Flat Racing Betting Guide – The Classics

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Traditionally running from the start of April until mid-October, Flat racing is one of two different codes of horse racing alongside its jumps counterpart.

Although the Flat season only lasts seven months, racing on the level continues all year round with meetings that are held on synthetic all-weather surfaces in place to keep the show on the road throughout the winter.

The difference between Flat and jumps racing is obstacles – hurdles or fences – which are only part of the latter discipline. Flat races are held over distances between five furlongs and two and a half miles, while jumps races provide sterner stamina tests, with the longest race (the Grand National) run over four and a quarter miles.

Flat racing is a test of speed – whether it be pace to get into the best position or a blistering acceleration. Jockeyship is equally important as finding room to race and deciding when to ask your horse for everything is crucial in contests that are won and lost in split seconds.

In hazy sunshine and warm temperatures, the equine superstars thrill and amaze in equal measure. Sprinkled across the season are The Classics – the true hallmarks of flat-racing greatness.

Each has its own unique draw and they are the prime targets for the latest generation of three-year-old would-be superstars. As these races are exclusively contested by three-year-olds, the protagonists are often referred to as the ‘Classic generation’ during their season.

Flat Racing Betting

Betting on Flat racing is most profitable if you can determine the answers to a selection of important questions: Which horse has the most ability? Who are the best jockeys in the race? How will the race pan out? And what horse represents the best value at the prices?

If you can formulate the answers to those, you have a good chance of making a significant profit over a prolonged period of time. But it’s not that easy with a number of further imponderables to debate over, like the ground, distance and headgear.

Recommended Flat Racing Bookmakers

Bet365, Ladbrokes, Unibet and Betfair are the best places to do your punting, although there are plenty more bookmakers offering good terms.

Ante-post Flat Horse Racing Betting Odds

For those who have a strong opinion about a major race that isn’t run in the near future, most bookmakers offer ante-post betting towards the bottom of their horse racing markets.

Often used by punters as a way of getting a bigger and better price about their selection, ante-post betting can prove beneficial in the long run, although knowing well in advance whether a horse will definitely run in a race is fraught with danger.

Types of Flat Racing Explained

  • Maiden races: A contest for horses who have yet to win a race. They are held over a variety of distances for several different age categories, but the majority of maidens, especially throughout the first part of the Flat season, will be contested solely by two-year-olds.
  • Novice races: Races for horses who have yet to win on two or more occasions that also haven’t won a Listed or Group race on the Flat. At the start of July, horses who have run three or more times aren’t allowed to compete in novice races.
  • Selling/Claiming races: Low-quality affairs in which trainers and owners enter horses who are subsequently available for purchase, either on the track after the race or via a telephone claiming line. The winner of a selling race is immediately auctioned in the winner’s enclosure, while any other horse can be claimed at a set price.
  • Handicap races: Most horses end up competing in handicaps. After three runs, the majority of horses are given a handicap mark or rating which is based on their ability and likely potential. A mixture of talents can compete against each other in handicap races, with those with a lower handicap mark receiving weight from their higher-rated rivals, thus trying to create a level playing field.
  • Nursery races: A nursery is a combination of a maiden/novice event and a handicap, run specifically for two-year-olds in the second half of the Flat season. Often contested by horses who have failed to win a maiden or novice, juveniles run off their handicap ratings in this competitive category.
  • Group races: The most well-known and showcase races over the course of the year that are contested by the best horses. Most of the time all horses compete off level weights, although fillies receive an allowance if they take on the colts and geldings in what is supposed to be a test of class and ability.
  • Auction races: A type of race that is restricted to two-year-old or three-year-old horses which have been bought or sold in public auction under the hammer at specified sales or prices. Auction races often provide a great opportunity for smaller trainers and owners to win big money.

British Flat Racing Classics

These are major betting events like no other in the flat season. Ante-post markets are formed and re-shaped as the key trials take place and the protagonists demonstrate their ability.

Here is a guide to the five British Flat Racing Classics:

1. 2,000 Guineas – Newmarket – May

Distance – 1 mile

The opening gambit of the Classic season comes at Flat Headquarters on the Rowley mile course.

All the talk that has stemmed from the juvenile season comes to an end as the real action kicks off in style. The dress rehearsals in the UK come at Newmarket and Newbury in the Craven Stakes and the Greenham Stakes in mid-April, while there is also a worthy trial at Leopardstown in Ireland.

For some, the choice will be to simply roll up at Newmarket cherry-ripe and ready to roll after a winter off.

In recent times, the Guineas has been well and truly spoiled with some absolute superstars of the game producing their best, with the likes of Sea The Stars, the mighty Frankel and Dawn Approach strutting to success.

The 2000 Guineas demands a horse can settle quickly and race at a helter-skelter pace along the Rowley Mile, coping with the famous dip before showing the burst of pace required to win over a mile, a distance at which many of the colts will never have raced over before.

As the opening Classic of the season, it is of course keenly anticipated and is the first leg of the Triple Crown.

2. 1,000 Guineas – Newmarket – May

Distance – 1 mile

A day after the colts, it is the turn of the fillies’ to take centre stage at Newmarket as the 1,000 Guineas completes the first leg of the Classic campaign.

Over the same course and distance as the boys 24 hours previously, the best three-year-old fillies come to lay down their markers for the year ahead.

Newmarket’s 1,000 Guineas trial is the Nell Gwynn Stakes during the Craven Meeting while at Newbury the Fred Darling is a pre-Guineas test of real significance.

The Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has won four of the last five renewals and five in all since Homecoming Queen won in 2012.

3. The Oaks – Epsom Downs – June

Distance – 1m4f

Onto the fabulous Epsom Downs in June and the additional four-furlongs turns the dial towards those with stamina on their CV.

The differing test on offer at Epsom means that it requires a filly of exceptional potential to consider trying to follow up Newmarket success in The Oaks.

The modern master of The Oaks was the late, great Sir Henry Cecil who claimed the last of his eight victories in the race in 2007 with Light Shift. Cecil simply had a magnificent way with fillies, supplementing his Oaks record with six wins in the 1,000 Guineas.

Since 2014, Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden have bossed this event, winning three each with the likes of Minding (O’Brien) and superstar Enable (Gosden).

4. The Derby – Epsom Downs – June

Distance – 1m4f

The jewel in the Classic crown for many observers, The Derby at Epsom is a race like no other.

The pageantry that accompanies the race makes this day shine like a beacon on the racing calendar. In terms of betting and racing, it is a standout day in the year.

The Derby is usually an ultra-competitive event but such is the power attached to Aiden O’Brien’s Ballydoyle yard that his 2019 win with Anthony Van Dyck means he’s just one away from holding the all-time record on his own (eight wins).

Perhaps the most iconic flat jockey of his generation, Frankie Dettori was forced to wait until 2007 for his sole maiden Derby victory, the enigmatic Italian steering Authorized to victory after he had been heavily backed for trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam.

No one, however, can match the incredible feats of Lester Piggott, who defined his career with nine victories in his sport’s premier contest.

epsom derby betting

Epsom Derby 2015 – The field rounding Tattenham Corner led by Hans Holbein. Photo Credit: monkeywing / Flickr / CC-BY-2.0

5. St Ledger – Doncaster – September

Distance – 1m6f

The final chapter in the Classic story and other two-furlongs are added to the mix, ensuring that any potential Triple Crown (2,000 Guineas, Derby, St Leger) hopefuls will have been well and truly tested for speed and stamina alike.

St Leger heads north to Doncaster and the famous Town Moor track where the colts and fillies are united for the one and only time in the Classic calendar.

No horse since Nijinsky in 1970 has managed to come to Doncaster and complete the hat-trick – with Camelot (2012) the only one to get the opportunity – on that occasion O’Brien and powerful owners Coolmore’s old adversary had the last laugh when Encke scored for Godolphin.

2019 hero Logician is the latest potential superstar for trainer John Gosden and rider Frankie Dettori, having maintained his unbeaten record with an impressive St Leger success.

Flat Racing FAQ

What are the five Flat Racing Classic horse races?

2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby and St Leger. The most prestigious and highly coveted prizes for three-year-olds, the five Group 1 Classics kick off with the 2,000 Guineas (colts) and 1,000 Guineas (fillies) in May, before the majority of protagonists go on to contest the Derby and Oaks respectively at Epsom Downs the following month. The St Leger, Britain’s oldest Classic, is the final leg of the Triple Crown.

What date does the Flat season start?

Flat racing continues throughout the year, with all-weather racing holding the fort during the winter months, but traditionally the first day of the Flat season is held at Doncaster in late March, early April, when the Lincoln Handicap headlines a typically competitive card.

What is a Group 1 Race?

The most illustrious and important races throughout the Flat season which are open to specific age groups and genders over a varying selection of distances. Group 1 races are the highlights of the racing calendar and are often the optimistic targets for highly-regarded horses as soon as they are bought or bred.

What is the longest race in the Flat season?

Most Flat races are run from distances between five furlongs and two miles, although there are a few exceptions to the rule. The longest of which is the Queen Alexandra Stakes, which is run at Royal Ascot and often attracts a mixture of Flat and jumps horses.

What is a race for a two-year-old horse called?

Two-year-olds can run in many different types of races, but often start out in maiden or novice contests.

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