Horse Racing Betting Sites & Offers

Horse RacingHorse Racing is responsible for pumping nearly £5 billion into the UK economy each year and is estimated to employ over 100,000 people, whether directly or indirectly. In Britain we have up to around 7000 thoroughbred horse owners and that race in 10,000 races each year, equating to about 100,000 runners.

Each year in the UK alone it is said 7 million people attend race meetings and over 400 million people globally. As a consequence every betting site worth their salt provide horse racing markets and more importantly horse racing offers – 12 million people placed horse racing bets last year in the UK, higher than any other sports market. The money floating around in this industry means you are seriously never short of a deal, especially for big meetings and races.

In this guide you won’t find gimmicky temporary deals, rather we only list horse racing promotions that add proper value to horse racing bets in the long term. Further down we also discuss the best racing bookies sites along with a guide to betting on horse racing. For high profile race meetings through the year we also list short term offers our horse racing events pages.

All offers discussed on this page are open to all customers. Visit our Free Bets page for high value introductory offers for any event specific enhanced odds sign up promotions visit our home page. The very latest offers are listed below and detailed regular offers can be found below.

Best Odds Guaranteed & Live Streaming Bookmakers

Bookmaker Best Odds Guaranteed Live Streaming Other Claim
racebets UK, Ireland, UAE & South Africa Yes, Worldwide, 40+ Countries, 2x More Than Any Other, No Bet Needed Best Global Racing Offers, Racing Specialist
T&Cs apply 18+
betfair UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I, UAE, Australia, Singapore & Latin America, min bet £0.50 Free Bets 3/1+ Winners in all live ITV races
T&Cs apply 18+
Coral UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I, USA + Dubai, min bet £1 Insurance & Free Bet Offers
T&Cs apply 18+
Betfred UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I & Select Global, min bet £1 Lucky Bonuses & Totepool
T&Cs apply 18+
BetVictor UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I & South Africa, USA + UAE, min bet £1 Best For Value and Fairness
T&Cs apply 18+
Ladbrokes UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I & USA, min bet £1 Boost Your Own Odds
T&Cs apply 18+
William Hill UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I and South Africa, min bet £1 Bonuses for Winners
T&Cs apply 18+
888 Sport UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I, min bet £1 Best for Enhanced Odds
T&Cs apply 18+
Boylesports UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I and South Africa + USA, min bet £1 Daily Racing Promotions
T&Cs apply 18+
Paddy Power UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I, USA, Europe, UAE, Australia, min bet £1 Money Back 2nd & Extra Places Daily
T&Cs apply 18+
Totesport UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I & Select Global, min bet £1 Home of Tote Betting
T&Cs apply 18+
Betway UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I, South Africa, USA, min bet £2 ITV Racing 2nd Place Refunds
T&Cs apply 18+
10Bet UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I, £1 Insurance & 2nd Place Deals
T&Cs apply 18+
betbright UK + Ireland Yes, UK+I, £1 Beaten by a Head Stake Return
T&Cs apply 18+
138.com UK + Ireland No Good Each Way Odds
T&Cs apply 18+
Genting UK + Ireland No Serious Casino Sportsbook
T&Cs apply 18+
Sport Nation ITV Racing No Big Stakes Bookie
T&Cs apply 18+
itv racing
ITV Televised Horse Racing Promotions

UK and Irish horse racing broadcast on ITV or ITV4 attracts the very best betting offers from risk free bets for winners to money back if your horse loses. if you are betting on any live racing don’t just place your wagers with any old bookie, take a look at our ITV racing offers page to find some hugely valuable deals that will seriously add to your winnings over time.

Horse Racing Free Bets and Bonuses

ITV Racing 4/1 Offer

Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on any race televised live on ITV Racing and you can have a risk free bet to the same stake (up to £50*) on the next race broadcast live on ITV Racing. This offer applies to the FIRST single bet placed by a customer on each race shown live on ITV Racing.

If your risk free bet also wins at odds of 4/1 or more, you qualify for a risk free bet on the next race televised live on ITV Racing. Keep backing those winners and bet365 will keep giving you risk free bets! If your risk free bet loses, your stake (up to £50*) will be refunded to your account.

This offer will not apply where a stake has been fully Cashed Out. Where a stake has been partially Cashed Out, any refund amount or subsequent risk free bet amount will be equal to the remaining active stake. If a qualifying bet is edited using our Edit Bet feature, any refund amount will be equal to the new stake and not the original stake. Where a risk free bet is changed using Edit Bet, no refund will be given and the offer will no longer apply. Where more than one selection in the same race is placed on the same bet slip, the first selection is deemed to be the one which is highest on the bet slip. Offer applies to bets placed on Win and Each-Way Fixed Odds markets and Enhanced Place Terms markets only. All other markets, including adjusted place terms (Each Way Extra), Ante-Post bets and Tote/Pari-Mutuel (bets and dividends), are excluded from this offer.

Bets must be placed in the usual way and can be paid for from either your Withdrawable Balance or Bet Credits. Bets placed from your Withdrawable Balance will be refunded to your Withdrawable Balance and bets placed with Bet Credits will be refunded as Bet Credits.

*or currency equivalent T&Cs apply. Only available to new and eligible customers.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
2 Clear – 15% Flat Racing Win Bonus
william hill 2 clear flat racing win bonus

For all ITV races live on TV, along with several selected daily races and big races abroad, William Hill will pay a 15% cash bonus on winnings if your horse wins by two or more lengths. Singles only, selected markets.

Bonus is paid on winning up to £100 extra as a free bet and can be claimed on every eligible race. Free bets are generally awarded within one hour and remain valid for 4 days, they can be used on any sports markets. See our 2 clear page for more.

Only bets placed after 17.30pm the day before race will qualify, player restrictions, free bet rules & terms apply.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
Free Bets for 3/1+ ITV Winners

Betfair’s great value ITV racing deal is back. Simply pick any horse at 3/1+ (fixed price or SP) in an ITV (or ITV4) race and should it win get a free bet equal to your original wager up to £25.

You can claim this in every single ITV race. The free bets are generally given to customers withing 2 hours of the end of the race, they then remain valid for 48 hours and can be used for anything in the sportbook, not just racing.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
High 5 - 15% Jump Racing Win Bonus

For a select National Hunt meetings every day, including all races live on TV (ITV & ITV4), Hill’s will give all punters whose horse wins by five or more lengths a 15% winnings bonus up to £100 extra in free bets. Singles only, selected markets.

No stake minimum to qualify. If you bet £1+ on the race you will qualify for streaming. 6+ runners must participate in a race for this offer to count.

Free tokens are given within 1 hour in general, or by midday the following day at the latest. They can be used on any markets or selections with 4 days. Only bets placed after 17.30pm the day before race will qualify, player restrictions, free bet rules & terms apply.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
Lucky 15, Lucky 31 & Lucky 63 Bonuses
betfred lucky all correct bonus

Betfred owner Fred Done invented the Lucky 15 in the 1970’s and to this day the bookie are still the place to go for Lucky 15, 31 and 63 bets on horse racing.

Should you get your lucky bet all correct then as standard you will get an unlimited cash bonus of 10% for a Lucky 15 or Yankee, 20% for a Lucky 31 or Canadian and 25% for a Lucky 63 or Heinz bet. Back an all correct Lucky from Betfred’s listed Super Bonus Races and those bonus amounts jump to 15%, 50% and 100% respectively.

If your bet goes the other way and you only got one selection correct then Betfred will give your 3x the odds on that pick for a Lucky 15, 4x for a Lucky 31 and 5x for a Lucky 63. These offers also apply to greyhound racing. The offer is also available from sister brand Totesport.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
Odds Boost, All Races Select Meetings
ladbrokes odds boost through the card

This fantastic promotion from Ladbrokes allows you to pick one horse in each race at a selected daily meeting and boost your own odds.

This applies to stakes up to £50 with all winnings in cash. You don’t need to rely on finding price boosts or searching endlessly for the best odds, Ladbrokes give you the choice what prices you boost. This is in addition to their standard odds boost that lets you boost any bet you like once per day.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only

Horse Racing Money Back and Insurance Offers

Money Back 2nd All Live ITV Races
betway money back 2nd itv racing

If betting on high level racing it is hard to see why you would bet anywhere else other than Betway.

For all races shown live on ITV (with six or more starters), Betway will pay your stake back, as a free bet from, if your horse finishes second in any qualifying race.

This applies to all win bets (and win part of any each-way bet) from a minimum of £5 (or £2.50 each-way) up to £20, with odds above 1/2.

Customers can claim up to £60 in refunds in any given day.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
Beaten By a Length – Flat Racing Season
coral beaten by a length uk flat horse racing money back offer

For the UK and Irish flat season Coral run their ever popular money back on horses beaten by a length or less on all selected races.

Money back as a free horse racing free bet up to £5 (min bet £1) valid 48 hours. Last season Coral awarded over 100,000 free tokens so definitely a good value deal. Applies to all ITV races as well as selected races and meetings daily.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
Faller Insurance – Jump Racing Season

During the jump racing season Coral have been reliably providing faller insurance for many years, and with up to 1/20 horses falling this is can give a lot of value to regular racing punters.

Select meetings, usually covering all of the major ITV racing, get money back if your horse falls, unseats the jockey or is brought down, applies to win stakes from £1 up to £25. Money back as a free bet by 12pm next day, valid for any racing over the following 24 hours. No limit to the number of free bets or fallers you can claim on. Best and most reliable faller insurance offer around.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
Faller Cover (jump) / Money Back 2nd (Flat)

10Bet are very reliable for daily racing offers, whatever the season. During the flat season over the summer in the UK and Ireland you can get your stake back as a free bet up to £10 if your horse is second to the starting price favourite in one meeting each day.

During the jumps season get faller insurance for all races in one selected meeting each day, again up to £10. Free tokens are valid for a week and can be used on any horse racing at odds between 4/5 and 7/1. 10Bet cover all the top level meetings making these good offers if you are likely to place small win bets on these races any way.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
Faller Insurance (Jump Racing)
888 Sport Faller Insurance for Horse Racing

888 Sport offer faller insurance each year without fail for one UK or Irish race each day during the National Hunt jump season.

Get your money back on any £5+ win bet for any races in the qualifying meeting if your horse should fall, unseat its jockey or be brought down by another runner. Maximum refund of £25, returned as a free bet token within 72 hours, valid for 7 days, can be used on any sports or markets.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
Run For Your Money – Fair Terms

This insurance isn’t really an offer at all, rather it is one of the best and most reliable features from a very honest and professional bookie.

With most betting sites once your horse has come under starters orders it is classed as a runner and should for any reason your horse loses all chance before it gets going you would simply lose your stake. With BetVictor however you will get your stake back in cash, to any amount, including all markets, if this happens.

Should the horse whip around, fail to come out or basically lose all chance at the start then you will get a refund. There is no gimmick attached to this, it is simply a good deal from a top racing site. The feature is applicable to all UK and Irish racing.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only

Free Jackpots and Predictions

Lucky 7 - £100,000 Jackpot Weekly

There are few offers that are completely free to play, no bets required or deposits needed, yet pay out such a high jackpot amount as the Lucky 7 prediction game from William Hill.

To play you simply need to be a customer of William Hill.  The game is played weekly, usually for Saturday races, and requires you to pick the winner in seven races selected by the bookie.  Predict all the winners correctly and you can win (or share if several winners) £100,000 in cash.  If nobody gets all 7 right there is a £1,000 consolation prize for highest placed account.  For more terms and for more about the offer read more below.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
4 To Win - Win up to £10,000
betway 4 to win free horse racing prediction game

Another great reason to have a Betway account, and a clear signal as to why they are one of our top betting sites for loyalty.  Each day predict the winner of four selected races.  If you win get a grand in cash or if on a Saturday £10,000.

You also need to predict the total winning distant from the four races.  Should you then tie with somebody else the closest guess will win.

All you need to play this game is a Betway account, no actual deposits or wagers needed to qualify.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only
Jackpot Freeroll – £5,000/£10,000
Racebets Jackpot Free Roll, £5000 Daily Prize

Pick the winners of selected races and you could win, or share, £5000 (or £10,000 on a Thursday). This is free to anyone with a RaceBets account who has deposited and bet at least £10 in the past.

Predict the winner of six races and answer a themed multiple choice question. Guess all correct along with the answer to the question and you can win the cash jackpot.

T&Cs Apply, 18+ Only

Major Meetings, Races and Festivals

cheltenham festival
Biggest festival of the jump season, takes place over 5 days in March
grand national
Three days of racing at the Aintree Festival but all eyes are on the National
scottish grand national
Ayr racecourse hosts the two day Scottish National Festival in April each year
irish grand national
The Irish National is the feature event of an entire three-day Easter Festival
guineas
Two of the oldest of the five classic races to mark the new flat season
st leger
The St leger is the oldest and longest classic held at Donacster in September
derby
Epsom hosts the Derby and Oaks classics at the start of June each year
royal ascot
Five days in June of elite horse racing watched by the best dressed in the land
july festival
Celebrating top level flat racing & summer at Britain’s most historic course
goodwood
It’s the quintessentially British festival, 5 days at the end of July
ebor festival
This 4 day mid-summer meeting hosts the richest handicap race in Europe
british champions day
Flat season finale with 5 Champions Series finals including Champion Stakes
cheltenham open
National Hunt season gets underway proper in this November family meet
winter festival
Traditional boxing day & 27th festive meeting featuring King George Chase
welsh grand national
Traditionally run on the 27th December at Chepstow, a very fun & festive race

Best Horse Racing Bookmakers

A Horse racing specialist, more markets and promotions than anyone else. By far the best for international racing depth and features.
Best for Lucky and full cover bets, bonus offers, money back second flat season, faller insurance jump season. Traditional racing bookie.
Better places than anyone for biggest races, unique markets such as lengthen the odds. Fairest terms, e.g. money back horse doesn’t run.
Best faller insurance in jump season then beaten by length flat season. Top notch streaming (£1+ bet/race) and huge range of daily markets.
Free bets for winners offer for televised and other races, each way edge markets and the best cash out system for live racing. Exchange and fixed odds markets.
Big racing sponsor with 2nd place offers for televised and other races and other more quirky offers around the really big race meetings + live stream.
Win Bonuses for winning by a certain length in both the flat racing and jump racing season, plus one of the best for news, form and results.
Massive amount of enhanced lines daily, excellent racing features from cash out to live broadcasts. Always a good offer on.
Daily price boosts and extra places, you will always find a deal with Laddies. Huge range of stats, lines, features, news and streams.
All the racing offers at some point in the season, including beaten by length, refund if your horse falls, money back 2nd and many more.
Modern horse racing betting site form the old and famous Tote. Best for Totepool bets and associated offers. Great ante-post markets too.
Stake Back Second in a meeting daily + beaten by a head for flat racing and horse faller cover for national hunt racing.

Horse Racing Betting Guide

Non-Runners and Disqualification

guideHorses fail to start the race all the time for many reasons, including last minute injuries, jockeys failing to turn up, indeed horses failing to turn up, overweight, underweight, disqualification, etc.

This of course can have an impact on your bet if you’ve backed a non-runner. If you bet on the day of the race, once early prices have been released (generally around 9am) and your horse doesn’t run then you will get your stake back, in cash.

If, however, you’ve backed a horse ante-post (more than one day before the race) it is highly likely your bet will not be returned. Not all bookmakers will do this, and for the biggest races (e.g. Grand National) many do offer non-runner no bet on ante-post markets. It really is worth checking however as dropout rates can sometimes exceed 5% or more.

Ante-Post

Given the fact that many bookies will not pay you out for non-runners with ante-post betting what is the point of placing them? Well it is about weighing up the market. Backing a horse very early, before much money has been staked, means you can sometimes get much better odds than waiting for the day itself. It is up to you to balance the chances of that horse not running with the potential gain in price.

Ante-Post bets also generally do not qualify for best odds guarantees, so if the price goes the wrong way and the starting price is higher you won’t get that better price.

Starters Orders

Once a horse comes under starters orders (this means they are in the stalls or at the start line) then your bet is now live. This means if for some reason your horse now fails to start, whips around or refuses to run you have in effect lost your bet.

There are however some bookies, such as BetVictor, that have offers such as ‘Run for your Money’, they will refund your stakes if this happens and so for regular racing punters betting with someone like this will pay off over time.

Stewards Decision

The race steward will make the final decision on the winner of a race and on any disqualifications. All bookmakers adhere to these rulings, so if the race steward says the winner is disqualified then the bookie will have to pay you out on the second place and places will be adjusted.

Some of the better betting sites will payout on both the original winner and the winner following a steward’s enquiry. For long term racing value, it really pays off to bet with someone who provide favourable terms like this.

Rule 4

Odds of Non-Runner Percentage Deduction Pence in £
1/9 or lower 90% £0.90
2/11 – 2/17 85% £0.85
1/4 – 1/5 80% £0.80
3/10 – 2/7 75% £0.75
2/5 – 1/3 70% £0.70
8/15 – 4/9 65% £0.65
8/13 – 4/7 60% £0.60
4/5 – 4/6 55% £0.55
20/21 – 5/6 50% £0.50
1/1 (Evens) – 6/5 45% £0.45
5/4 – 6/4 40% £0.40
8/5 – 7/4 35% £0.35
9/5 – 9/4 30% £0.30
12/5 – 3/1 25% £0.25
16/5 – 4/1 20% £0.20
9/2 – 11/2 15% £0.15
6/1 – 9/1 10% £0.10
10/1 – 14/1 5% £0.05
14/1 or higher 0% £0.00

Rule 4 is a very old rule designed to give a standardised means of adjusting odds prices if horses do not run. This is part of a set of rules (12 in total) that govern how bookmakers should treat bets when various circumstances happen.

Obviously when pricing a horse in a race the odds are relative to the chances of winning, which in turn related to the size of the field and the quality of the other horses in the race. If the odds on favourite pulls out of a race and you’ve backed a 10/1 outsider for example, then it stands to reason that this horse now has a greater chance of winning than the 10/1 you were given. Rule 4 therefore is used to reduce the odds of the remaining horses in the field to reflect the new likelihood of a win.

The lower the odds on the horse that pulls out the higher the level of deduction on the rest of the field. If an out and out favourite pulls out, at odds of 1/9 or lower, then the payout on all other horses in the race will be reduced by 90% or 90p in the pound. This rate then decreases (see table), with a 10/1 withdrawn horse resulting in just a 5%, or 5p in the pound reduction. Any horse that withdraws from a race with odds over 14/1 will have no effect on the other odds.

Some bookmakers have done away with the 5p rule (Ladbrokes for example). This means if a horse between 10/1 – 14/1 withdraws from the field then your odds will not change. On balance, for regular punters, it makes sense to bet with a bookie like this.

If multiple horses withdraw from a race the Rule 4 effect is cumulative up to a maximum deduction of 90%. Rule 4 only applies up to starters orders. If a horse comes under order but then doesn’t run the race your odds will stay at the original level.

If you have taken a money back offer and the race comes under Rule 4 terms the stake itself returned to you will not be reduced.

Payout Levels

The maximum you can win on a horse race varies between bookmakers, and within this varies between the grade or class of race. The example below is from a high limits bookmaker, renowned as the highest payers in the industry:

Top class 1, group 1 or grade 1 flat and jump racing carry the highest payouts, up to a few million with the bigger operators. The lower the classification the lower the payment cap in general and some lower class or amateur racing can have limit as low as £1000 payouts. Something to beware of if you are a big bettor or like to go for outsiders in low classification races.

This also applies to foreign races, when betting on racing outside the UK and Ireland it is worth checking the terms and conditions as bookies vary wildly. A good option for international racing is a specialist such as Racebets, who have the most markets and generally the best terms.

Starting Price vs Fixed Odds

Is it better to take the starting price (SP) or the odds offered at the time of placing a bet? With almost all top bookmakers now providing best odds guarantees it makes sense, if betting on the day, to always take the fixed odds.

Best price guarantees mean that if you back a horse, on the day after early prices are issued, and the SP is higher than you will automatically be given that higher price. Of course, of the SP is lower you retain your originally higher fixed odds. In this scenario, it really is worth always taking the price given when placing the bet.

If you are not betting with a best odds guaranteed bookie, then you really should be. A list of those who offer the feature can be found further up this page.

Tote and Totepool Betting

the tote ireland markets

Tote is a type of pari-mutual bet, this means instead of betting against a bookie directly you are betting against your peers to win a pot of money.

The size of your winnings is dependent on the overall amount of money bet on the race divided by the number of people who bet on that outcome. This can often result in higher comparative odds against the standard fixed price.

Totepool bets are special types of tote bets that require you to predict several permutations. For example, Scoop6 is a popular Totepool jackpot where you must pick the winner of 6 selected races. If you win the jackpot can often be 6 or 7 figures.

The Tote used to be run by the British government and is now owned by Betfred. The bookie licences out many tote and totepool bets to other bookmakers but on balance the Tote’s own betting site, Totesport, is the best place to place these bet types. Totesport and Betfred offer bespoke offers and jackpots for totepool that others do not provide.

The nature of tote betting means these bet types rarely count towards offer terms for free bets, money back or bonuses, especially sign up offers. Check the terms carefully if betting on the tote in connection to an offer.

Major Horse Racing Promotions and Terms

Faller Insurance

Mainly offered for National Hunt jump races in the UK and Ireland, faller insurance gives you your stake back should your horse fall during a race. This occurs very often and, roughly 1 in 20 horses will fall in a jump race (varying depending on course, grade, conditions, etc.), and so again regular racing punters could get a lot of value from an offer like this.

Punters will get their stake back (generally up to £25) if their horse falls (anywhere, not just at a fence), is brought down by another horse or unseats its jockey (even if the horse itself doesn’t fall).

Available from the likes of Coral for all the biggest meetings this is a great promotion if used well. Stakes are usually returned as a free bet or sometimes as a bonus, not as cash.

Length/Head/Nose Money Back

Money back if beaten by a set distance offers generally apply to flat racing (although some apply year round) and usually replace faller insurance when the season changes from jump to flat in the Spring each year.

coral beaten by a length uk flat horse racing money back offer

With flat races contested over shorter distances than jump races (as little as 5 furlongs, just over half a mile), these offers can be very useful to punters. Beaten by a head or nose deals can often be found covering all flat racing, whereas beaten by a length deals are applies generally to selected meetings. Coral are a good bookmaker for beaten by a length offers.

Again money back is usually up to £25 and refunded as a free bet or bonus, rarely in cash. These offers also only apply if your horse is beaten in second pale. If second and third place both lose by less than a length you will only get your money back on the second placed horse. See the table above for information on how distances are qualified.

Money Back Second & Money Back if you Lose

There are more money back second and second to the favourite offers now than ever before. They do what they say on the tin, if you back a horse to win in a qualifying race and it finishes second (or second to the SP favourite) you will get your stake back, usually up to £25, as a free bet or bonus.

These deals are often available daily from the likes of Paddy Power, Betfred, 10Bet and Boylesports and will apply usually to the major meeting, or race, of the day.

Some bookies, such as Paddy Power, run money back second, third and sometimes fourth for big races and on occasion (for the bigger televised races) will run money back if you lose. Obviously these offers are crazy and should be taken advantage of when available.

Free Bets for Winners

By far the most popular regular horse racing offer are free bets for winners. These come in several formats but are generally available for ITV and ITV4 racing.

Back a horse with minimum odds (usually 3/1+ or 4/1+) in a qualifying TV or feature race, and if it wins get a stake matched free bet in the next race. The value of these deals are obvious.

Betfair’s 3/1+ offer for ITV and selected feature races is by far the best of all. They will give you a stake matched free bet up to £25 (no minimum) if you pick a 3/1+ winner.

Horse Racing History, Rules & Major Meetings

horses approaching the winning postThroughout history, there have been so many moments when a sport has been invented simply because of someone’s competitive nature. From the first time someone kicked a ball and shouted ‘Goal!’ through to the time someone pulled up next to someone else at some traffic lights and decided that they could beat them to the next marker point, the competitiveness that is in-built in the vast majority of us has seen the creation of so many glorious pastimes. Some of them have been developed and changed almost beyond all recognition now, with ice hockey being an example of something that likely started on a frozen lake and grew to become a huge sport in its own right. Others have seen the equipment develop but the sport itself remain close to how it originated, with darts being a prime example.

When it comes to horse racing, though, you’re talking about an event that has barely changed from the moment it was first conceived. It is the purest version of a sport that will look similar now to when it was watched by royalty hundreds of years ago. Its moniker of ‘the Sport of Kings’ isn’t just something that sounds fun, it’s because monarchs from countless countries have long been fascinated with the simple battle of wills that takes place on racecourses up and down the country throughout the year. Perhaps you’ve always had a flutter on the Grand National or the Cheltenham Festival but realised that you don’t really know much about the sport away from those blue riband events. Maybe you’ve never really placed a bet before and would like to know more about the sport before you get too heavily involved. Whatever the reason you’re here, hopefully you’ll feel your knowledge has increased by the end of this piece.

History Of Horse Racing

horses in a race jumping a fence

When it comes to discussing the history of horse racing, we need to distinguish between whether or not we mean the history of the sport since it was first ever introduced or whether we’re talking about its history in the United Kingdom. The reason the distinction is important is that horse racing as an idea was used by the Central Asian nomadic tribesmen who saw it as a way to domesticate the animals, ‘breaking’ them for use as an amusement before taking them into battle. That’s obviously far more difficult for us to trace with any degree of accuracy, but it’s important to note that the racing of horses has taken place in numerous civilisations around the world for hundreds and hundreds of years. It’s slightly easier, therefore, to look at the history of horse racing purely in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

When it comes to looking at that side of the sport, we can trace its origins back to the return of the Knights of the Crusade from the Eastern Mediterranean in the twelfth century. They brought back with them the Arabian horses that they’d been riding in battle, mating them with English horses and, as a consequence, producing Thoroughbred horse that went on to form the basis of the best horses that run in races today. The first ever venue for races similar to how we know of them today was Newmarket, where King Charles the Second would offer prizes for the winners of races between two horses on a private field. Though it’s known as the ‘Sport of Kings’, it was actually Queen Anne who popularised it, founding Ascot in 1711 and inviting an audience to come and watch.

flat racing at the prestigious ascot racecourse

That audience would take bets on the outcome of the races, leading to the sport becoming professional and the founding of the Jockey Club at Newmarket in 1750. The Jockey Club decided to make the sport of horse racing more formal, devising rules that racecourses began to implement. In 1814 the ‘Classics’ were founded, which were for five-year-olds and included the ‘Triple Crown’ of the 2000 Guineas, The Epsom Derby and The St Ledger. Both colts and fillies could take part in those races, with the 1,000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks rounding off the Classics and only being open to fillies. That was also the time when being able to trace the pedigree of a horse became important, with James Weatherby being tasked with the job of compiling a family history for all horses in the UK.

If you’re interested in such things, Weatherby have recorded the information of every foal born in the UK since 1793, noting that three stallions named Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian and Godolphin Arabian are responsible for having been the basis for every pedigree thoroughbred in the country. The information is contained in the General Stud Book, should that be something that you’re keen to read more about. Though the Jockey Club remains responsible for regulating both traditional horse racing and point-to-point even today, the job of governing the sport falls to the British Horseracing Board, which was established in 1993. You can look back to 1866 for the for the formation of the The National Hunt Committee, too.

Rules of Horse Racing

In its simplest form, horse racing is a sport that has a name that tells you everything that you need to know. Horses race from one point to another, with the horse that comes in first being declared as the winner. As is so often the case, however, little in the sport can be described as ‘simple’.

There are countless things that can can make one race different from another, including complex decisions such as how old the competing horse must be, what sex the competitors are and whether or not they’re allowed to have won a competitive race before the season began. That’s without even mentioning the likes of the relative rating of the horse, how much weight it carries and the experience of the jockey that is riding it. In essence, though, there are two different types of race, as explained here:

Jump Racing

horses jumping over fencesThe sport of jump racing involves horses having to negotiate different types of obstacles in order to reach the end of the course and be declared the winner. Should the horse fall over or unseat the jockey, they won’t be able to complete the race. The types of obstacles that horses are confronted with will depend on the type of racing taking place. Sometimes they will come up against hurdles, which are smaller and more forgiving obstacles that need to be jumped but are unlikely to cause a strong horse any major problems if they fail to clear them completely. Other times they will be fences, which are usually much thicker and more troublesome than hurdles. In a race such as the Grand National, there are a whole host of different fences including some that have water in front of them and some that have a landing point which is lower than the taking off point.

You may sometimes see horse racing referred to as ‘National Hunt racing’, because it is organised by the National Hunt and covers a myriad of different race types. There are, for example, races that are known as ‘bumpers’ that are raced over the flat, but are not classified as part of flat racing. The names given to the type of race will tell you everything you need to know, given that those featuring hurdles are known as Hurdle Races and those that have fences are called Steeplechases. Jump racing usually takes place between August and April, when the ground is generally a bit softer and so both jockeys and their horses are less likely to suffer serious injury when landing or falling. The races are split into categories depending on their importance, with Grade 1 races being at the top of the pile.

Flat Racing

flat racecourseAs mentioned before, horse racing is a sport in which the title of things tells you a decent chunk of the information that you need. In this case, the more sensible amongst you will have already identified that flat racing takes place on the flat and doesn’t have any obstacles for horses to jump over. Plenty of people see this as the more ‘pure’ form of the sport, given that the only things that will affect a horse’s ability to win are their own stamina and speed and the jockey’s ability to guide them around the course successfully. Just as many people see this as a ‘boring’ variation of the sport, of course, given that the lack of fences means that there’s less chance of an upset.

Because of the nature of flat racing, the horses that take part in it are usually much younger than those that are raced in jump racing events. There are short races of about five furlongs, known as Sprints, and longer ones of more than two miles, which are known as Stayers. As with jump racing events, they’re classified into different categories depending on the importance of the race. The major difference between the two sports, other than the obstacles, obviously, is that flat races can be run on numerous different types of ground. As well as turf, there are also all-weather surfaces, which are made of synthetic materials.

Major Horse Race Meetings

queen mother champion chase race board

As you might expect, horse racing is one of the most popular sports to bet on. It’s also immensely popular with spectators, leading to numerous different competitions being formed over the years. Here’s a quick look at each of them, but because there are so many we’ll keep the information relatively short:

  • Cheltenham Festival – Taking place every March over four days, the Cheltenham Festival features some of the most famous races in horse racing. The meeting culminates in the Gold Cup, held on the Friday and watched by millions around the world.
  • Aintree Grand National Festival – The Grand National is arguably the most famous steeplechase in racing. What many people don’t necessarily realise, however, is that the race is just one part of a three day meeting held at the Aintree Racecourse on the outskirts of Liverpool.
  • Newmarket 1000 & 2000 Guineas Festival – Widely seen as the event that kickstarts the flat racing season, both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas are two of the oldest and most prestigious races in the sport. The races are named after the initial prize money available on them and two of the five flat racing Classics mentioned earlier.
  • St. Leger Stakes & Festival – The fifth of the five Classics, the St. Leger Stakes joins the Epsom Derby and the 2000 Guineas to make up the famed ‘Triple Crown’. First run in 1776, the St. Leger is not only the oldest of the Classics but also the longest.
  • Epsom Derby Stakes and Epsom Oaks Stakes – The Oak Stakes and the Derby Stakes are the two remaining Classics, taking place over the course of the Epson Derby Festival. These two flat races date back to the late 1700s and take place on one of Britain’s oldest racecourses.
  • Glorious Goodwood Festival – This festival was founded in 1802 and was initially intended as an amusement for local army officers. It is one of the most exciting of the flat racing events in the sport. This festival comes in the middle of the summer and the horses taking part in it are at their peak.
  • York Ebor Festival & Ebor Handicap – First run in 1843, this festival takes place at York Racecourse over four days in August every year. There are numerous exciting flat races to be witnessed here, with the entertainment gradually building to the racing of the Ebor Handicap on the final day. That’s the richest handicapped flat race in all of Europe.
  • Ascot British Champions Day – The flat racing season kicks off at Newmarket and comes to an end at Ascot in October. The final races of the five divisions of the British Champions Series are run over the day, making it British racing’s richest day. As the name suggests, the Champion Stakes is the event’s most prestigious race.
  • November Meeting (Cheltenham Open) – The Cheltenham Festival might be the best-known meeting to take place on the Gloucestershire racecourse, but it isn’t the only one. The November Meeting, which was formerly known as the Cheltenham Open, is considered to be the start of the jump racing season. The one to watch if you want some clues about the season still to come.
  • Kempton Winter Festival – Though this is officially known as the Kempton Winter Festival, most horse racing lovers known it better as the Boxing Day Meeting. In terms of races, the true blue riband event is the King George VI Chase, a Grade 1 event that takes place on Day One of the two days of the festival.

Horse Racing Facts & Figures

Meeting Record Horse Record Jockey Record Trainer
Cheltenham Festival Arkle Ruby Walsh Nicky Henderson
Aintree Grand National Festival Red Rum George Stevens Fred Rimell / George Dockeray
Newmarket 1000 & 2000 Guineas Festival N/A Jem Robinson Robert Robson
St Leger Stakes & Festival N/A Bill Scott John Scott
Epsom Derby Stakes and Epsom Oaks Stakes N/A Lester Piggott Robert Robson / John Porter / Fred Darling
Glorious Goodwood Festival Frankel Sir Gordon Richards Sir Henry Cecil
York Ebor Festival & Ebor Handicap Flint Jack Lester Piggott Tom Dawson
Ascot British Champions Day Tristan Danny Maher / Charlie Elliott Alec Taylor, Jr.
November Meeting (Cheltenham Open) Stormez Tony McCoy Martin Pipe
Kempton Winter Festival Kauto Star Ruby Walsh Paul Nicholls

Finally, here’s a look at the most successful horses, trainers and jockeys across those various events. For the purposes of ease, we’ve listed the most successful in the biggest races where necessary.