To Run or To Jump, that is the Question

You’ve been invited to a day at the races and you can’t wait – your outfit is already sorted (tweed, fascinators – you’ve got it all!) but there’s one slight problem…

You have no idea what kind of race you’re going to. What’s a jump race anyway? And why are there steeples involved – aren’t they the pointy bits of churches?

Don’t worry! Thanks to the brilliant information from The Jockey Club, we’ve come up with a guide to horse racing. By the end of this post you’ll be an expert and can wow your colleagues and friends.


ASCOT, ENGLAND - JULY 10: Horses make their way out of the starting stalls to race in The Close Brothers Property Finance Handicap Stakes at Ascot racecourse on July 10, 2015 in Ascot, England.


Flat races are, for lack of a simpler term, flat. They are run on one level with no obstacles in the way. These races are a test of speed, stamina and tactics. Races are held over various distances, anything from 200m (1 furlong) to 2 miles (16 furlongs) and are usually run on grass. Flat races are always started using starting stalls.

There are four different types of flat races:


The ultimate test in British Flat Racing – the classics consist of five races:

  1. The 1000 Guineas, Newmarket: run over 1 mile; restricted to fillies
  2. The 2000 Guineas, Newmarket: run over 1 mile
  3. The Oaks, Epsom Downs: run over 1½ miles ; restricted to fillies
  4. The Derby, Epsom Downs: over ½ miles
  5. The St. Leger, Doncaster: over 1 mile

FUN FACT: Victory across all 3 distances is known as The Triple Crown.

Group and listed races


Think of it as a maiden voyage – this race is for horses that have never won and are held over a variety of distances.

FUN FACT: Horses that have won on a Jump race are eligible to run on a Maiden Flat Race and vice versa.


Horses, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. A Handicap race takes the horses weight into account, as it’s seen to affect the speed at which it will gallop. The goal in assigning weights is to enable all the horses to finish in a dead heat (all together). This is yet to happen.

FUN FACT: the Grand National is a famous Handicap Race


WINCANTON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25: Handy Andy ridden by Brendan Powell jumps during the Quilter Cheviot Supporting Spinal Cord Injuries handicap chase at Wincanton Races on October 25, 2015 in Wincanton, England.


The Jump Race is one where there are obstacles that the horse & jockey must ‘jump’ over. Jump horses tend to be older and bigger than the more elegant flat horses. Races are held over a variety of distances ranging from 2–4 ½ miles. Conditional races are those that are restricted to amateur or less-experienced jockeys.

There are four different types of jump race:


Normally the last race of the day, the Bumper Race is designed for horses that have not previously run in Flat races; it is essentially a flat race run with Jump Race rules.

So why a Bumper Race? One theory is that, as amateurs were originally allowed to ride in these races, horses and jockeys tended to ‘bump’ into each other.

FUN FACT: The Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival is the most-esteemed bumper in Jump Racing.


Think of these as something similar to the 100m hurdle but with horses over a minimum distance of 2 miles. Longer hurdle races are known as stayers’ hurdles.

In Jump Races, hurdles are smaller than fences and are a minimum of 3½ ft high. They are run at a faster pace than other Jump Races, as the hurdles are much lower.


More commonly known as a chase, this is a Jump Race run over fences. These races are run over a variety of distances (between 2 and 4½ miles) and the fences are a minimum of 4½ ft high.

Chases are started from behind elasticated tapes – when the tapes are released, the race is off.

FUN FACT: the name of the steeple chase actually does relate to churches. The race originates in Ireland where men would race their horses from church steeple to church steeple – jumping over any obstacle in the way.


This is very similar to a Handicap Race in Flat Racing, where horses are allocated a weight according to their ability. It’s aimed at giving each horse an equal chance of winning.

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