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Flat racing is a form of horse racing which is run over a level track at a predetermined distance. It differs from steeplechase racing which is run over hurdles and harness racing where horses race on a level track, but in harness and pulling a sulky. Flat racing is a test of speed, stamina, and the skill of the jockey in determining when to restrain the horse or to impel it. Many different horse breeds are used in flat racing worldwide, but the Thoroughbred is the most dominant. The majority of North American races are flat races, and in that part of the world "horse racing" generally refers to Thoroughbred flat racing unless qualified otherwise.
Flat racing takes place on track surfaces suitable for horses. Worldwide, the most common is a natural grass surface, called "turf". In North America, the most common surface is a harrowed "dirt" surface, often based primarily on a mixture of sand and local soil. Worldwide, some races are now run on a synthetic or "all-weather" surface, generally a blend of sand with synthetic fibre and/or rubber, often coated with wax or a similar substance.
Flat racing in Great Britain
Flat races in Great Britain are run over a variety of distances from five furlongs 1,006 metres (3,301 ft) to over 2 miles (3,200 m) and are generally called sprints, middle distance or stayers races.
- Conditions races are further split into:
- Pattern races
- Group 1 - (Classics and other races of major international importance)
- Group 2 - (less important international races)
- Group 3 - (primarily domestic races)
- Listed races - have less prestige than the group races but are still more important than handicaps.
- Pattern races
- Handicap races - where the Jockey Club official handicapper gives horses a different weight to carry according to their ability, are the bread and butter daily races although some of these are also quite prestigious.
Classic Races - In British horse racing, The Classics are a series of horse races run over the flat (i.e. without jumps). Each classic is run once each year and is restricted to intact horses that are three years old (in other words, geldings are barred); two of them are further restricted to fillies only. There are five Classic races:
Flat racing in North America
The majority of flat races in North America are written for and limited to Thoroughbreds. Races up to 1 mile (1,600 m) are common with 1.25 miles (2,010 m) races considered the "classic" distance used for the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic. Rarely will a flat race exceed 1.5 miles (2,400 m), and the few that do are generally on turf surfaces and designed to attract European entries. The highest level races are called Graded stakes races, with Grade I, II or III classification based on the entry "stake" money put up by entrants that goes to total purse money awarded. North American races include conditions races which are often called allowance races, handicaps, and assorted weight for age divisions.
In the western United States and western Canada, there is also a significant amount of Quarter Horse racing, short races, no more than five furlongs and usually less, designed for the sprinting abilities of the American Quarter Horse. There is a limited amount of breed-specific flat racing offered for Arabian horses, Appaloosas and American Paint Horses, as well as a small circuit of specialty racing for mules.
Flat racing worldwide
- List of British flat horse races
- List of French flat horse races
- List of Irish flat horse races
- List of horse races
- Thoroughbred horse race
- britishhorseracing.com – "Major flat racing events".