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Beginners Guide to Horse Racing

Everyone has heard of the Grand National and Ascot, as these are two of the most famous race meetings in the world, but they are actually two completely different forms of the sport, national hunt and flat racing.

The flat racing season runs from April to October and involves straightforward racing with no jumps. There are five classis flat races - the 2000 Guineas Stakes, the 1000 Guineas Stakes, The Oaks, The Derby and the St. Leger. Royal Ascot takes place in June and is one of the most prestigious events in the flat racing calendar, as the Queen is in attendance and there is plenty of glamour, particularly on Ladies Day where the elaborate hats of the spectators take centre stage.

National hunt racing runs from October to April. Also known as `jump` racing, the track is interspersed with either big `steeplechase` fences, or the lower `hurdles`. The major events of the national hunt season are Cheltenham Festival in March and the Aintree Grand National Festival in April.

All of the horses used in both types of racing are known as thoroughbreds and their ancestry can be traced back to three stallions from the 17th and 18th century - the Godolphin Arabian, the Byerley Turk and the Darley Arabian. The official birthday of every racehorse is January 1st regardless of the actual date of birth and they begin their racing life from the age of 2 in the case of flat racehorses and 3 for national hunt racehorses. Until the age of 5 a male horse is known as a colt and a female horse is a filly.

Maiden races are for flat racing horses that have never won a race, while novice is the term used for national hunt horses that have never won a race at the start of that season. Because flat racehorses are built purely for speed, they tend to be smaller and slighter than national hunt horses and therefore the jockeys have to keep very strictly to a low weight in order to ride them. Handicaps are weight penalties that ensure every horse stands an equal chance of winning, in theory at least. At the start of a race the jockey must `weigh out` whilst holding the saddle and after the race must `weigh in` again. The weights must be the same for a win to be valid and therefore the results of a race are not considered final until the winning jockey is announced as having `weighed in.

Bets can be placed with bookmakers around the course and can be made for your chosen horse to win, to be placed in the first four, or `each way` which is a combination of the two. Studying a horse`s form tells you how well it has performed previously and the ground conditions it favours, such as `soft` if there has been rain, or `hard` if the ground is very dry.

Once you have placed your bet, then it`s time to cheer your horse on. Although it may look as though your jockey is trying to slow down his horse, it is a peculiarity of racing that pulling on the horses reins actually encourages the animal to run faster!

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