A Beginner’s Guide to Horse Racing

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, “what is a hurdle race” or “who is a jockey,” it’s time you improved your knowledge of horse racing. It’s one of the oldest sports in the world. Yet, it doesn’t always get the respected it deserves.

That’s probably because horse racing isn’t available everywhere in the world. Or maybe people have never experienced the thrill of watching thoroughbreds race live. All the same, this article aims to help you learn more about horse racing. Let’s get started. 

It’s the Sports of Kings

Five centuries ago, King James I developed an interest in horse racing so much that parliamentarians would often remind him of his primary duties. The 17th century king established Newmark as a racing town.

But it took his son, Charles II, to elevate Newmark from a small town into the horse racing capital of the UK. Over the years, horse racing became a popular sport for the royals. And once the sport spread beyond Britain, it became popular among politicians and business leaders.

Today, horse racing isn’t just a sport for kings. It’s a sport for all, whether you own a stable full of colts or know little about horses. Everyone is invited to attend racing events. And if you’re wealthy and connected, you can also own a racing horse.

It’s a Multi-billion Industry

Horse racing is a £4 billion industry according to research firm, Statista. The company notes horse racing has been declining in popularity and used to generate in excess of £6 billion before the financial crisis.

The biggest beneficiaries of horse racing are trainers, owners, jockeys, event organizers and punters. Owners of the winning horse in a major race pocket up to 60% of the total pool. That means if an event has a total prize pool of £100,000, the winning horse’s owner pockets £60,000.

Most owners have a stable of multiple stallions. And they have full-time trainers that help breed the fastest, most enduring colts in the world. Sometimes a young horse might get popular after winning its first few races. And it could fetch as much as £3 million in a sale.

You Can own Part of a Horse

Owing a famous horse can be costly. But thanks to horse syndicates, you can own a percentage of one popular horse. The agency selects horses with a pedigree for winning races. And if they’re correct, you reap benefits by sharing part of the prize pools generated by your stallion.

Needless to say, the agency takes care of the horse full-time. It pays the bills and fees involved in racing. However, you’re entitled to check the horse and even attend training sessions from time to time. 

Interestingly, you can buy insurance for your horse. That way, you get compensated immediately a horse you previously owned passes on.

Horse Race Betting is Legal

Betting on many sports is pretty much legal in the UK. However, you couldn’t bet on these sports until a few decades ago. The only exception is horse race betting, which has been legal since 1928.

As you probably know, there was a time when nearly every homestead owned a horse. Stallions were the main form of transportation. And as a result, racing these majestic animals was pretty common.

In light of that information, parliamentarians found it fit to legalize sports betting. Today, you can wager on the sport online or at your favorite betting shop. You can back a specific horse to win, bet on Exacta, Trifecta or swingers.

We know—betting terms can be confusing when you are a beginner. So, check out the guide on this page to discover how to bet on horse racing. As a bonus, you’ll find a list of the best sportsbooks for horse race betting in the UK.

There are Multiple Types of Horse Races

Horse racing is like any other sport. It features multiple types of races. Some races are best suited for young stallions. Others are a specialty for older thoroughbreds. Below are some of these races:

  • Flat Racing

This is the most popular type of racing. It involves racing on a flat ground. Examples include the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes (both in the US) and the Epsom Downs in the UK—both the Oaks and the Derby.

Being the most common type of horse racing, flat races often command the biggest prize pools in both the UK and the US. The Kentucky Derby, for example, pays out $1.86 million to the winner. By comparison, the Grand National Hurdle Stakes has a total prize pool of $300,000.

  • Jump Racing

Jump racing is exactly what it sounds like. Horses need to jump over obstacles before crossing the finish line. There are two types of jump races: steeplechases and hurdles. Hurdles features one type of obstacle (hurdles). On the other end, steeplechases combine hurdles with ditches and water puddles. 

Although jump racing isn’t as popular as flat racing, it’s still famous in the UK, France and other European countries. And as a result, the biggest jump races in these countries payout much better than evens in the US. 

Precisely, the Grand National jump racing event has a total prize pool of £1 million: the purse was reduced to £750,000 this year owing to the impact of COVID-19. 

  • Endurance Racing

Endurance racing is the equivalent of long-distance racing. Here, horses run for as much as 1000 kilometers (Mongol Derby) although most races in the UK cover 100 kilometers. 

  • Harness Racing

This is a type of racing where horses pull the weight of their jockey while he r she is seated insider a sulky. Like endurance racing, the best horses are those with stamina and ability to endure for long distances.


Once known as the sport of kings, horse racing is now the second most popular sport in the UK. There are tons of racing events in the UK and beyond. And in many cases, fans are invited to watch their favorite horses race in real-time. If that’s not an option, you can always live stream races. 

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