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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

THE UK’S MOST IMPORTANT STAKES RACES

By HRI Foreign Staff — After football, horse racing is the second most popular spectator sport in the UK. It’s estimated that over the year 5 million people attend the 1,400 meetings held across the country’s 59 racecourses.

These stretch from Perth in Scotland down to Newton Abbott in Devon and range from ones which attract crowds of a few hundred up to tens of thousands.

file photo

Of the meetings held at the latter there are a number of so-called Classics in flat racing held over the summer and autumn as well as numerous equivalents over jumps in the winter and spring.

One element that has always been very much a part of horseracing has been the placing of wagers on the outcome of races. Many punters will place a horse race bet online at one of the many sportsbooks or head to one of the offline bookies situated inside the racing venue. All of the races featured in this article are among the biggest money-spinners for the online and offline bookmakers that take the bets.

The Grand National, Aintree

Undoubtedly, this is the race that generates the largest amount of bets each year. It’s a race that attracts even the armchair fans for whom it may be their only flutter of the year. Run over a challenging 4 mile 4 furlong course there are 32 fences to negotiate plus an equally demanding run-in of almost 500 yards. It’s a race that has produced many fairytale wins in the past, for example when cancer-survivor Bob Champion won on Aldaniti in 1981, a horse that many had written off as an also-ran.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

While the National is the people’s race, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the one for true racing enthusiasts. It’s the high point of the Cheltenham Festival held in March each year – one which traditionally also attracts thousands of Irish racing fans to see their country’s finest horses compete. The race is run over 3 miles 2½furlongs and is open to horses aged five years or more. In 2022 Rachael Blackmore made racing history by being the first ever female jockey to win, riding A Plus Tard.

Cheltenham Champion Hurdle

The Champion Hurdle is another of the big feature races to be held at the March festival. It forms the centrepiece of the first day’s racing and is open to hurdlers aged four years and over. They run its 2 mile½ furlong course in a swift four minutes or thereabouts that makes it very exciting to watch. While it’s mainly been won by the favourite, often at odds on, in recent years it also throws up the occasional surprise such as when Espoir d’Allen won at 16/1 in 2019.

Epsom Derby

Of all the Classics, it’s the Epsom Derby that is the most prized as a win. First held way back in 1780, it’s a race for three year olds run over an undulating course of about 1½ miles. With a first prize of £1.5 million it’s also the richest of the races on the flat. It’s also one of the most challenging for horse as the camber of the ground means that it’s a far from even service to race on. Its name derives from the sponsorship of the 12th Earl of Derby and, while it used to always be held on the first Wednesday in June, it is now held on the first Saturday instead.

2,000 Guineas Stakes

This is the Classic that starts the flat season proper being held in early May each year at the home of British horseracing, Newmarket. It provides three year old colts and fillies with the chance to show their early form and many prevous winners have gone on to great success. In the past this included the legendary Frankel who enjoyed a career unbeaten in 14 races and who now commands the world’s highest stud fee at £350,000.

Ascot Gold Cup

While all of the big race meetings are social events none quite match up to the status of Royal Ascot.  At 2 miles 4 furlongs it’s a relatively long race that tests the horses’ staying power. Although it’s not one of the Classics it almost has the same status in terms of its importance. It was always a favourite race for Queen Elizabeth II whose horses enjoyed a number of victories over the years including with Estimate in 2013.

The St Leger Stakes

This is the last of the season’s Classics, held at Doncaster in September each year. There’s a famous saying that “the fastest horse wins the Guineas, the luckiest the Derby but the best one wins the St.Leger”. That’s because the late season weather makes the going harder – and the horses will have already had a punishing season. It’s also the oldest of the Classics having been run since 1776.

Of course, there are many other captivating races to enjoy across the year, but none quite match up to these seven – as anyone who’s been to any of them will surely agree.

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