British Classic Races

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Sceptre, the only outright winner of four classics, painted by Emil Adam

The British Classics are five long-standing Group 1 horse races run during the traditional flat racing season.[1] They are restricted to three-year-old horses and traditionally represent the pinnacle of achievement for racehorses against their own age group. As such, victory in any classic marks a horse as amongst the very best of a generation. Victory in two or even three of the series (a rare feat known as the Triple Crown) marks a horse as truly exceptional.


The five British Classics are:

Race Date Distance Course First Run Qualification
2,000 Guineas Stakes Late April / early May 1 mile (1,609 m) Newmarket 1809 Three-year-old colts and fillies
1,000 Guineas Stakes Late April / early May 1 mile (1,609 m) Newmarket 1814 Three-year-old fillies
The Oaks Late May / early June 1 mile 4 furlongs 10 yd (2,423 m) Epsom Downs 1779 Three-year-old fillies
The Derby First Saturday in June 1 mile 4 furlongs 10 yd (2,423 m) Epsom Downs 1780 Three-year-old colts and fillies
St Leger Stakes September 1 mile 6 furlongs 132 yd (2,937 m) Doncaster 1776 Three-year-old colts and fillies

It is common to think of them as taking place in three legs.

The first leg is made up of the Newmarket Classics – 1000 Guineas and 2000 Guineas. Given that the 1,000 Guineas is restricted to fillies, this is regarded as the fillies' classic and the 2,000, which is open to both sexes, as the colts' classic, although it is theoretically possible for a filly to compete in both.

The second leg is made up of The Derby and/or Oaks, both ridden over 1+12 miles at Epsom in early June. The Oaks is regarded as the fillies' classic, the Derby as the colts', although, as with the Guineas, a filly could theoretically contest both.

The final leg is the St Leger, held over 1 mile 6+12 furlongs at Doncaster and is open to both sexes.

The variety of distances and racecourses faced in the Classics make them particularly challenging as a series to even the best horses. It is rare for a horse to possess both the speed and stamina to compete across all these distances, making the Triple Crown a particularly notable achievement. In fact, in the modern era, it is rare for any attempt on the Triple Crown to be made.

Geldings are excluded from the 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger, in common with all European Group One races restricted to three-year-olds.


Although the oldest race in the series, the St Leger, was first run 1776, the races were not designated "classics" until 1815,[2] shortly after the first running of the 1,000 Guineas.

Multiple classic winners[edit]

(see also Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing)

Nijinsky, the last winner of the Triple Crown in 1970

In 1902 Sceptre became the only racehorse to win four British Classic Races outright, winning both Guineas, the Oaks and the St Leger. Previously, in 1868, Formosa won the same four races but dead-heated in the 2,000 Guineas.[3]

Fifteen horses have won the standard Triple Crown (2,000 Guineas – Derby – St Leger), the last being Nijinsky in 1970. Three of these achieved the feat during the World War I when all five Classic races were run at Newmarket.

In addition to Sceptre and Formosa above, eight horses have won the fillies' Triple Crown (1,000 Guineas – Oaks – St Leger), the last being Oh So Sharp in 1985.

Many horses have won two classics, some of whom have gone on to attempt the Triple Crown, losing in the last leg at Doncaster. The most recent example of this was the Aidan O'Brien trained Camelot, who finished second in the St Leger in 2012 after winning the 2,000 Guineas and Derby.

Four classic wins[edit]

Three classic wins[edit]

Two classic wins[edit]


Most wins as a horse

  • Sceptre – 4 wins (1902)

Most wins as a jockey

Most wins as a trainer

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Glossary". National Horseracing Museum. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  2. ^ "The History of Horse Racing". Equine World. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  3. ^ Thoroughbred Heritage: Sceptre. Retrieved 13 September 2010
  4. ^ "Famous Jockeys". Racing-Insider. 3 September 2013. Retrieved 7 April 2018.