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About Horse Racing

Horse racing in the UK is generally of three types, and is a major contributor to the UK economy. Horse racing can be over fences or over hurdles, known as National Hunt racing, or unobstructed distances races, known as flat racing.

Additionally there is another form of racing which is run on an altogether more informal and ad hoc basis, known as point to point racing. Point to point is a form of steeple chasing for amateur riders. It, like professional racing, is nevertheless run under the auspices of the regulator for horse-racing in Great Britain, the Jockey Club, which works in conjunction with the governing authority, the British Horseracing Board.

The UK has produced some of the greatest jockeys, including Sir Gordon Richards, usually considered the greatest ever jockey. There are about five hundred British professional jockeys.


History of Horse Racing

It is thought that the first races to take place in Britain were organised by soldiers of the Roman Empire in Yorkshire around 200 AD, although the first recorded race meeting was during the reign of Henry II at Smithfield, London in 1174 during a horse fair.

It is believed that the first occurrence of a trophy being presented to the winner of a race was in 1512 by organisers of a fair in Chester and was a small wooden ball decorated with flowers.

Early in the 16th century Henry VIII imported a large number of stallions and mares for breeding although it was not until the 17th and 18th centuries that the breeding of thoroughbreds began as we know it now.

Newmarket is known as the home of horse racing in England and James I was prominent in introducing racing there after discovering the little village in 1605 whilst out hawking or riding. He spent so much time there that the House of Commons petitioned him to concentrate more of his time on running the country. This region had a long association with horses going back to the time of Boudica and the Iceni. Around the time that Charles I of England came to the throne, Spring and Autumn race meetings were introduced to Newmarket and in 1634 the first Gold Cup event was held.

All horse racing was then banned in 1654 by Oliver Cromwell, and many horses were requisitioned by the state. Despite this Cromwell him self kept a stud running of his own.

With the restoration of Charles II racing flourished and he instituted the Newmarket Town Plate in 1664, writing the rules himself:

Articles ordered by His Majestie to be observed by all persons that put in horses to ride for the Plate, the new round heat at Newmarket set out on the first day of October, 1664, in the 16th year of our Sovreign Lord King Charles II, which Plate is to be rid for yearly, the second Thursday in October for ever.

In the early 18th century, Queen Anne kept a large string of horses and was instrumental in the founding of Royal Ascot where the opening race each year is still called the Queen Anne Stakes.

In 1740, parliament introduced an act "to restrain and to prevent the excessive increase in horse racing", though this was largely ignored, but in the 1752 the Jockey Club was formed to create and apply the Rules of Racing.

Racing has stayed pretty much the same since with the Jockey Club combining with the National Hunt Committee in 1968 and remain to this day the regulators of racing in the United Kingdom, with the British Horseracing Board, (formed in June 1993) responsible for strategic planning, finance, politics, race planning, training and marketing.

Flat Racing

Flat racing is a term commonly used in the United Kingdom to denote a form of horse racing which is run over a predetermined distance and in which the horses are not required to jump over obstacles such as hurdles or fences as in National Hunt racing. This form of racing is a test of speed and stamina, and the skill of the jockey in determining when to hold the horse back or make it work harder.

Racing takes place on a natural grass surface (turf) or on a synthetic surface (known as "all-weather").
The flat races in the United Kingdom are run over a variety of distances from five furlongs (1006 m) to over two miles (3219 m) and are generally called sprints, middle distance or stayers races.

Racing in Europe is generally on "turf" or grass, while in the US, the more important races are on "dirt" or all weather. In Europe, The two most powerful "teams" are Coolmore Stud farm, most of whose horses are trained by Aidan O'Brien in County Tipperary in Ireland and owned by John Magnier and/or Michael Tabor, and the United Arab Emirates based Godolphin stables, owned by the Sheikh Mohammed and his brothers but based during the summer in Newmarket, England.

How it works

In the United Kingdom, (and the majority of Europe) flat racing is split into two distinctive bands, conditions races and handicaps.

Conditions races are further split into

Pattern races
+ Group 1 - (Classics and other races of major international importance)
+ Group 2 - (less important international races)
+ Group 3 - (primarily domestic races)

Listed races - have less prestige than the group races but are still more important than handicaps.

Handicap races - where the Jockey Club official handicapper gives horses a different weight to carry according to their ability, are the bread and butter daily races although some of these are also quite prestigious.

National Hunt

National Hunt racing is the name given to the sport of horse racing in the United Kingdom where the horses are required to jump over obstacles called hurdles or fences (except in the case of a 'bumper'). The core of the National Hunt season is over the winter when it is not competing with its more glamorous cousin, and the ground is softer and more appropriate for jumping. The horses are much cheaper as the majority are geldings and have no breeding value. This makes the sport more popular as the horses are not usually retired at such a young age. Jump racing is only taken seriously in Britain, Ireland and France. In Ireland the sport is far more popular than flat racing, while in England it is more balanced, but the different seasons mean that most fans of the sport can enjoy both forms of racing.

The horses come from a variety of sources, with many being former flat horses, while others are bred for jumping. National Hunt horses do not have to be thoroughbreds, but most are, and the only ones who are not are tend to be French. Many of the future stars of the sport come through Point-to-Pointing. The name reflects its hunting origins, from which the sport developed. The same skills of jumping ability and speed are required to succeed at both.

The highlight of the National Hunt Calendar is the Cheltenham Festival, which is held at Cheltenham Racecourse every March. Many of the best horses come to the festival, as well as huge numbers of Irish fans. Hundreds of millions of pounds are gambled over the four days. This is regarded as the "olympics of Horse Racing". Other important festivals are the Punchestown Festival - the Irish equivalent , and Aintree's Grand National meeting, The Tingle Creek in Sandown as well as the Scottish National in Ayr and the Welsh National in Chepstow.

Types of race

Chase -
          Run over distances of 2 - 4 1/2 miles.
          Over obstacles called fences that are a minimum of 4 1/2 feet high.
Hurdling -
          Run over distances of 2 - 3 1/2 miles.
          Over obstacles called hurdles that are a minimum of 3 1/2 feet high.
National Hunt Flat race (NH Flat) -
          Are flat races for horses that have not yet competed either in flat racing or over obstacles, often called 'bumper' races.


Point to Point

Point to Point racing is a form of amateur racing for hunting horses. Many of the horses and jockeys will appear in these races before they compete in National Hunt races, usually in Chases. It was created to return to the spirit of the original National Hunt races, which quickly became dominated by thoroughbreds and large prizes.

For many years now the horses running in Point to Points have been thoroughbreds. The horses have to obtain a certificate from a Master of Foxhounds stating that they have hunted for at least 6 days in the season before racing starts in January. Some are fairly hunted, jumping a variety of obstacles and coping with plough and pasture alike but others, sometimes the retired "professional" horses, go to the meet and are just trotted around the roads where the hunt is to be found.

The name 'Point to Point' derives from the early days of the sport, where races could be run from one church spire to the next - literally point to point on the horizon.