We all know that football is the main sport in the United Kingdom, but did you know that horse racing is the UK’s second most popular spectator sport?
Every year over six million fans click through the turnstiles at racecourses up and down the country, making horse racing much more popular than cricket and rugby.
In this article we take a look at five of the best horse racing events in the UK – the ones that make horse racing so popular with the Great British public. Think we’ve left an event out? Let us know in the comments section below.
The Cheltenham Festival
When? Tuesday, 15th March – Friday, 18th March
Where? Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Normally scheduled to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, the Cheltenham Festival is not just a highlight on the sporting calendar but on the social one too. Over 260,000 people flock to the Gloucestershire venue to watch the sport’s best jockeys battle it out for a share of the £4 million purse.
There are 28 races stretching out over 4 days with the most famous being the Cheltenham Gold Cup which is held in the same regard as winning an Olympic Gold Medal. The favourites for this year’s Gold Cup are A Plus Tard, Galvin and Minella Indo.
Where there is horse racing, there is most certainly betting. Every single year, thousands of punters bet on Cheltenham and some win fairly substantial amounts of money.
When? Tuesday, 14th June – Saturday, 18th June
Where? Ascot, Berkshire
Perhaps the most famous racecourse in the UK, Royal Ascot plays host to a five day Flat racing meeting every June which hosts 18 Group races. The racecourse was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne when she visited the area and decreed that the heath looked, ‘ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch.’
Since then it has become traditional for British royalty to visit the annual event. In fact, many of Queen Elizabeth II’s horses can be seen racing at the five-day Royal Ascot event. They are identified by their distinctive purple body with gold braid colours.
The Gold Cup which is held on the third day of the event is the most prestigious and is currently held by Subjectivist who upset Stradivarius to romp to success.
The Grand National
When? Tuesday, 7th April – Saturday 9th April
Where? Aintree Racecourse, Merseyside
The Grand National was founded by William Lynn in 1829 with the first running happening in 1836 when The Duke won the inaugural event. The modern day Grand National is the culmination of a three-day race event held in Aintree, Merseyside.
It is widely regarded as the most challenging race on this British calendar and sees competitors fight it out over a 4 miles and 514 yards and 16 fences, 14 of which are jumped over twice. It’s no wonder then that around 60% of the horses that start the race never make it to the finish line.
Red Rum, who won a historic treble in 1973, 1974 and 1977 is probably the most famous horse to have run the course at Aintree. Minella Times, last year’s winner made history as it became the first horse to be ridden by a female to win the Grand National.
(Rachel Blackmore made history in 2021 riding Minella Times to Grand National victory.)
When? Friday, 3rd June – Saturday, 4th June
Where? Epsom Downs, Surrey
First inaugurated in 1780, the Epsom Derby is a Group 1 flat race open to three-year-old colts and fillies. It has a purse of £1.125 million and is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious events in the country.
In recent years however it has morphed into more of a social event than a sporting event with the prizes for best-dressed, celebrity guests and musical performances taking as many headlines as the racing action.
The Epsom Derby is also home to the self-proclaimed ‘Greatest Flat Race in The World’ which is some claim!
The Scottish Grand National
When? Friday, 1st April
Where? Ayr Racecourse, Ayrshire
When it comes to great races in the UK, the action isn’t just limited to England, there are great meets all over the UK. The Scottish Grand National however, is one of the best races outside of England in the calendar.
Inaugurated in 1867 this Grade 3 National Hunt steeplechase is full of drama and intrigue with horses racing over a distance of 4 miles and running 27 fences. If you love the Aintree Grand National you’ll love the Scottish Grand National too.
In terms of the purse, there is slightly less money on offer to winners but if anything, that opens up the field and adds more excitement to the race.