Beginners Guide to Horse Racing

Horse racing is an in-depth sport with a wide variety of unusual terms and a host of different races to explore. If you don’t know your colts from your fillies or what races you should be focusing on as a newbie to the sport, this guide will bring you up to speed on the exciting world of horse racing.

Types of Horse Racing

In the UK, there are two distinct branches of horse racing – flat and National Hunt, both branches of racing also have their own offers for what bets you can place on them. Flat racing is the simpler of the two – in these types of races, the horses begin and run either in a straight line or around a curved track until they finish. The winner is the first horse past the post. National Hunt racing is more complex and requires the horses to overcome obstacles such as hurdles or ditches on their way around the track. The latter of these two types can be broken down further into two categories – hurdles and steeplechases. In steeplechases, the horses must jump fences which are higher and more solid, as well as traversing open ditches and water jumps for more excitement, whereas this isn’t the case in hurdle races.

Classification of Races

Both varieties of horse racing include a series of classifications which indicate the prestige of the race as well as the purse value, also known as prize money, and the calibre of the horses involved. Group 1 races are the highest classification in flat racing and attract the very best horses and highest prize amounts, while Group 2 and Group 3 are lower down the ranks, followed by listed races and handicap races. In handicap races, a Jockey Club official sets the weight each horse needs to carry in the race in order to provide the most exciting race – the better the horse, the more weight it is typically expected to carry.


Key Terms to Know

Horse racing comes with a wide vocabulary of terms that may look confusing to an amateur, but there are a few key terms that you should understand when you first start watching races. Once you understand these phrases, you’ll have a better grasp of commentary and how the races operate.

  • Allowance refers to the deduction in weight that the horse needs to carry, which can be a result of the age or gender of the horse, or whether the jockey is an amateur or not. 
  • Chase is a race that is run over fences.
  • Classic races are Grade 1 contests which are open to three-year-olds in the UK. There are five Classics – 2,000 Guineas; 1,000 Guineas; Oaks; Derby and the St Leger. 
  • Colts and Fillies refer to male and female horses respectively. 
  • Novice refers to a race that is for horses which are in their first season in that code of racing, which may have age-specific conditions. 
  • Outsiders are horses which have an unlikely chance of winning, a term which is commonly used in terms of placing bets on horses during races.