Horse Racing Types

There are four general types of horse racing: flat, jump, harness, and endurance racing. Flat and jump racings are under thoroughbred racing, a sport and industry for Thoroughbred horses governed by different national bodies. Jump racing is also known as National Hunt racing in the United Kingdom.

flat racing

flat racing


  • The most common form of horse racing seen worldwide.
  • The Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup Classic are among the popular flat races in the United States.


  • Tracks are typically oval and generally level, but some countries, like Great Britain and Ireland, have different variations.
    • It has the figure-of-eight tracks like Windsor
    • A track with often severe gradients and camber changes in Epsom Racecourse.

Track Surface


  • Ranging from 440 yards (400 m) up to two and a half miles (4 km), with distances between five and twelve furlongs (1.0 and 2.4 km).
  • Short Distances
    • It is called Sprints, which also portrays the test of speed.
  • Longer Distances
    • called routes in the United States and staying races in Europe.
    • It portrays the test of stamina.
  • Middle Distances
    • Run over distances in the middle of sprints and longer races. 
    • It portrays the tests of both speed and stamina.
    • It usually exists in prestigious races like Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Melbourne Cup, Japan Cup, Epsom Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Dubai World Cup.

National Hunt Racing / Jump Racing

jump racing


  • Originated in the southern counties of Ireland. 
  • In the early 18th century, jump races were only about two horses competing, known as “pounding races”. It involved a long race across the country, and horses had to jump whatever natural obstacles they may encounter. The first recorded race was traditionally said to be located between the towns of Buttevant and Doneraile in the north of County Cork in 1752.

Information Based by Country

  • It is recognized as National Hunt racing in Great Britain and Ireland, while it is informally known as “jumps” in the UK.
  • The biggest National Hunt events in the UK are the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
  • It is most popular in Britain, Ireland, and France. 
  • In Ireland, it has higher attendance than flat racing.
  • Racings are balanced in England, Wales, and Scotland.

About the Horses

  • Horses who ran National Hunt races are often bred for jumping, while others are former flat horses. 
  • National Hunt horses do not have to be Thoroughbreds. There are aslo French-bred jumpers like Selle Français or AQPS. 
  • Since it originated in Ireland, Irish-bred and trained horses remain superior in national hunt racing until today. 
  • French-bred horses such as Master Minded and Kauto Star excelled in recent years.
  • Most horses are geldings and have no breeding value; hence it is cheaper.
  • Horses are not usually retired at a young age, making them familiar to the racing public over several seasons.

The Race

  • Most seasons are held during winter 
    • Jumping is less dangerous on softer grounds. 
  • It is subdivided into two major branches: hurdles and steeplechases. Alongside is the “bumpers” race, known as National Hunt flat races.
  • Normally, horses follow a ladder to compete before entering bigger obstacles and longer distances as they age.  
    • Juvenile horses start with National Hunt flat races, then move on to hurdling, and lastly, if they have the capability, they could enter steeplechasing.
  • Most national hunt horse races start their careers in amateur point-to-pointing.

National Hunt Flat Race

  • It is for horses that have not yet entered either flat racing or jump racing
  • It is often called a ‘bumper’ race.
  • Run over 1 1⁄2 to 2 1⁄2 miles (2.5–4 km).


  • The horses jump over obstacles called hurdles.
  • Run over 2–3 1⁄2 miles (3–5.5 km).
  • Hurdles have a minimum height of 3 1⁄2 feet (1.1 m).


  • Horses in steeplechase race jump over different types of obstacles like plain fences, water jumps, or an open ditch.
  • It can also refer to any type of jump race in some racing rules and regulations, particularly in the United States
  • Run over distances of 2–4 1⁄2 miles (3–7 km).
  • The fence’s minimum height is 4 1⁄2 feet (1.4 m).
  • “Point to Point” racing – a type of steeplechase racing for amateurs
  • Grand National
    • The most prestigious steeplechase and one of the oldest horse races occur in Liverpool, England.
  • Timber
    • Described as “America’s version of the steeplechase”.
    • It utilized solid wooden fences
    • Occurs in a cross-country setting rather than on a track.

Hunter Chase Racing

  • It occurs on every national hunt racecourses.
  • Only open to horses that have hunter certificates. 
    • Hunter certificates are issued to horses that have hunted for at least four days in the season before racing starts in January. 
    • The jockey must be an amateur who acquired a certificate from the hunt secretary.
  • In 2009, they founded new rules that prevent horses from joining who have finished in the first 3 of Grade 1 or 2 chases in the previous season.
  • Two biggest Hunter Chases 
    • Aintree Fox Hunters’ Chase 
    • Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase

Grades and Classes

  • Grade
    • The hierarchy of races from most prestigious to least are:
      • Grade 1
      • Grade 2
      • Grade 3.
      • Listed
      • Handicaps
      • Bumpers
    • Highest graded races also draws the highest prize money and better horses.
  • Classes
    • All National Hunt races are also classified into seven classes. From Class 1 as the best to class 7, the least. 
      • Graded and listed races are class 1

Harness Racing


  • Harness racing originated from ancient and transformed from chariots used in wars.
  • Two and four-horse chariot harness competitionswere also featured in early Olympic Games in 408 BC and 264 BC. During that time, the races were eight laps in the hippodrome (about six miles). Today, it is about one mile.


  • Horses race while pulling a sulky and a driver behind them. 
  • A sulky is a lightweight two-wheeled carriage that carries only one person. It is informally known as a “bike”, and also known as a spider. 
  • In harness racing, the person manuevering the sulky and the horse is not called a jockey, but a driver. He or she holds a light whip utilized to signal the horse through tapping and to make sound by hitting the sulky shaft. 
  • Different countries have different rules, like in Norway, whips are forbidden. For exercising or training, the drivers carry a “jog cart”. It is a sulky that is heavier and bulkier than for a racing one.

Two Types of Gaits

  • Trotters
    • It is called the jog in Western riding.
    • Trotting gait portrays a horse movings its legs forward in diagonal pairs. The horse moves its back left leg in unison with his right front leg, and his front left leg in unison with the rear right leg.
    • Some trotters use trotting hopples. It is a simple front leg loop to sustain the gait and not alter it to pacing.
  • Pacing
    • Pace horses move their front legs simultaneously with the hind legs on the same side. It’s a lateral gait rather than a diagonal one.
    • Most pacers wear hopples on all four legs to keep the gait, but not everyone.
  • Comparison
    • Pacers move faster than the trotters due to the gaits and are less likely to break stride.
    • If a horse starts to gallop, he must be slowed down and bring him outside until it resumes trotting or pacing).
    • If a horse breaks its gait during the race, it could also be disqualified. Hence, skills are necessary for this race rather than speed to win.

Horse Breeds and Gait Types by Countries

  • Standardbred is the ideal horse breed for this race because of their long, muscular bodies and intelligence, calm, and social characteristics.
  • In North America, harness racing is limited to Standardbred horses.
  • In European, they also compete with French Trotters or Russian Trotters in harness racing. Mixed ancestry with lineages from multiple breeds is also eligible to enter. However, they only race among trotters.
  • In Russia, Orlov Trotters race separately.
  • In Finland, Norway, and Sweden, the light, cold-blooded Coldblood trotters, and Finnhorses race separately.
  • In Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, races are held for pacers and trotters.

Standardbred and Harness Racing

  • Standardbred’s name originated since the early years of the Standardbred stud book. The only horses who could trot or pace a mile in a standard time (not more than 2 minutes and 30 seconds) were admitted to the book, and those are the standardbreds.

Start Up

  • Most harness races start behind a motorized starting gate or the mobile barrier.
  • The horses begin pacing or trotting and line up behind a hinged gate attached to a moving motor vehicle. It leads them to the starting line, and when they get to the line, the gate’s wings will fold up while the vehicle speeds away from the horses.

Endurance Racing


  • Endurance racing originated in the old years when there was still a need to ride long distances. Hence, riders value highly the types of horses who can endure continuous travel in the most strenuous rides across infinite distances without being delayed by any obstacles. As such, endurance riding tests were created to see the horse’s stamina.
  • The organized activity of endurance tests was founded in the United States based on European cavalry (Polish and Russian WWI. The horse must carry 300 lb (140 kg) over 100 miles (160 km) in one day.
  • In 1913, the formal sport of organized endurance riding was inaugurated in Vermont by the Morgan Horse Club with seven riders on small horses, Arabians or Morgans.
  • In 1955, the most popular endurance ride commenced, now known as the Tevis Cup, and remained the hardest of any 100-mile ride in the world because of the severe terrain, high altitude, and 100-degree (~37 °C) temperature.
  • 1960’s – endurance riding was first introduced to Europe
  • In 1972, the American Endurance Ride Conference was founded, the first national endurance riding association in the United States.
  •  In the UK, Endurance GB is the governing body.


  • Unlike thoroughbred and harness racing, Endurance racing is not that popular due to the length of time, which takes far longer.
  • Speed is not necessary, but stamina and resilience to finish the race.

Types Based on Distance

  • The length of an endurance race also has some variations, divided into five categories:
    1. pleasure rides (10–20 miles),
    2. non-competitive trail rides (21–27 miles),
    3. competitive trail rides (20–45 miles),
    4. progressive trail rides (25–60 miles)
    5. endurance rides (40–100 miles in one day, up to 250 miles (400 km) in multiple days).
  • In the United States, most endurance rides are 50 or 100 miles (160 km) long.
  • Limited Distance rides (LD), which are shorter, are organized for new riders or young trained horses. It just turned into a competition, and more experienced riders and horses joined.

Horse Breed

  • Any breed can enter this race and is not exclusive to one.
  • However, the Arabian breed generally monopolized the top levels due to its natural stamina and endurance.

Race's Structure


  1. A veterinarian first checks horses to ensure they are healthy and fit to participate in the race.
  2. Riders might receive a map or GPS waypoints for the course, showing the route, the places for compulsory halts (called “holds”), and present natural obstacles like ditches, steep hills, and water crossings.
  3. The trails are distinguishable because of the colored surveyor’s tape ribbons added in the regular intervals. There are also additional ribbons or small arrow markers at turns in the trail.
  4. It is divided into sections, including legs, phases, loops, etc. It depends on the sanctioning organization.
  5. There are stops after each section for the veterinary inspection or “vet check” and “vet gate”. The horses’ pulse and respiration will be checked.
  6. The horse must pass the required fitness to continue the race. Any horse who fails the inspection will be eliminated, called “pulled”.
  7. The horse will stay for another 40 to 60 minutes after the inspection to feed and watered the horse.

Other Rules

  • Horse recovery is also an important ability the horse must have in this race since the riders’ time won’t stop until their horses reach the required target.
  • Riders may compete with or without additional aid. But several riders have an appointed crew to facilitate them during veterinary inspections. It is crucial In upper-level competitions.
  • A good crew enables the rider a brief breather and time to concentrate on the strategy and demands of the trail.
  • There is a maximum time allowed to complete mileage (12 hours for 50 miles and 24 hours for a 100-mile ride)
  • Riders are free to choose their pace during the competition and also choose to ride or may dismount and walk or jog with their horse without penalty.
  • However, they must be mounted in FEI when crossing the starting and finish lines. Although in AERC, riding the horse is not necessary at any point before, during, or after the ride.
  • Natural obstacles called “hazards” are marked on the trails.

Winners and Awards


  • Under the rules of the FEI and AERC
    • The first horse to cross the line and pass the vet check as “fit to continue” is the winner.
  • Under the rules of competitive trail riding, endurance rules in some nations except for international competitions and in the USA, and rules for limited-distance endurance rides (25–49 miles or 40–79 km in one day)
    • the winner is decided by combining speed and the horse’s recovery rate or by a required standard.
Other Awards
  • Best-conditioned horses finished among the top 10 for distances of 50 miles (80 km) or more.
    • Determined by a combination of speed, weight carried, and veterinary scores.

Most Popular Events

The Tevis Cup

  • One of the most prestigious endurance races and most distinguished in the United States.
  • Originated in California in 1955
  • Held annually and covers 100 miles.

Mongol Derby

  • The lengthiest endurance horse event with a 621-mile race across the vast Mongolian steppe.
  • Follows the trail of the horseback messengers of Genghis Khan.
  • Acknowledged by the Guinness world record as the longest and most challenging in the world.

Other Popular Endurance Races

  • Tom Quilty Gold Cup
  • Shahzad

Quarter Horse Racing and Other Race Types

Aside from flat, jumps, harness, and endurance racing, another type of horse racing is called quarter horse racing. It is how the race and the quarter horse breed came up. It is a less popular and like a sprint type of flat racing but with a shorter distance of 55 yards (a quarter of a mile) or less. Its rules and procedures are generally the same as Thoroughbred horse races. However, timing is to the nearest 1/100 second from a standing start. The American Quarter Horse who runs this race can run a quarter of a mile within as fast as 22 seconds, faster than some of the fastest Thoroughbreds.

Races can also differ based on the horse’ quality. Hence, horse race types are developed. The maiden race, claiming race, allowance race, classic race, stakes race, and handicap race.

Maiden Races

  • The race is exclusive for horse racers that never won a race yet.
  • As soon as a horse wins a race in a maiden race, it is no longer a “maiden”(called breaking his maiden) and cannot enter this race anymore.
  • It is not restricted to any one type of horse racing, only horses that have yet to win a race.
  • Winning in a maiden race does not make a horse extraordinary, but it becomes its starting point for his career in horse racing.
  • Although this race is for horses that have not yet won any race, all horses are not required to participate in this race first. A horse with exceptional skill can also have its first win in an allowance race or even stakes race.

Two classes of maiden races:

  • Maiden special weight races
    • It presents top-quality horses expected to break their maidens rapidly.
  • Maiden claiming races (a subset of claiming race)
    • It is for horses who failed in the company of maiden special weight race. Inferior horses also can participate in this race.

Claiming Races

  • Maiden claiming is a subset of claiming races.
  • The horses called claimers are the lowest-class horses.
  • Horses can be purchased or “claimed” out of the race in claiming races.
  • The horses who will race in one particular event for claiming horses are on all the same level or value.
  • Claiming a horse should be requested ahead of the race. The person will be the new owner after the race, regardless of the outcome.
  • The former owner would receive the purse, while the new owner would receive the horse regardless of whether it became injured or even died in the race.
  • Claiming races can run from $1,000 to $100,000. Its value varies from where it is held. Claiming prices are higher at major tracks and lower on minor tracks. The less a horse’s claiming price, the lower the quality.
  • Most horse racetracks manage multiple claiming races each per week.
  • There are various rules, but anyone with a license may claim a winning horse.
  • Optional Claimer
    • The highest level with the highest prices.
    • Horses can be entered to be claimed or not claimed at the owner’s discretion.

Allowance Races

  • The next step up from claiming races is the allowance race.
  • The horses in this race are not for sale, and the purse’ value is higher than the claiming race.
  • The horses could be better than claiming horses but not good enough to run in stakes races.
  • It tends to be the middle ground of flat races and offers the most variety.
  • It is called an “allowance race” as it gives conditions for the horses to meet specific standards to enter, making the race fair. For example, the horse should carry more or less weight due to certain factors, or have not won so many races or earned too much prize money. It all depends on the records of the horses
  • Starter Allowance or “Starter”
  • Restricted to horses that have started for a maximum claiming price.

Classic Race

  • It is the most prestigious Flat race in Britain.
  • Horses in this race have been running for centuries and have the highest quality and value.
  • There are five Classics, all of which are contested only by three-year-olds:
    1. 2,000 Guineas
    2. 1,000 Guineas
    3. Oaks
    4. Derby
    5. St Leger
  • All the Classics are classified as Group 1 races.

Stakes Race

  • Another race where top race horses compete, with the most prestige and biggest purses. However, purses still vary based on the track.
  • Stakes race or “stakes” is also known as a grade 1 or grade 2 horse race.
  • It is an American term for the top level of Thoroughbred horse racing.
  • The horses in this race are typically 3-year-olds and up.
  • Restricted Stakes
    • Local stakes races often have restrictions, restricting other horses from competing aside from those bred in the state.
  • Graded Stakes
    • Graded stakes races are at the top level.
    • These races have no restrictions other than the age or gender of the horses.
    • There are three grades, Grades 1, 2, and 3. Grade 1 has the highest caliber.

Handicap Race

  • In a handicap race, horses carry different weights (called the impost) assigned by the handicapper.
  • A better horse will carry a heavier weight to equalize each horse’s chances.

You can also learn about horse racing breeds and how it is connected with the development of these horse racing types. If you are familiar but not knowledgeable enough with turf, dirt, tapeta, Polytrack, etc., you can also learn further details about these track surfaces. Just click the buttons below and know like a pro bettor.

For more information and facts about horse racing, you can also check our glossary and hit the button below.


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