The home of intelligent horse racing discussion
The home of intelligent horse racing discussion

Types of horse racing in Ireland

Horse racing has been an integral part of human culture for thousands of years. While the format and standards have changed, the concept remains the same. The horse that crosses the line first wins, regardless of the format and the rules.

There’s no better way to spend a weekend than at the races, or at home betting on horse racing on sites such as – whilst watching the races on TV. Ireland is one of the horse racing capitals of the world, so you’re spoiled for choice throughout the year when it comes to the racing you enjoy.

Everyone has a favourite, so let’s dive into the four primary horse racing types and how they work.


Flat racing

Flat racing is by far the most common version of horse racing in the world today. These are sprint races, where horses begin in the stalls. Once the doors open, the horses will fly down the track in a mad dash for the winning post.

Most flat races are roughly a mile. Some are longer, and some are shorter. These races can be run on a variety of surfaces, including grass and the ubiquitous all-weather turf. In some countries, such as the Emirates, sand is preferred.

Flat racing is simply about pure speed. Some of the world’s famous flat races found within racing articles include the Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Cup.

Of course, the Irish Derby is the flat race that really matters on the Emerald Isle.



Typically run in the winter when the ground is heavier, steeplechasing is the ultimate adrenaline rush. Horses and their jockeys need to clear fences large and small and beat out their competitors. The risks for both animals and humans are increased, but that’s what makes it such a special type of racing.

How often has a favourite been well out in front only to fall at the final fence? Groans, cheers and everything in between is the result.

By far, the world’s biggest form of jump racing is The Grand National, held with 40 horses at Aintree on Merseyside every year. The Irish Grand National is Ireland’s version of the same race, with Brown Lad being the most successful horse in its history, under the dominant Dreaper family.


Endurance racing

Endurance racing is born from a long history of horsemanship. It originates from the qualities riders once wanted to see in their horses, namely the ability to cross vast distances and tricky terrain like rivers and mountains.

While endurance racing doesn’t come close to its racecourse counterparts, it still has a loyal following.

Standard endurance events range from 40 to 150 miles. They often take several days to finish, and riders may be put into groups or stages.

You’ll also find some endurance races where riders are required to demonstrate other skills to make it to their destinations, such as map reading.


Harness racing

Harness racing’s roots date back to the classic chariot. These races are exactly what you would expect. A horse races at a trot or pace while pulling a driver in what’s known as a sulky. This lightweight two-wheeled carriage is built for a single person, and the driver, who is not known as a jockey, must guide their horses to the winning post.

The drivers in harness racing work differently from jockeys. They need to be athletic, strategic and intelligent. It’s not necessarily about who has the fastest horse but who has the most skilled driver.

Harness races in Ireland work at either the trot or pace gait. In trotting gait races, the horse moves its legs forward in diagonal pairs. In pace gait races, horses move their front legs together with the hind legs on the same side.

Failing to maintain this gait warrants instant disqualification. The Standardbred is the standard horse breed for harness racing due to its intelligence and calm temperament.

Unfortunately, harness racing has seen its popularity decline in comparison to the other types of horse racing on this list. It still has a loyal following, and you can still find harness races taking place across Ireland.



Since man learned how to tame horses, racing has existed in some form. It’s one of the purest pleasures you can enjoy, and there’s never been a better time to get into it. With so many online and mobile betting options, jump in and place a bet before watching your favourite race.

As one of the most popular past times in Ireland, mark down Ireland’s most prestigious races for the upcoming year and try your luck.

Which races are you most looking forward to in Ireland this coming year?