What are the British Classic Races?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2019
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Seven important horse races in Britain are known collectively as the “British Classic Races.” One of these races, the St. Leger Stakes, is historically important because it is the oldest turf race, having been run annually since 1776. The St. Leger Stakes has missed only one year in its history: 1939, when war broke out between Britain and Germany. Entry in the British Classic Races is limited to healthy three year horses, and the races tend to be heavily attended and covered in the news, much like major horse races in other nations.

The first two British Classic Races, run in late April or early May, are the One Thousand Guineas and the Two Thousand Guineas, each named for the traditional prize for the winner. These races take place at Newmarket Racecourse, a hub of the British racing world. Races have been run at Newmarket since the time of James I, illustrating the long history of horse racing in Britain. The Two Thousand Guineas is open to both colts and fillies, and it is the first leg in the British Triple Crown. Only fillies may enter the One Thousand Guineas.


In Early June, colts and fillies may enter the Epsom Derby, run over a slightly longer distance at Epsom Downs. Fillies may also enter the Epsom Oaks. These races are said to be more challenging because the tracks are more physically demanding, and because of the slightly longer distance. The Epsom Derby is also the second jewel in the British Triple Crown.

Finally, in September, the British Classic Races close with the St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster. This race is longer than many other stakes races, leading many trainers to bring their horses to less challenging meets instead. A win at the St. Leger Stakes suggests that a horse may develop into a serious contender in later years, and if the horse has won the Two Thousand Guineas and the Epsom Derby as well, it takes the British Triple Crown. As of 2007, only 15 horses in British racing history had won the Triple Crown. The most recent Triple Crown winner was Nijinsky, in 1970.

Each British Classic Race has its own traditions, and some of these traditions are mimicked at younger classic races in other nations. Horses which win these races generally command higher stud fees, since they are perceived to be high quality athletes. Tickets to the British Classic Races tend to be expensive and hard to obtain; people who want to attend them should plan ahead.


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