As a national, the UK is renowned for its horse racing. The home of the ultimate equine athlete – the Thoroughbred – it has a long history of breeding some of the finest horses in the world and of hosting some of the most challenging and exciting races.
Not one of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom is lacking in its contribution. Each hosts some incredible on-track action, meaning racing enthusiasts can enjoy themselves no matter which they visit.
We’ve rounded up our favourite race from each of the four nations to see how they compare.
England: The Cheltenham Festival
For those who enjoy horse racing, it’s not only about the sport itself, but the gambling scene that’s grown up around it. Every contest has its own horse racing odds, with betting generating an incredible 3.25 billion pounds in 2019.
One of the most popular races to bet on is the Cheltenham Festival, the jewel in the crown of English racing. With prize money second only to the Grand National, the on-track rivalry is fierce, thrilling, and keeps spectators on the edge of their seats.
Cheltenham Festival results are splashed across the internet as soon as they come in, so that remote bettors are also kept in the loop. For example, the Cheltenham Festival’s famed Gold Cup is the top race to watch each year at the event, with Betfair pacing Al Boum Photo, Champ, and A Plus Tard as taking the top spots. With hundreds of millions of pounds gambled over the course of the weekend, everyone hopes to go home with a prize.
In fact, the crowds get so invested in the action that the track is famous for ‘the Cheltenham roar’ – the enormous amount of noise made by spectators when the tape is raised and the horses surge from the starting boxes.
Ireland: Galway Races
In Ireland, the main action takes place at the Galway Races. The festival begins on the last Monday of July and is held at Ballybrit Racecourse. Extending over seven days, it’s one of the longest race meets in the country.
The busiest days are Wednesday and Thursday when the Galway Plate and Galway Hurdle respectively are held. Beginning in 1869, the event has grown so much in the last century and a half that it is now one of the largest race meetings in the world.
The Galway Races are so important to Irish culture that poems, folk songs, and even rock anthems have been created to celebrate the festival.
Scotland: The Scottish Grand National
Horse racing is not quite as fundamental to Scotland’s culture as it is to those of England and Ireland, but it still hosts some great on-track action, including the Scottish Grand National. Run over a distance of roughly four miles, the festival stretches across two days.
The Scottish Grand National takes place in Ayr and is a Grade 3 National Hunt steeplechase. It is held every year in April and began all the way back in 1858. The horses who run here are of the highest calibre, with several having also won the race’s English counterpart at Aintree.
As of 2019, the winning horse was awarded a prize pot of over £122,000, making this one of the most important and eagerly anticipated events in the Scottish racing calendar for owners, trainers, and enthusiasts.
Wales: The Welsh Grand National
Like Scotland, Wales’ Grand National is the highlight of its horse racing calendar. First run in 1895, it has drawn huge crowds ever since and is one of the foremost Grade 3 National Hunt steeplechases in the United Kingdom.
The event is held at Chepstow and challenges competitors to race across a distance of roughly three miles. 23 fences have to be jumped during this time, with the event scheduled for the 27th of December each year.
The race attracts some of the finest horses in the world and is often seen as a precursor to the Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup. The distance competitors run was extended in 2019, adding an extra element of excitement for spectators.
When it comes to top-quality racing action, UK natives are spoilt for choice, no matter whether they hail from England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales. Which of these racing events would you most like to attend?