Racing UK

British horse racing explained

Controlling Bodies

Although it is hard to pin down exactly when horses may first raced each other we can date racing’s governance in the UK back to as early as 1750 when the Jockey Club was formed. Although there have been recorded races (1174 in London being the first one) before this point it is hard to know too much about what exactly took place. The Jockey Club governed racing up until 1993 before handing over to the BHB (British Horseracing Board). The BHB stood as the governing body until merging with the HRA (Horse Racing Authority) in 2007 to create the BHA (British Horseracing Authority). The Jockey Club now runs 14 of the UK’s racecourses, in addition to Jockey Club Estates and the National Stud.

Britain’s Racecourses

There are currently 60 licensed racecourses in Britain with Chester (opened 16th Century) being the oldest and Ffos Las (opened 2009) being the newest. It is the eccentricities of these individual racecourses which make British racing so appealing. No track can be likened to another, something which cannot be said of American tracks which are all left handed and flat. Racing UK covers action from 30 British racecourses.

The Classics

There are five Classic races in Britain: the 1000 Guineas (first run 1814), the 2000 Guineas (first run 1809), the Oaks (first run 1779), the Derby (first run 1780) and the St Leger (first run 1776). Winners of these races can be guaranteed that their names will be etched into the history of racing beyond their racing days. Indeed many of the winners of Classic races go on to stamp their quality and class on their offspring when they retire to the paddocks. The most prolific classic winning stallion of the modern day is undoubtedly Galileo (2001 Derby Winner) whose progeny have been nothing short of phenomenal.


British Racing is steeped with trainers who have dominated racing on both UK shores and further afield. Present-day trainers such as Sir Henry Cecil, Sir Michael Stoute and Richard Hannon currently hold the mantle as being amongst the elite trainers of their generation. In fact, Sir Henry Cecil has an astonishing 25 classic victories to his name along with 73 Royal Ascot wins.


Ask any modern day racegoer to name a jockey and it is likely that the first name to roll off their tongue will be Frankie Dettori. This is because Frankie has been the one jockey to put racing in the spotlight on a continuous basis, as a result of his huge talent and even bigger personality. Tony McCoy has done a similar thing for Jumps racing although his talent has done the talking more than anything. These are just two great jockeys who are following in the footsteps of previous great such as Sir Gordon Richards, Fred Archer and more recently Lester Piggott.


Racing was ruled by aristocracy from the start with many large owners being wealthy landowners. While racing’s British aristocrats are still hugely involved in the game there is a broader number of owners than what there was centuries ago. The two ‘mega-powers’ of the game in the current day are John Magnier’s Coolmore operation and Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operation. These highflying owners follow on from previous greats such as the Duke of Portland, HH Aga Khan III, Sir Victor Sassoon and Robert Sangster. Both men run huge operations with horses on the track and horses in paddocks with a view to breeding future superstars. Whilst owners and families come and go, it is safe to say that these two men are in it for the long haul and their legacies will have an impact on future generations of equine thoroughbreds.

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