Types of Horse Races

Horse Races can mainly be categorised into Flat Races and National Hunt Races and the following is a breakdown of the various types of Races.

FLAT RACING
These races are run over distances ranging from 5 furlongs (5/8 mile or 1000 metres) to 20 furlongs (2 1/2 miles or 4000 metres) and are started from stalls. As the name suggests, there are no obstacles in flat racing.
The flat racing season runs from mid-March to mid-November. Flat horses mature quickly and start running as 2 or 3-year-olds. The Curragh in Co. Kildare has been the headquarters of flat racing in Ireland since the early 18th century and according to history the ancient Celtic Kings held racing there.

Types Of Flat Races

FLAT MAIDEN
A race for horses that have not won a flat race before. These races are normally confined to an age group. A 2-Y-O maiden is for horses aged 2 year old only that have not won a race while there are also 3-Y-O maiden races and ones for older horses as well.

FLAT HANDICAPS
A race in which the weights are calculated by an official assessor (called a handicapper). The better class horses carry the highest weights while the lesser class horses carry lower weights with the top weight generally being 10st extending down to a bottom weight of 8st 4lb.
A Nursery is a handicap for 2 years old only.
Each flat horse normally receives a rating from the Official Handicapper after he has raced at least 3 times and he can then enter a handicap. Ratings generally go from as low as 47 to as high as 120+. The flat handicaps normally have a top and bottom rating and some of the typical types of handicaps are listed as follows:-
47-60, 50-70, 50-80, 60-80, 60-90, 60-100, 70-100
Horses rated above 100 can run in handicap races but generally don’t as they would have too much weight to carry. These horses can be aimed at listed and pattern races.

CONDITIONS RACE
A notch below listed standard, there are certain conditions for qualification. Sometimes these races are confined to winners of one race, winners of two races, winners of races of a certain value or from a certain date. Previous winners generally have to carry extra weights in terms of penalties.

LISTED/PATTERN RACE
These races are more valuable races and generally attract the better class horses. A horse would usually be rated above 90 to compete in listed races and the weights would include penalties for winning certain types of races. A Group 3 race is a slight step up from listed level with horses generally rated 100 taking part while a Group 2 race attracts horses rated from 100 to 115.
The most prestigious and important races are Group 1 races. These are very valuable races and the winners of these races generally become stallions at the end of their careers or, if they are fillies, they become valuable broodmares when they retire. There are 12 Group 1 races in Ireland at the moment with five of these called Classic races.

NATIONAL HUNT OR ‘JUMP’ RACING
All jump races are contested over at least 2 miles and the horses have to jump a number of obstacles. This makes for spectacular viewing.
These races are started from a tape barrier. Jump horses mature more slowly and don’t run until they are 4 or 5-year-olds. Jump racing goes on all year round but its main season runs from November until the end of April. Some flat horses also run in jump races when they get older. Jump Racing can be broken down into three categories:

STEEPLECHASES
Run over “fences” which vary in size. The word steeplechase was coined in County Cork in 1752. Two gambling men, Edmund Blake and Cornelius
O’Callaghan wanted to settle a bet as to whose horse was faster. So they organised a race across country from the steeple of the church in Buttevant to that of St Mary’s in Doneraile. Hence the name, which is often shortened to “chase”.

HURDLES
Run over obstacles measuring about 3 feet 1 inch in height.

POINT TO POINT
Run over fences on designated farmland throughout the country in the Spring and Autumn. This is basically the nursery for young jump horses and many champions have emerged from this circuit.

Types Of National Hunt Races

BUMPER
A special type of flat race for horses beginning their national hunt careers. These races are confined to horses aged between 4 and 7, run over a distance of at least 2 miles up to 2 1⁄2 miles, and ridden by Qualified Riders (amateurs). A horse can only race in a maximum of six bumper races unless he wins one in which case he can race in winners bumpers, but as these races are viewed as introductory races, the competitors normally go hurdling or steeplechasing as soon as they can.

MAIDEN HURDLE
A race for horses that have not won a hurdle race or a steeplechase but they
may have won flat races or bumper races.

BEGINNERS STEEPLECHASE
A race for horses that have not won a steeplechase but they may have won
hurdle races, bumper races or flat races.

NOVICE
A novice hurdle is for horses that have not won a hurdle race before the start of the season. A novice steeplechase is for horses that have not won a steeplechase before the start of the season

HANDICAP
Just like the flat, there are handicap races for hurdlers and for steeplechasers with the better class horses carrying the highest weights (usually 11st 12lb) right down to the lower class horses carrying
a minimum of 9st 10lb.

CONDITIONS RACE
Similar to the Flat, condition races have certain qualification requirements with penalties applying to previous winners. There are races confined to horses that have not won more than one hurdle/ steeplechase or two hurdles/steeplechases while other races may have qualifications concerning the value of previous races won.

LISTED/GRADED RACE
Much like the pattern races on the flat, these type of races attract a better class of horse. There are Grade 3, 2 or 1 races with the highest value races being the Grade 1 events. There are no penalties in Grade 1 races and some of the bigger ones in Ireland would be the likes of the Irish Champion Hurdle
or the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

Some Graded races are used as a stepping stone to the famous Cheltenham Festival in mid-March and invariably when a horse wins a Graded race, one of the first questions their connections are asked will be
concerning whether the horse will be going to Cheltenham.