Types of Horse Racing

The sport of horse racing has a very long history and is incredibly popular in many parts of the world today, largely because of the amount of people that enjoy betting on horse racing. There are records of horse racing events in the ancient Greek Olympics in the 7th century BC, and many believe the sport goes back even further. Horse racing has certainly evolved over time; within the various styles, there are different types of events. On this page, we look at some of the most common types of horse racing that take place around the world.

  • Thoroughbred Horse Racing
  • Flat Racing
  • Jump Racing
  • Harness Racing
  • Point to Point Racing
  • Other Forms of Horse Racing
  • Race Classes and Conditions

Thoroughbred Horse Racing

The most common form of horse racing in the world is Thoroughbred racing. There are several national authorities that govern the sport within their own regions, such as the British Horse Racing Authority in Great Britain. The word "thoroughbred" is often used to describe any horse that is pure bred but, in fact, it should only be used to refer to the Thoroughbred breed developed in England several hundred years ago. At that time, mares (female horses) were crossbred with stallions (male horses) imported specifically for the purpose of breeding racehorses.

It's largely accepted that all, or certainly most, Thoroughbred horses have a breeding history that traces back to one of three horses: Darley Arabian, Godolphin, or Byerly Turk. They were spectacular stallions (all named after their owners), effectively the founding sires of the Thoroughbred breed. Historically, only wealthy individuals owned Thoroughbred horses and they were generally bred and raced by a relatively select number of people. The industry has grown significantly since then, and commercial breeding and training is commonplace in many parts of the world.

Thoroughbreds are typically bred and then sold at public auction or via private sale. Horse owners will generally place their horses with a professional racehorse trainer who will stable, feed, and train them for a monthly fee. Over the years, horse racing syndicates have become popular. A group of people combine resources to invest in a Thoroughbred horse, or horses, for racing purposes. It's possible to make money owning race horses, particularly if yours goes on to win a major race, but it's largely considered to be an expensive hobby.

Although Thoroughbred racing takes place all over the world, it's particularly prevalent in Great Britain, Australia, and the United States. The races are generally run at a quick pace over distances between five and twelve furlongs, and the horses require a good balance of speed and stamina. Thoroughbred horse racing can be broadly divided into two categories: flat racing and jump racing.

Flat Racing

Flat racing is the most common form of Thoroughbred racing in the world. It has long been a major sport in the countries mentioned above, as well as France, and more recently has become well established in places such as Dubai, Japan, and other Asian countries. As the name suggest, racing takes place on a flat course, and the surface is usually turf or dirt. Synthetic surfaces are also used at some racecourses. As a point of fact, some of the most famous horse races in the world are run on the flat, such as the Kentucky Derby, the Melbourne Cup, the Epsom Derby, and the Dubai World Cup.

Jump Racing

Jump racing is very popular in Great Britain, Ireland, and France, but less so in other parts of the world. Due to the obstacles that the horses must jump, including hurdles, fences, and ditches, the sport is somewhat more dangerous than flat racing. Jump racing in Great Britain and Ireland is officially known as National Hunt racing and is divided into two distinct codes: hurdles and steeplechases. (You can read more about National Hunt racing on the following page: Horse Racing in Great Britain.)

In the United States, jump racing, also known as steeple chasing, is divided into hurdle races and timber races. This form of horse racing in Australia has stopped for the most part, other than in a couple of areas, because of welfare concerns. The Grand National, held at Aintree in England, is probably the most famous of all jump races.

Harness Racing

Harness racing is another form of horse racing in which horses pull a two-wheeled cart (known as a sulky). It's not as commonplace as Thoroughbred racing, but it's a reasonably popular sport in its own right. There are two different types of harness races. Trot races are most common in Europe while the faster pace races are typical in America and Australia. A particularly famous harness race is the Prix d'Amérique, held annually in Paris, France.

Point to Point Racing

Point to point racing is essentially amateur National Hunt racing. These races are run over fences in Great Britain and Ireland. The horses are mostly Thoroughbreds, although there are some member races with different entry requirements. In Ireland, point to point racing is basically a proving ground for future National Hunt horses. In England and Wales, they tend to feature horses that have already participated in National Hunt races that are now nearing retirement.

Other Forms of Horse Racing

In addition to the forms of horse racing mentioned above, there are a few other types. In some parts of the world, Arabian horse racing takes place, featuring horses bred specifically for stamina. This branch of the sport is governed by the International Federation of Arabian Horse Racing Authorities. Another form of racing that commonly features Arabian horses is endurance racing. It generally takes place over much longer distances, sometimes over 100 miles, but there are also shorter distance races as well. Finally, Quarter Horse racing is short-distance racing (typically a quarter of a mile, hence the name) run by the horses at a fast sprint speed.

Race Classes and Conditions

Most horse races, particularly Thoroughbred, can be further categorized by their class and conditions. The quality of a race can be defined by its class. For example, the horse racing in the United States has graded stake races with the most important classed as Grade I. In Australia, the most important races are Group 1. Races defined by specific conditions include maiden races for horses that have never won a race, and claiming races for horses that are all for sale around the same price.

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