Flat racing is, for many purists, the "true" form of horse racing, and is certainly the most popular in the UK. Maybe the weather is a factor in this. The flat season in Britain runs throughout the summer which allows for the best possible conditions. Whereas many jumps meetings have to be cancelled over the winter due to bad weather, flat racing enjoys the best conditions that the UK can offer.
Those who live in the UK may argue that a British summer is no guarantee of favourable conditions, but that's another matter. Overall, it is very rare for a flat race meeting to be cancelled. Better weather usually leads to firmer ground meaning the horses can achieve quicker times.
The fact that there is more public interest in flat racing means there's also more prize money. If you're an owner or a trainer, the flat season is where the big bucks are! There are some very wealthy owners who invest a great deal of money in chasing these big prizes, including the Al Maktoum family, Marwan Koukash and John Magnier.
Flat racing isn't just confined to the UK. Famous races throughout the season occur in almost every continent including Europe, the USA, the Middle East, the Far East and Australia, and the top owners and trainers often ship their horses abroad to compete for the big prize money. Surfaces can range from natural grass, to synthetic “all-weather” surfaces and “dirt” tracks mainly seen in the United States.
Types Of Flat Race
In Britain and across the world, flat races are run over a variation of distances measured in furlongs and miles. One furlong equates to 220 yards or to just over 200 metres - meaning there are approximately 8 furlongs in a mile.
- Sprint races are run over 5-7 furlongs - these usually produce the most exciting finishes. Often there are several horses all in with a chance of winning in the closing stages.
- Middle distance races can cover anywhere between 1m to 1m 4f, requiring a mixture of stamina and speed.
- Stayers races are usually between 1m 6f and 2m 4f. These races require incredible stamina from both horse and jockey. Often the early leaders tire coming into the closing stages and are caught by horses that run a more balanced race plan.
Just like most of Europe, British flat racing is divided up into two separate sections, handicaps and conditions races. A Handicap race is one where the Jockey Club official handicapper has awarded each horse a separate weight to carry – in accordance with their ability.
Owners and trainers do not always agree with the handicap given to their horse, and some have been known to try to outwit the handicapper. This can be done by deliberately making a horse run below its true ability, leading to a lower weight being awarded. The horse can then take this handicap into a high value race and will then look to perform to its full potential.
Conditions races are broken down into another two sections; Pattern races and Listed races. Pattern races include Group 1 races which are the most important races and are respected across the racing world; Group 2 races which although less important than Group 1’s are still considered “international” races and Group 3 race which are mainly key domestic contests.
Listed races fall below the Group races but are still more valuable and significant than handicap events. The biggest flat races of all in Britain are the Classics. The Classics are five races that are each ran once each season, the Classics comprise: the 2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Guineas, Epsom Oaks, Epsom Derby and finally, the St Leger.