first understand official ratings. Official ratings are a score given to a horse depending on its sex, weight, age and historic performance. The higher the number the better quality a horse is considered to be.

Official Rating is also used as a condition for race entry.

  • Group Races 1-3 – group races are at the premium flat races throughout Britain and Europe. You’ll often find the most popular and well-known racehorses in these races (they compete for big money). You will also notice ‘Listed and Conditions’ races. These races could be considered to be ‘Group 4’.
  • Classes 1-7 – races with a classification from 1 to 7 make up the bulk of flat racing. There are varying levels, prize funds and restrictions to class races although the main thing you should know is; the lower the number, the better quality the racing is.

Although it may seem overwhelming at first, the different horse racing classes are extremely logical.

Large Hurdle Horse Race

National Hunt Grades & Classifications

Similarly to the previous section, National Hunt grades and classes work as follows:

  • Grades 1-3 – graded National Hunt racing is reflective of group races on the flat. You have 3 grades, ranging in quality with the lowest numbers being best. Listed races also fall into the bracket by way of 4th position.
  • Classes 1-6 – these classifications represent the bulk of racing with quality ranging from class 6 upwards.
Reading a Race Name:

Now you’ve digested our guide to race types, grades and classes it should be far easier to understand what is on offer.

Here’s a quick example:

7f (7f16y) Baa Brewing EBF Novice Stakes (Class 5) (2yo)

Broken down for simplicity:

  1. 7f is the race distance (around 1.4km in this case)
  2. Baa Brewing EBF is the race sponsors details
  3. EBF Novice Stakes is the race type (see above)
  4. Class 5 is the race qualification as previously explained
  5. 2YO is the age of the horses allowed to compete

Easy, right?

Hopefully, this guide was of use to you, please share any feedback in the comments below.

Don’t forget: betting is about value. The BSP routinely beat the industry on 96% of horse racing last year.

7 thoughts on “Guide to UK Horse Racing Types, Grades and Classes

  1. You must have read my mind as I was looking at the racecards yesterday and thinking I really need to understand the different race types!

    Thank you for such a concise entry, I would never have thought to look for some of the things either. Hope you had a good days trade today I made £37 so I’m happy, still early days for my learning.

    1. Good to hear, Billy. It’s amazing how many people bet on the uk horse racing but don’t even know the difference between race types, let alone grades and classes.

      Keep is steady on the trading and the balance will grow no doubt 🙂

  2. Hi Caan I’ve been picking your brain through watching you tube , got your book on order . Can I pick your brain and ask what is Sl as a race type as within a horses form it may have run in a Sl or for instance SlHcH ?

    1. Hi Billy
      Fantastic read thanks.
      Would I be right in saying that it would be unwise to bet on a horse that has competed in that’s say a class 3 but hasn’t won ,but is now running in a class 2 , surly it couldn’t win a class 2 not having been successfully in a class 3. Can a trainer do this ? Can he enter his horse in any category he wants within the 1-7 classes.

  3. Very minor points on typos which I thought you might like to know about.
    National Hunts Grades etc; Bumpers section Extra fact – talents not tallents.
    Also: Reading a race name – digested not digester.
    Great article, much appreciated.

  4. Hi , is it true to think Junior or Juvenile Hurdle races are not a good betting medium owing to lack of experience etc ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *