A festival can add that special glitz and glamour to horse racing. Festivals of racing are held over several days, generally ranging between three and five. Some, like the Galway Summer Festival though, go over seven days, while some like the Kempton Park Winter Festival and Epsom Derby Festivals are held over two days.
We have covered some of the most famous racecourses in the UK in another guide, which is worth a look for more details about some of the races mentioned below. This guide though takes a look at some of the biggest horse racing festivals up and down the land.
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Duration: 5 days
With Royal patronage, one big highlight of the flat racing season is Royal Ascot. Windsor Castle is a short hop, skip and a jump from Ascot which is why it has always been so well supported and has the links with royalty.
Royal Ascot is not just a feature for punters. It’s one for the socialites as well. The Festival has its place in high society and links with fashion, with the famous Ladies Day hosted on Thursday.
The Festival is hosted in June at Britain’s oldest racing venue. The Berkshire tracks get the lion’s share of the UK’s Group 1 flat races, hosting 13 of the 36 that exist. There is at least one Group 1 race on each day of Royal Ascot.
Group 1 races at the Royal Ascot Festival
|Tuesday||Queen Anne Stakes||King’s Stand Stakes||St James’s Palace Stakes|
|Wednesday||Prince of Wales Stakes|
|Friday||Commonwealth Cup||Coronation Stakes|
|Saturday||Diamond Jubilee Stakes|
One to watch:
While the Prince of Wales Stakes and Diamond Jubilee Stakes are the most valuable races at the festival, the highlight is Thursday’s Gold Cup. No Group 1 race on the flat in Britain has a longer distance than that of the Royal Ascot Gold Cup.
It goes over 2 miles and four furlongs, so it’s the ultimate test of endurance in flat racing. The most successful horse in the history of the Gold Cup is Yeats who won it four straight years from 2006 through 2009.
Duration: 4 days
Even the most casual of horse racing punters will know of the Cheltenham Festival. Hosted in early March, it is the first big festival of the calendar year. It is a pretty big deal as well. The Festival at Prestbury Park is four days running from Tuesday through Friday.
It is called the jewel in the crown of National Hunt Jump racing because of the number of top races it hosts, none as big as the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Each of the four days of racing at the Gloucestershire track though delivers some big highlights of its own.
There is a Championship race on each of the four days, and some of the most famous horses in the sport have made headlines there, from Best Mate to Kauto Star, Arkle and Denman.
One of the most iconic moments of the entire festival happens at the start of the very first race of the annual meeting. The famous “Cheltenham roar” goes up when the Supreme Novices gets underway on Tuesday.
Among the other big feature races of the Cheltenham Festival, there is the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase. In total Cheltenham hosts 14 Grade 1 races in a season. All of them happen during the Cheltenham Festival.
Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival
|Supreme Novices’ Hurdle||Baring Bigham Novices’ Hurdle||Golden Miller Novices’ Chase||Triumph Hurdle|
|Arkle Challenge Trophy||RSA Chase||Festival Trophy||Spa Novices’ Hurdle|
|Champion Hurdle||Queen Mother Champion Chase||Stayers’ Hurdle||Cheltenham Gold Cup|
One to watch:
The highlight of the Festival is Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. The steeplechase is 3 miles 2 and a half furlongs with 22 fences to get over. There is no race on the National Hunt calendar which is more prestigious than the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
There is no other non-handicap chase that offers more prize money either. The race has been held since 1819 and it has been hosted on the “New Course’ at Cheltenham since 1959.
Famous moments in the history of the race includes the incredible Arkle winning it three times on the bounce in the 1960s. Golden Miller though holds the record for five wins (all consecutive years).
There was the famous grey Desert Orchid winning in 1989 and then just a year later the 100/1 shot Norton’s Coin taking a shock victory. Kauto Star took centre stage in 2009 became the first horse to regain the title (winning it in non-consecutive years).
When: Late July/Early August
Duration: 5 days
Goodwood is another big summer festival of flat racing. Hosted deep into the British summer, it is another of the great 5-day festivals. Goodwood just has a wonderfully unique, engaging atmosphere about it. The Sussex track has an intimate feel, glossed with strawberries and champagne.
Glorious Goodwood holds great esteem and prestige in British racing, just as Royal Ascot does. However, Goodwood doesn’t have the formalities that Royal Ascot does. It just offers a more relaxed, party-going, casual vibe across the five days.
It of course has its big feature races and Glorious Goodwood (which isn’t the festival’s official name, it’s the less catchy Qatar Goodwood Festival) has three Group 1 races, the Sussex Stakes, the Goodwood Cup and the Nassau Stakes.
Group 1 races at the Glorious Goodwood Festival
One to watch:
The Goodwood Cup is a thriller, just because of what it brings to the table. Royal Ascot’s Gold Cup (see above) is the first leg of the Stayer’s Triple Crown, this is the second. A lot of the flat action that you will see over the course of the season is sprint, so that is part of the reason why the Goodwood Cup stands out.
The Goodwood Cup used to be over 3 miles, but has been cut back to 2 miles and 5 furlongs, so just a touch longer than the Ascot Gold Cup. The Doncaster Cup is the third leg of the Stayers’ triple crown.
Double Trigger was the first horse to win the Goodwood Cup three times, his third coming in 1998. The mighty Stradivarius pulled off the feat in 2019, his three wins coming in consecutive years.
Duration: 3 days
More likely than not, the actual Aintree Festival gets overlooked for what it is. That is because of all the focus on one of its races, the Grand National. The famous race is the headlining act of the Aintree Festival on Saturday.
The Festival itself through is a three-day affair on Merseyside in April, and it’s more than just the National. It boasts some tremendous other races including eleven Grade 1. Of note, the Grand National itself isn’t one of them, that’s a Grade 3 race.
The Aintree Festival starts on a Thursday with the Grand Opening Day, followed by Ladies Day on Friday. Then comes the big Saturday with the hosting of the Grand National, a race like no other.
So it all adds up to an extraordinary 3 days of racing and it is very much a family-oriented fun-filled festival. The feature race of day one is the prestigious Aintree Hurdle, with the Melling Chase & Topham Chase some highlights of Ladies Day, which is a big social gathering in Liverpool.
Group 1 Races at the Aintree Festival
|Manifesto Novices Chase||Top Novices’ Hurdle||Mersey Novices’ Hurdle|
|Anniveseary 4YO Novices’ Hurdles||Mildmay Novices’ Chase||Maghull Novices' Chase|
|Betway Bowl||Melling Chase||Liverpool Hurdle|
|Aintree Hurdle||Topham Chase|
|Sefton Novices; Hurdle|
One to watch:
It is, of course, the Grand National which sees 40 horses taking on the steeplechase. There is no other spectacle quite like it in horse racing. The race is four miles and two and a half furlongs, the longest National Hunt race in British racing.
It is, therefore, the greatest test of endurance in the sport with 30 fences that the horses have to try and get over. To enter the race horses have to be at least seven years old and have a rating of at least 120.
Back in 2017 for the first time, a £1 million prize was slapped on the race, making it the most valuable jump race in Europe.
This iconic race has created some amazing memories such as Red Rum’s three wins, Bob Champions emotional 1981 win on Aldaniti, and 1993 race that never was.
Duration: 4 days
The Ebor Festival is one of the biggest highlights of Yorkshire racing. It is another of the great 4-day Festivals and it is hosted at the iconic York Racecourse. The festival is held from Thursday through Saturday.
The big festival highlight is the Ebor Handicap. The history of the Festival itself stretches back to 1843. Its time slot in the racing calendar is in August each year, putting it at the end of the Flat Racing season.
So it always has that special feeling about it, stretching out into late summer. The setting of York is pretty amazing with some incredible grandstands. The course itself hosts three of the annual Group 1 races in the UK and all three of those are part of the Festival.
Grade 1 races at the Ebor Festival
One to watch:
The Ebor Handicap, despite it not being a Grade 1 event, is the big feature of Saturday. It is what a lot of the action really builds up to at the Festival. The Ebor Handicap is a 1 mile and 5 furlong trip.
It is really the history of this race which makes it so special. It was the first race, back in 1984 that started the Ebor Festival. The name incidentally is from the Roman name for York which was Eboracum.
What also gives the race so much prestige that there is no richer flat handicap on the European continent than the Ebor Handicap.
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