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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

HORSES FOR COURSES, THE NEED TO KNOW ON FLAT, JUMPS, AND HARNESS

By HRI Foreign Staff — Horses are beautiful creatures – everybody here knows that. They excel at so many different sports and one of them is racing. With their speed, strength and endurance, there are few animals that can compete with them, but did you know just how many different types of racing there are?

Across the world you’ll find dozens! However, today we’re going to focus on the main three that you’ll find in the USA, Europe and Australia.

Those three types are flat racing, jumps racing and harness racing, each requiring something a little different from the equine athletes that take part in them. So, whether you’re keen to head out to a day at the races or hope to get involved with horse betting, knowing your horse racing disciplines will pay off.

Matthew Schwartz photo

Flat Racing

Flat racing is the most popular of the horse racing disciplines by far. In terms of prize money it outstrips jump racing and harness racing considerably in just about every country in which it’s possible to race. The aim of the game with flat racing is simple, to get past the winning post first. There are no obstacles in the way and horses all start in starting gates to ensure an absolutely fair start.

Some races are run on dirt tracks whilst others are run on turf. Unlike jump racing, some flat races take place in the evening or at night under flood lights. Flat races tend to be shorter than jump races, with distances starting at just five furlongs for sprints and generally stopping at two miles, although there are a couple of notable exceptions. The Ascot Gold Cup is considered the ultimate prize in long distance flat racing, where horses gallop for an incredible two and a half miles, really testing their endurance.

There are two main breeds of horse that excel in flat racing, and these are quarter horses and thoroughbreds. Pure quarter horses aren’t often seen in the racing circuit because they’re incredibly bulky compared to their thoroughbred counterparts.

However, it isn’t uncommon to find some quarter horse blood in a racehorse, perhaps a grandsire or granddam. Quarter horses are so named because of their ability to outrun any horse at a quarter of a mile, so it makes sense that their genetics are often seen in horses bred for sprinting.

Thoroughbreds are much finer than quarter horses, but there’s a visible difference in thoroughbreds that are bred for jump racing and those bred for the flat. Flat horses are generally much bulkier with broad well-defined hindquarters, incredibly deep barrel chests and are often a little shorter as well.

Their hindquarters provide them with the burst of power that they need to get out of the starting gates, whilst their barrel chests make space for huge lungs. You could easily make a comparison between the cross-country runners and the sprint runners of the human world.

Jump Racing

Jump racing is generally not popular in the USA, but it has a huge following in Great Britain and in parts of Europe as well. It works in exactly the same way as flat racing, horse and jockey battle it out to pass the winning post first, with one exception, there are obstacles.

There are two main types of jumps racing, hurdles and fences or steeplechases as they’re sometimes known. In some countries, there are also cross-country races, where horses will navigate a variety of fences including ditches, hedges, walls, water jumps and more.

Hurdle racing involves horses jumping hurdles, which are relatively small at three and a half feet high. If a horse knocks a hurdle, then it will fall over which makes this sort of racing suitable for horses who are less careful jumpers.

Hurdle races tend to be run at higher speeds and over shorter distances. Jump racing is where horses jump solid obstacles, that must be four and a half feet and higher. These fences are made from branches or brush and will not fall down if collided with. In order to succeed over fences, horses must be careful and economical jumpers.

In terms of breeds that excel in jump racing, there is really only one, the thoroughbred. Jump racing horses tend to be larger, almost always above 16 hands high, and rangier, with longer legs, leaner builds and more of a capacity for endurance over bursts of speed.

Harness Racing

Harness racing is unusual amongst horse racing as it is the only sort of race where the jockeys do not ride the horse, but rather sit in a carriage, known as a sulky, which is pulled behind. Another thing that divides harness racing from other types of horse racing is that horses do not gallop, but rather trot, or pace.

This is a much slower gait, but the horses that take part in harness racing are bred specifically to show great speed at the trot. Standardbreds are the most commonly seen horse on the harness racing track, but various countries have trotting breeds, such as the Orlov trotter and French trotter that can be spotted on the track from time to time.

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