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Racing Explained

Nearly all of today’s racehorses can be traced back to one of three ‘foundation’ stallions – The Darley Arabian, The Godolphin Arabian and The Byerley Turk.


They were Arabian horses, imported into England between the late 17th and early 18th century by gentlemen who wanted to breed better racehorses. When they bred with Britain’s native, heavier horses, they produced offspring who were much faster, but still had great stamina – they were the very first ‘thoroughbred’ racehorses.

As with humans, some horses are just naturally better suited to running; some are built to be sprinters, with bulging muscles and a rapid stride, others are long distance athletes, lean and supple with an long stride – not unlike the differences you would see between human sprinters and marathon runners.


Flat racehorses can start their racing career at just two years old – and some of them retire by the age of four, although many can go on racing much longer, until they are ten or older. Although some of the most prestigious races are confined to three year olds, generally flat racehorses tend to be at their peak aged four or five.


Jump racehorses generally don’t start racing until they are four, and their careers tend to go on much longer, until they are twelve or sometimes older. Most jump racehorses are at the peak of their ability between the ages of seven and ten.


  • Racehorses are allowed to race from the age of two years old. Often these are called Juvenile races.
  • All horses born in the same year share their official birthday as the 1st January. When racing as two-year-olds, a horse born in the early months of the year is likely to be more mature than one born later, despite officially being the same age.
  • A racehorse weighs around 500kg (half a tonne!)
  • The average heart of a racehorse weighs the same as four bags of sugar
  • A racehorse drinks up to 10 gallons of water a day




There are seven different official colours for racehorses… You can see the abbreviations for each colour below in the racecard on raceday

next to each horse.


  • Grey (Gr) – ranging from bright white to steel-coloured grey.
  • Bay (B) – covers a huge range of the colour brown, from bright bay through to dark bay, which is basically black. Bay horses have black manes and tails.
  • Chestnut (CH) – a reddish or ginger coat colour, with a mane and tail to match.
  • Roan (Ro) – a Roan horse has an even mixture of white hairs mixed in with another colour.
  • Brown (Br) – a horse registered as Brown will also have a brown mane and tail.
  • Black (Bl) – a purely black horse, but this is rare!
  • White (Wh) – this classification is also very rare. Most horses that appear to be white will in fact be classed as Grey, with black skin. Grey horses tend to get lighter in colour as they get older.

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