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Types and classes of horse races

Flat racing is run over a level track at a predetermined distance.
Flat racing is run over a level track at a predetermined distance.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Flat racing is run over a level track at a predetermined distance. This type of thoroughbred horse racing is a test of speed, stamina, and the skill of the jockey to navigate against a field of competing runners and to encourage his horse to run faster. In Britian, flat races vary in distances from five furlongs to over two miles.

The surface can either be a natural grass surface (turf) or on a synthetic surface (all-weather). Turf can easily be turned to muddy grounds if wet weather and rainfall pound the racecourse, and such conditions can significantly affect the outcome of the race.

There are conditions races and handicaps. Conditions races are classified into the following races: Group 1 (classics and other races of major international importance), Group 2 (less important international races), and Group 3 (domestic races). Listed races have less prestige than the group races but are still more important than handicaps. Handicap races are where horses are given a different weight to carry according to their ability.

Classic races are a series of horse races run over the flat and is held once each year. There are five Classic races which are the 2,000 Guineas Stakes, 1,000 Guineas Stakes, Epsom Oaks, Epsom Derby, and the St. Leger Stakes.

As far as venues, there are 59 horse racing tracks in Britain; 17 of which host flat meetings while 24 host jump races. A total of 18 tracks can host both flat and jump competitions. The highest quality flat races are Group 1, 2, and 3 races while jump races are called Graded Races.

In the U.K., flat racing season on the turf extends from March to November, while racing on all-weather surfaces takes place throughout the year. Must jump races take place between October and April, as well as, during the summer months.

National Hunt racing involves jumping fences and ditches. Unlike flat races, runners and their jockeys must navigate through many obstacles. There are two distinct branches: Hurdles and Steeplechases.

In a Hurdles race, the horses jump over obstacles called hurdles. Horses must jump over obstacles that are over three and a half feet high. They are typically made of brush that has some flexibility and there are a minimum of eight hurdles. The minimum distance is two miles.

In a Steeplechase, the horses must navigate through obstacles such as plain fences, water jump or an open ditch. The most famous Steeplechase event is the Grand National which is run annually at Aintree Racecourse, in Liverpool.