Different Types of Horse Races in the UK and Ireland

Updated: 10178 Learning

Learn about every type of race from National Hunt to Flat racing, stakes, handicaps, and prestigious racing festivals in the UK and Ireland

Different Types of Horse Races in the UK and Ireland
Andy Powell Content Editor

Horse Racing stats man, Andy has contributed to OLBG for 18 years - An Ipswich fan and F1 fanatic, he also contributes EFL football and Motor Sport opinion.

This ultimate guide shines the spotlight on the diversity of types of horse races within the UK and Irish circuits, from the spirited hurdles of National Hunt to the elegance of Flat racing. Whether you're a seasoned enthusiast or a newcomer, understanding each type will enhance your appreciation of the sport's heritage and assist in deciding which types you might ant to bet on.

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Ready for the races? 🏇 Dive into our guide to understand all types of horse races in the UK & Ireland! From National Hunt's hurdles to Flat race elegance to the year-round all weather season. 🐎🏆

There are many different types of horse race and to a newcomer it can be hard to tell the difference as all types of race can attract either small, medium or large sized fields. It is worth taking the time to learn the different types of race as most punters stick to only two or three types of race to bet on as they learn to specialise. Finding which types of race are most likely to make a profit for you can be the key to making a long term profit in horse racing, or at the very least minimising losses.

Group Races /Graded Races

In the 1970's to avoid the best European and UK horse races clashing, the powers that be across Europe came together to create a calendar of elite races. 

This framework for these elite races became known as The Pattern. 

These Group/Graded races are run with horses carrying the same weight. 

Group races are the top level of flat racing. 

On the flat there are Group 1, 2 and 3 races with Group 1 being the highest class and these races are usually only contested by the very best horses. 

Group 1: UK Group 1 : Republic of Ireland
1000 Guineas Flying Five
2000 Guineas Irish 1000 Guineas
British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes Irish 2000 Guineas
British Champions Sprint Stakes Irish Derby
Champion Stakes Irish Oaks
Cheveley Park Stakes Irish Pretty Polly Stakes
Commonwealth Cup Irish St Leger
Coronation Cup Leopardstown, Irish Champion Stakes
Coronation Stakes Leopardstown, Matron Stakes
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Group 1

Ascot and Newmarket hold the most Group 1 races in the UK. In Ireland the Curragh stages the greatest number.


Graded Races in the UK are National Hunt races.

In National Hunt there are Grade 1, 2 and 3 races with Grade 1 being the highest class, called Championship races.

Grade 1 National Hunt UK Grade 1 National Hunt Republic of Ireland
Aintree Hurdle Arkle Novice Chase
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle Champion Four Year Old Hurdle
Anniversary 4YO Juveniles Hurdle Champion INH Flat Race
Arkle Chase December Grade 1 Novice Chase
Ascot Chase Deloitte Novice Hurdle
Betfair Chase Down Royal, Champion Chase
Bowl Chase Drinmore Novices Chase
Celebration Chase Dublin Chase
Challow Novices Hurdle Fairyhouse, 2m4f EBF Mares Novice Hurdle
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Many of the Group and Graded races are covered in detail by the OLBG Betting Experts in the dedicated horse racing blogging section

Listed Races

A listed contest is a race that falls below Group races in terms of prestige and quality, but is still considered significant. 

Listed races attract quality horses and can be a stepping stone to Group 1, Group 2, or Group 3 events.

Listed to Group 1

Chindit trained by Richard Hannon won its maiden and then a listed race in 2020. It then mixed its runs between other Listed contests and Group (1,2,3) company. It won two Group 2 and two Group 3 races.

The prize money is generally below Group or Graded races but can be significant.

They aren’t usually restricted to horses of a certain official rating but horses that have won at a higher level will have to carry a penalty, the weight of which depends on the level of that win.

Listed races are run over a variety of distances and surfaces, age restrictions can also apply. 

Looking to find a Group horse running in a Listed race can be lucrative. 

You may hear that some horses are targeting ‘black type races"and this means they will need to place at listed level at the very least. 

If a horse wins a high quality race its name will be printed in "black type" capitalised letters, this indicates the quality of the horse for future races and breeding purposes. 

Placed horses in these high quality races are indicated by uncapitalised black type.

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Conditions and Classified Stakes

Conditions Race

A conditions race is open to horses meeting specific conditions set by the race organisers. 

These races are designed to attract a certain calibre of horse, it could be horses that have not won more than a specific amount of prize money or fillies only races.  

The prize money can be excellent. 

The specific conditions for each race are outlined in the race conditions published by the racecourse or racing authority.

Conditions Stakes tend to be of a higher quality than Classified races. 

Conditions Race

Conditions races are horse races in which the weights carried by the runners are laid down by the conditions attached to the race, as opposed to official handicap ratings.

Classified Race

This race sees a horse assigned a weight based on past performances or the class it has run in previously. 

This ensures competitive racing because the conditions of the race will group horses of similar ability. 

To qualify for a classified stakes a horse needs to have run at least three times or run twice with at least one victory.

Both races will have a ceiling rating so the horses closer to that ceiling rating should be advantaged by the weights. 

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Handicap Races

Most days’ racing will be dominated by handicaps, races that pit horses of similar abilities together, usually to ensure a competitive betting heat.

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The weights are decided by a horse’s official rating, a horse rated 80 will carry 2 lbs more than a horse rated 78. 

The class of the handicap will be determined by the ceiling rating of the race, for example a handicap may be for horses rated up to an official rating of 95.

The most famous race in the world, the Aintree Grand National, is a handicap. 

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In some handicaps you may notice a ‘long handicap’ and this is when horses do not have a high enough rating to run off their correct weight in the class of the race. 

The amount of weight they would carry if running off their correct mark will be displayed below the race card usually in the long handicap section.

Handicap Races

In 2023 there were just under 7000 handicap races in the UK, this represented around 70% of all races.

Although some handicaps have small fields, handicaps will usually feature bigger fields and the amount of runners will determine the number of places and place terms for each way bets.

Handicaps with 16 or more runners are often considered to have the most favourable each way terms with four places being paid at a quarter of the odds whilst at least 8 runners will be required for bookies to pay a third place.

No. of Runners (Under Orders)Race TypePlace Terms
2 - 4All RacesWin Only
5 - 7All Races1/4 Odds - 1st 2
8 - 11All Races1/5 Odds - 1st 3
12 - 15Handicap1/4 Odds - 1st 3
12+Non-Handicap1/5 Odds - 1st 3
16+Handicap1/4 Odds - 1st 4

Handicaps can also be the most versatile type of race, you can find selling, maiden, apprentice, amateur, lady rider, gentleman rider and listed handicaps throughout the racing calendar.

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Maiden Races

Nearly every horse starts life in a maiden race. 

These are for horses who are yet to win a race and the class of the maiden will give an indication of the sorts of race the horses are going to be competing in later in their career.

Some horses win their maiden quickly, others may take years before winning. 

A horse qualifies for a handicap rating once it has either won a maiden or run three times.

Not all maiden runners will end up in handicaps, some will spend their careers running in better races


Nursery Races

Nurseries may sound an odd type of race but they are simply handicaps for 2 year olds (the youngest age group at which a horse can compete). It may also be known as a Juvenile race.

Novice Races

These races are designed for inexperienced horses learning their craft and are open to both 2 years olds and 3 year olds who have not won more than twice. 

Horses are no longer eligible for some novice events once they have raced more than a specified number of times.

Over Jumps, a novice chaser/hurdler is a horse which has not won a chase/hurdle race respectively before the end of the previous season .

Many National Hunt horses start Novice Hurdling before stepping up if the trainers consider it suitable for Chasing.

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Selling Races

Poor races where the winner must be offered for auction immediately after the race. 

Horses that do not win the race can be claimed at a value set by the trainers of the horses that were beaten.

Claiming Races

These races usually attract a lower class of horse than most other races and what makes these unique is that all the horses running in the race are effectively up for sale and can be bought after the race has been run.

What differs between selling and claiming races is that in sellers horses will usually run with an allotted weight whilst in claimers the weight is determined by the auction price set by connections, the higher the auction reserve the higher the weight the horse has to carry. 

Occasionally a ‘better’ horse will drop down to claiming or selling company as a confidence booster and they can go off very short prices. 

Apprentice, Amateur, Lady Rider or Gentlemen Rider Races

If you see a race marked with any of the above it means it is restricted to  only that type of jockey. 

Apprentices are riders who are yet to win 95 races under rules but unlike other races, they don’t ride with their usual claim, 

The weight they ride under is decided by whether or not they have ridden a winner and whether or not they are riding for a retained yard or owner.

What is a Retained Jockey?

A retained jockey is a professional horse racing jockey who is under contract with a particular stable or owner to exclusively ride their horses in races.

In amateur only races the weights carried will be higher than usual as amateur jockeys usually weigh a couple of stone more than professionals.

Further Reading

You'll probably find that you end up betting on just one or two types of race for most of your bets as you find what you are best at. 

Specialisation can be quite important, whether it is the type of race or the distance. 

OLBG member nors has written:

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The Horse Racing Blog pages are packed with helpful tipping and betting information. 

The Horse Racing Tips section is the place to visit for the latest win and each way tips + a guide to all the UK and Irish racecourses. 

To take advantage of any free Horse Racing bets check out that dedicated page. 

FAQ

  • How do you bet on horse racing online?

    Betting on horse racing online is as easy as going into a higher street betting shop. in fact, it can be deemed an even easier, as you don't have to make the trip. You do need to register for an online account after choosing the betting site you want to use. Horse racing is very popular, so it is easy to find on the ap, select the race and the horse you want to bet on and choose your stake. you will have a betslip and can confirm if the details are correct. 

  • What is the best way to bet on horses?

    Many an expert and professional gambler will tell you the best way to bet on horse racing is by making single bets either on the win or place markets. Once you begin to combine selections into bet, the probability of winning becomes lower, the strike rate lower and odds larger. Whilst this can lead to bigger wins, it is also harder to make a slow and steady profit than by betting on singles alone.

  • Can you bet on a horse to lose?

    It is possible to bet on horses to lose. This was once the reserve of the bookmaker, but the betting exchanges offer the opportunity to bet like a bookmaker and many online betting sites now offer the option to bet on a horse not to win. When betting on a horse to lose, you offer the odds on the exchanges to people wanting to bet that the horse will win. This is different from bookmaker sites where the option is will the horse win the race, Yes or no.

  • What types of bets can you make on horses?

    From betting on a horse to win a race there are a huge number of other options on the types of bets you make on horses. From two selections creating doubles, or trying to predict the first and second place finishers known as a forecast or exacta, there are dozens of types of bets you can make on horse racing.

  • How often does the favourite horse win?

    The favourite horse in a race will win around about 30% of the time in all races. This is of course a fluid figure and will fluctuate between other factors such as the course, month of the year or on different types of ground. It is worth investigating more specific favourite winning statistics on racing stats websites where you may be able to find where favourites win more or less often than the general 30% figure to find a betting angle.

  • What are the best horse racing tips today?

    The best horse racing tips today are the selections receiving the most predictions from OLBG's horse racing tipsters. The free horse racing tips designated with a crown denotes the number of experts making this selection. Experts are the OLBG horse racing tipsters with the best level stakes profit (LSP) for horse racing tips over the last 12 months. 

  • When will horse racing tips for tomorrow be available?

    The free horse racing tips for tomorrow are available to view now, tipsters begin placing their selections from the afternoon of the day before race day. Horse racing tips are added up to around 15 minutes before the scheduled start time of the race, tipsters may add tips early if they consider the available odds on offer to be good and expect them to shorten.

  • Should I only use free horse racing tips?

    We believe you do not need to pay for selections from other subscription services as we have daily free horse racing tips here from OLBG's expert horse racing tipsters. Our tipsters compete for generous prize money in our monthly horse racing tipster competitions so they do not need to sell their tips. Our tipsters current profit figures covering up to the last 12 months are shown with their racing tips today and every day so you can see who are performing well with their horse racing tips and choose who to follow.

  • Do you have lucky 15 horse racing tips?

    Yes, we have daily Lucky 15 horse racing tips which can be found on our Accumulator Tips list. The selections are the most popular each way horse racing tips today from the best profit performing horse racing tipsters on OLBG. The daily Each Way Lucky 15 tips are available from around 10am (GMT), if you wish to use the selections in a Lucky 15 win bet that's fine. You can also build your own Lucky 15 bets by using our acca tool to select the best selections from the free horse racing tips on OLBG.

Responsible Gambling

Whatever horse race you bet on, responsible gambling should always be to the forefront of your thinking. We have created  a range of betting articles to assist you with this approach.

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Author

OLBG betting experts Andy Powell and Nigel Skinner researched, collated and formatted the above article. Both have been betting on the turf for many years and bring their wealth of accumulated horse racing knowledge to OLBG. 

Andy Powell

Andy Powell

Content editor

Andy has contributed to OLBG since 2005 and has been covering racing trends for several years looking to find betting angles in the big races both in the UK and abroad, He has an interest in numerous sports for which he manages many of our event previews, particularly horse racing, providing trends and stats looking for betting strategies.

👨‍🏫 Specialist Subjects🔬📚

🏇 Andy was part of an independent team of horse racing punters including Steve Madgwick, who developed a bespoke horse racing rating system in the early 2000s. Andy has meticulously continued to rate every runner and collect results from every race every day since. When it comes to horse racing and numbers Andy is our man. 

⚽ He remains a staunch Ipswich Town football fan and never misses a game, gaining a deep knowledge of the English Football League. 

🏎️🏁 Outside of horse racing and football, Andy also enjoys spending his weekends following Formula 1. His dedication is such that he doesn't mind setting alarms for odd hours to catch both qualifying sessions and the races. 

🏈 🏒 Parallel to these interests, Andy also possesses a keen interest in American sports with a particular affinity for the NFL and the NHL. He follows the Pittsburgh Penguins, emphasizing his broad palette for diversified sporting events.

Nigel Skinner

Nigel Skinner

Blog content manager

Nigel is one of OLBG's senior editors with 19 years of industry experience. Today he specialises in researching and writing about the betting angles to political and mainstream news stories and being the OLBG in-house expert on 'next football manager' betting markets.

Specialist Subjects🔬📚

⚽️👨‍💼 Nigel is an Arsenal fan first and foremost but has an unrivalled knowledge of English football managers at every level. Meticulously putting together our Next Manager articles, Nigel can quite possibly name you every manager of every club in the land, not to mention a pretty good eye for predicting replacements when changes happen. 

📈📊📉 A long-time exchange trader and spread betting fan, Nigel is our go-to for advice on the subjects and uses them daily in his own betting activity. 

🗳️💼 Finally, Nigel loves his politics and [some would say] has an unhealthy interest in the day-to-day events in the UK's political landscape, contributing to all our Political betting content and new pieces.

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