An introduction to the Sport of Kings

| August 26, 2021

You may have heard about horse racing, referred to as the Sport of Kings. Perhaps you’ve seen it on a television screen, been to the local track, or, if you’re lucky, made it to the Caulfield Cup. But you don’t really know what all the excitement is about. You love the colours and the noise, but when your friends pick favorites and place bets, you’re not part of the conversation. You’re just sitting there, eyes glazed over, wondering why everyone is calling the light coloured horse the ‘dark horse’ and contemplating whether some moisturizer could help alleviate the itchiness of the ‘late scratching.’ 

Fear not. Follow this essential introduction to horse racing, and you will soon become part of the conversation, perhaps even calling the race to your friends.

Different kinds of horse racing

There are four main kinds of horse races: flat racing, jump racing (aka steeplechasing), harness racing, and endurance racing. Flat racing is where horses run on a predominantly level course without any inclines, declines, or obstacles. In steeplechasing, horses have to jump over several obstacles. In harness racing, horses pull a cart, and in endurance racing, horses and riders require extreme stamina to cover vast distances.

The rest of this article focuses on the more familiar – and possibly more popular – flat racing.

Race distances

In flat racing, horses use their speed, strength, and stamina for racing on oval tracks over either short (1,000m – 1,500m, often called sprints), middle (1,800m – 2,400m), or longer (+2,400m) distances. 

Depending on their breeding, horses will usually be suited to one type of distance over another, but a champion racehorse can win over a range of race distances.

Types of racing

There are four primary racing classes: group races, listed races, handicap races, and maiden races. The purpose of this classification is to categorize horses based on their age, experience, and skill levels and pit those at similar stages of their careers against each other to make the races competitive.

Group races generally reflect the highest standard of racing. They are divided into Group 1 (the very best races), Group 2 (just below that Group 1 championship level), and Group 3 (often the quality horses trialing for Group 1 and 2 races).

Listed races feature horses that are not yet good enough to run in the Group 1, 2, or 3 races but show potential to make it to that next level.

In a handicap race, the official racecourse handicapper assigns horses a carry weight based on their past performances. As a horses’ speed is affected by the weight it carries, the theory behind the ‘handicap’ is to create a level playing field and give all horses an equal chance of winning the race. The Melbourne Cup is Australia’s most famous handicap race.

Sport of Kings
Horse racing is known as the Sport of Kings

Maiden horses have never won a race.

The Jockeys

The jockey’s skill is hugely important to the performance of the horse and the outcome of the race. Most often, the better horses get, the better riders. The ones that choose the right race tactics, that know where to position the horse, when to restrain it, or push it for more effort. A good and capable jockey can improve the performance of an ordinary horse, but an ordinary jockey can undermine the performance of a capable horse.


There are three basic bet types in horse racing, namely win, place, and each way.

A win bet is the most popular bet because all you have to do is select the horse you think will win the race. 

A place bet is where you choose a horse to finish either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the official placings, providing more than eight horses in the race. Although it pays less than a win bet, a place bet is also very popular because it’s easier to get a result and can be used as a way to hedge your bets.

An each-way bet is when you put an equal amount of money on a horse to Win and Place.

There are other betting types, sometimes known as ‘exotics,’ with names such as Trifectas and Quinellas. These are more complex, but the returns are usually much more significant. 

As a novice racegoer and punter, it is easy to get into the swing of things by placing small Win and Place bets. Make sure that you’ve done your homework before you advance to the more challenging bet types.

The big race meets around the world

Horse racing has got a bit of something for everyone. Whether you try to follow every race both here in Australia and overseas, keeping a track on form and following your favourite horses and jockeys, or you simply get swept up with Melbourne Cup fever every year, there is definitely a thrill to watching horse racing that captures the excitement of fans both at the track and watching on the TV.

Of course, there are some major meets from around the world that draw extra interest when they come around . Here are 5 of the biggest:

  1. The Melbourne Cup

We kick things off right here in Australia with the biggest meet of the year – the Melbourne Cup. This year, the Melbourne Cup will be held on Tuesday 2 November and will attract interest from around the world. It’s too early to get any odds for the race at this time but you can expect perennial favourites Tiger Moth, Explosive Jack and Prince of Arran to be amongst the favourites.

  1. The Grand National

The UK’s equivalent of the Melbourne Cup, the Grand National is an event that gets the whole of the UK interested in horse racing for the day. From office sweepstakes to full page pull outs in all the papers, The Grand National is the biggest race on the UK horse racing calendar. Held at Aintree in April, the 2022 Grand National will take place on Saturday 14 April and despite the race being months away, you can already get some early odds with Betway Sports who have Minella Times as the current favourite at 17.00 followed by Any Second Now at 19.00 and Time to Get Up also at 19.00. Expect a lot of these odds to shorten as the race edges closer so if you fancy an early punt and you have a good hunch, then get some money placed now.

  1. The Cheltenham Festival

Sticking in the UK, the Cheltenham Festival is widely regarded as the jump racing event of the year and whilst the Grand National is the biggest single event, the four-day festival features 14 grade one races across four seven-racecards as the best horses, trainers, and jockeys go head to head. Each day typically includes a feature race including the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Early favourites for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase include Shishkin at 2.75 and Energumene at 6.00. The 2022 Cheltenham Festival will kick off on Tuesday 15 March.

  1. The Everest

The second Australian race to feature in our list is The Everest. The Everest is billed as the “world’s richest race on turf” with twelve of the fastest horses competing over a distance of 1200 metres at Randwick Racecourse for prizemoney of $14,000,000. This year, The Everest will be held on Saturday, October 16, 2021 and was won in 2020 by Classique Legend.

  1. The Kentucky Derby

We head over to the USA for the fifth of the big horse racing events around the world and it’s one many race fans and general punters will be familiar with – the Kentucky Derby. Whilst it might not be the most prestigious or valuable horse racing event in the world, it is one of the most well-known. The tournament was established in 1875, and it has been held traditionally on the first Saturday in May at the Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville. There are many exciting races for spectators, but the most popular is certainly the US Triple Crown of Thoroughbred. The race doesn’t last more than two minutes, dubbing it as the “Greatest 2 Minutes in Sports”

Other notable horse races from around the world include:

  • Glorious Goodwood
  • The Nakayama Grand Jump
  • Japan Cup
  • Pegasus World Cup Invitational
  • Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
  • The Baden-Baden
  • Dubai World Cup

Category: Racing

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