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Horse Racing Tracks, Ground Types and Draw Explained

Published on June 22, 2022
Chloe
Written by Chloe
Horse Racing Tracks, Ground Types and Draw Explained

What are the Different Types of Horse Racing Tracks?

The UK’s 59 horse racing tracks – 60 if you count two at Newmarket – are a diverse range of left- and right-handed, flat and undulating circuits. There are even a couple of figure-of-eight tracks. Some only hold Flat racing, some only jump racing, while others have both.

Race distances vary from five-furlong sprints to in excess of four miles.

How far is a ‘Furlong’?

The lengths of British horse racing tracks and their range of race distances are measured in miles (m) and furlongs (f). A furlong is 220 yards (200m). There are 8 furlongs to 1 mile (1600m). Therefore, 4f = 800m, 8f (1 mile) = 1600m12f = 2400m, and 16f (2 miles) = 3200m.

There’s a simple way to convert metres to furlongs: For a race of 1600m, delete the two zeros so you’re left with 16. Divide that by two, which gives you 8 furlongs. Easy!

Flat and Jump Types Horse Racing Tracks

Here’s a list of all of the UK’s horse racing tracks, divided into Flat only, jumps only, and those that have both.

Flat only horse racing tracks

  • Bath: Left-handed oval of 1m 4f with stiff run-in of about 4f that bears to the left. Has a 5½f spur for sprint races.
  • Beverley: Right-handed oval of 1m 3f, with 5f spur and a straight uphill run-in of 2½f.
  • Brighton: Left-handed, undulating horseshoe-shaped course of 1m 4f.
  • Chelmsford City: One of Britain’s six all-weather horse racing tracks. An oval of 8½f with Polytrack surface and 2f run-in.
  • Chester: Left-handed, circular course of 1m 73y, with short run-in of 230y. The tightest of all Briain’s horse racing tracks.
  • Epsom: Left-handed, undulating horseshoe-shaped course of 1m 4f. Straight 5f course is practically all downhill and is the fastest in the country.
  • Goodwood: Essentially right-handed, undulating switchback course of 1m 3f with straight 6f spur. Top bend and lower bend lead into straight, depending on distance of race.
  • Hamilton: Right-handed, undulating loop course with straight 6f track. Uphill 5½ run-in. For long-distance races, horses run up straight in reverse then go around the loop.
  • Newmarket: (Rowley Mile Course): One of Newmarket’s two horse racing tracks. Wide, 2m course with right-hand bend and a long, galloping 1m 2f straight run-in.
  • Newmarket: (July Course): The second of Newmarket’s horse racing tracks. Another 2m long course. Races of over 1m 4f have right-handed bend, with stiff 1m run-in.
  • Nottingham: Left-handed, flat, galloping oval of about 1m 4f with 4½f run-in and straight 6f spur.
  • Pontefract: Among the stiffest of Britain’s horse racing tracks. Left-handed, undulating oval of 2m 133y, the final 3f being all uphill.
  • Redcar: Left-handed, perfectly flat galloping oval of 1m 6f 132yds with run-in of 5f. Has a straight 1m track.
  • Ripon: Right-handed course of 1m 5f with long 5f run-in and straight 6f course.
  • Salisbury: Among Britain’s strangest horse racing tracks. Straight 1m course with short right-handed loop and uphill 4f run-in. For long-distance races, horses run up straight in reverse then go around the loop.
  • Thirsk: Left-handed oval of 1m 2f with run-in of just over 3f. Has straight 6f course.
  • Windsor: Unique among Britain’s Flat horse racing tracks. A figure-of-eight course of 1m 4½f with 5f run-in and straight 6f course.
  • Wolverhampton: Another of Britain’s all-weather horse racing tracks. Sharp, left-handed oval of about 1m round with Tapeta surface. Separate spurs for 6f and 7f starts.
  • Yarmouth: Left-handed, oblong, flat galloping course of 1m 4f with 5f run-in. Has straight 1m course.
  • York: Left-handed, galloping course of 2m with straight 4½f run-in. Has straight 6f course and 7f spur.

Flat and jumps horse racing tracks

  • Ascot: Right-handed triangular circuit of 1m 5f with steady uphill rise from 1m out. Run-in of about 3f. Has straight 1m course. Jumps track on inside of Flat course.
  • Ayr: Left-handed, galloping course of 1m 3f with minor undulations and 4f run-in. Has straight 6f course. Jumps track on inside of Flat course.
  • Carlisle: Right-handed, undulating pear-shaped course of about 1m 4f with uphill rise in last mile and stiff uphill 3½f run-in. Has straight 6f course. Jumps track on inside of Flat course
  • Catterick: Left-handed, undulating oval of 1m 180yds with 5f straight course. Run-in of around 3f. Jumps track on inside of Flat course
  • Chepstow: Left-handed, undulating oval of about 2m with straight 1m course. Stiff run-in of around 5f. Jumps track on inside of Flat course.
  • Doncaster: Left-handed, galloping circuit of 1m 7½f with long run-in. Has straight one-mile course. Jumps track on inside of Flat course
  • Ffos Las: Left-handed, flat, galloping oval of 1m 4f. Jumps track on inside of Flat course.
  • Haydock: Left-handed oval of about 1m 5f with 6f straight course. Final 4½f has gradual rise to winning post. Jumps track on inside of Flat course.
  • Kempton: Another of Britain’s all-weather horse racing tracks. Right-handed Polytrack surface with 8f inner loop and 10f outer loop. Separate jumps course is right-handed triangular 1m 5f circuit.
  • Leicester: Right-handed circuit of 1m 6f with 5f run-in and straight 7f course. Jumps course on outside in straight with slight elbow 150y from the finish.
  • Lingfield: Left-handed Polytrack all-weather track, just under 1m 2f round. Has separate turf horse racing tracks. Flat turf course is 1m 4f, left-handed, undulating, triangular, with 3½f slightly downhill run-in. Also has 7f 135y straight turf course. Triangular jumps track on outer of turf course.
  • Musselburgh: Right-handed flat oval of 1m 2f with run-in of 4f. Has straight 5f course. Jumps track on inside of Flat course.
  • Newbury: Left-handed oval of about 1m 7f with slightly undulating 1m straight course. Long 4½f run-in. Jumps track on inside of Flat course
  • Newcastle: Another of Britain’s all-weather horse racing tracks with left-handed Tapeta surface of 1m 6f and straight 1m course. Jumps turf track on inside of Flat course.
  • Southwell: Another of Britain’s all-weather horse racing tracks, left-handed, 1m 2f with Tapeta surface. Jumps turf track is a tight 1m 1f oval on inside of all-weather course.
  • Sandown: Right-handed oval of 1m 5f with uphill 4f run-in. Has a separate 5f straight course located between the two straights. Jumps course has a noticeably stiffer uphill finish.

Jumps only horse racing tracks

  • Aintree: Has two left-handed courses: the 2m 2f triangular Grand National circuit, and the Mildmay Course, a 1m 2f oval for chases and hurdles.
  • Bangor-on-Dee: Left-handed, triangular, slightly undulating circuit of 1m 5f.
  • Cartmel: Left-handed circuit of just over 1m with diagonal finishing straight bisecting the course (unique among Britain’s horse racing tracks). In chases, the run-in from the last fence is 800 yards, the longest in the country.
  • Cheltenham: Has two separate, undulating, left-handed horse racing tracks, both about 1m 4f round. The Old Course is tighter with a shorter straight; the New Course is more galloping.
  • Exeter: Right-handed, undulating course of about 2m with long home straight.
  • Fakenham: Among Britain’s tightest horse racing tracks. Left-handed, undulating, almost square course of about 1m round.
  • Fontwell: The hurdles course is an undulating left-handed oval of about 1m round. The chase course is unique among Britain’s horse racing tracks; a figure-of-eight circuit with a slight bend left-hand on the run-in.
  • Hereford: Right-handed, square-shaped circuit of about 1½m. Downhill run from home turn to finish.
  • Hexham: Left-handed, undulating oval of 1½m. Stiff uphill climb to finishing straight, which is on a separate spur.
  • Huntingdon: Right-handed, completely flat oval of about 1½m.
  • Kelso: Has separate horse racing tracks for hurdles and chases. Left-handed, undulating circuit of 1¼m for hurdles, 1m 3f for chases, with uphill finish.
  • Ludlow: Right-handed circuit with separate horse racing tracks for hurdles (1m 4½f) and chases (1m 3½f). Has road crossings on each, covered by matting on race days.
  • Market Rasen: Right-handed, sharp, slightly undulating course of 1m 2f.
  • Newton Abbot: Flat, left-handed circuit of 1m 1f with tight turns and short run-in. One of Britain’s summer jumping horse racing tracks.
  • Perth: The most northerly of Briain’s horse racing tracks. Right-handed, flat, rectangular course of 1m 2f. with sweeping turns.
  • Plumpton: Tight, left-handed, undulating oval of 1m 1f, with downhill run to back straight and uphill finish in home straight.
  • Sedgefield: Left-handed, tight, undulating oval of 1¼m with short run-in from last fence.
  • Stratford: Flat, left-handed, sharp, triangular course of 1m 2f with tight bends. One of Briain’s summer jumping horse racing tracks.
  • Taunton: Right-handed oval of 1m 2f. Sharp turns with steady climb from home bend to finish.
  • Uttoxeter: Left-handed, undulating oval of 1m 3f with long home straight.
  • Warwick: Left-handed course of 1¾m, with tight bends and five quick fences in back straight.
  • Wetherby: Left-handed, galloping oval of 1m 4f with slightly uphill run-in. Also stages occasional Flat meetings.
  • Wincanton: Rectangular, right-handed galloping course of 1m 3f. Home straight mostly downhill.
  • Worcester: Level, left-handed, elongated oval of 1m 5f with easy turns. Another of Britain’s summer jumping horse racing tracks.

It’s the sheer variety of Britain’s horse racing tracks that makes the sport such a spectacle – and also presents a challenge for punters.

What Does ‘Going’ Mean in Horse Racing Ground Types?

‘Going’ is the description given about the horse racing ground types at racecourses. The state of the going is usually determined by the amount of moisture in the ground and is assessed by an official called the Clerk of the Course.

It is important information because different horses act best on different horse racing ground types. Therefore, the going reports are vital for a horse’s trainer in deciding when, where and whether their horse should run.

The factors which go into determining horse racing ground types include surface conditions, type of surface, and track configuration. The surface conditions are influenced by soil type.

What are the different types of ‘going’ on horse racing ground?

Different terms are used to describe the horse racing ground and types of going. On turf, they vary from ‘firm’ to ‘heavy’.

  • Firm ground usually follows a prolonged dry spell in summer. Horses run faster on firm, so it invariably results in the quickest race times. If the ground is firm, water will often be applied to the track, especially if there is no rain forecast.
  • Good to firm is the slower side of firm, but still a quick surface.
  • Good is the most common of horse racing ground types and the fairest for most horses. Clerks of the Course try to ensure ‘good’ ground to attract as many runners as possible.
  • Good to soft is mostly good ground but which is also holding moisture. It occurs after persistent spells of summer rain or during the winter months.
  • Soft ground is common in the jumps season as the weather tends to be wetter and the temperature lower. The ground is deeper and moister, so race times are slower.
  • Heavy going usually occurs in winter and provides a real stamina test. It’s wet, holding and difficult to run on, as the water soaks into the ground.

How are Horse Racing Ground Types Measured?

Horse racing ground types used to be assessed by the Clerk of the Course walking round the track and pushing either his heel or the pointed end of his walking stick into the ground. It was pretty amateurish and subjective.

These days, however, it’s far more sophisticated. Horse racing ground types and conditions are measured by a device called a Going Stick.

The Going Stick was introduced at all British turf racecourses in 2007. From January 2009 it became a requirement for a Going Stick reading to be published by each racecourse at declaration stage (two days before the race, when horses are declared to run) and again on race day.

The Going Stick is pushed into the ground and, depending on how far it goes in, a numerical reading will be produced, showing how much moisture is in the ground.

The Going Stick takes various measurements to produce an overall reading. It measures the resistance to vertical penetration into the ground, the amount of force required, and the amount of energy required to pull the Going Stick backwards to an angle of 45 degrees, which equates to the action of a horse striking the ground at a gallop. The combined measurements produce the Going Stick readings for horse racing ground types.

The data is automatically stored on the Going Stick. Multiple readings are taken to produce an average from a sample size.

There are different calibrations of the Going Stick for Flat racing and for jumps racing. To determine their respective horse racing ground types, the calibration is simply changed with the flick of a switch.

What do Going Stick Readings Mean?

The scale for the Going Stick reading of horse racing ground types ranges from 0 to 15, with 0 being the softest and 15 being the hardest.

In reality, racing wouldn’t take place under the extremes of the scale. Readings of 5 correspond to the heaviest of horse racing ground types, with a reading of 10 corresponding to hard going. Whereas in the past, ‘hard’ was a regular going description during the summer months, the word never features today as racecourse watering systems are more modern.

How do horse racing ground types affect Going Stick readings?

Going Stick readings will be specific to individual racecourses. Different soil types at different tracks can lead to going stick reading variances when compared to the Clerk of the Course’s going description.

Sandy soils are more permeable horse racing ground types than clay-based soils, which will hold water for a greater length of time. Sandy soil will thus be looser than clay-based soil which will stick and cling together when wet. So, as the Going Stick takes its reading through resistance to vertical penetration, it will react differently in clay and sand-based soils.

For example, Ayr and Pontefract are sand-based soils, Carlisle and Chepstow are clay-based, while Epsom, Goodwood and Salisbury are all chalk-based. Doncaster is peat-based, Leicester is a mixture of clay and limestone, and York has a mix of sand, loam & clay. Such different horse racing ground types are likely to produce different Goi.

What are Horse Racing Ground Types at All-Weather Tracks?

There are six all-weather racecourses in Britain. Their surfaces were once quite different. However, there are now only two types in use for British all-weather racing; Polytrack and Tapeta.

Polytrack

Polytrack consists of silica sand and fibres made of recycled carpet, spandex and rubber. The mixture is then covered with wax. There is virtually no kickback. It leaves less of an impression when raced on and quickly regains its shape. It’s similar to good/good to firm going on turf.

  • Lingfield Park. Surface changed from Equitrack to Polytrack in 2001.
  • Kempton Park. Surface changed from turf to Polytrack in 2006.
  • Chelmsford City. Opened in 2015 with Polytrack surface.

Tapeta

Tapeta is similar to Polytrack. It consists of a mixture of sand, rubber and fibres coated with wax. Like Polytrack, it has almost no kickback. However, it’s more versatile than Polytrack and is designed to simulate the fibrous root structure of grass.

  • Wolverhampton: Surface changed from Polytrack to Tapeta in 2014.
  • Newcastle. Surface changed from turf to Tapeta in 2016.
  • Southwell. Surface changed from Fibresand to Tapeta in 2021.

Both types of surfaces are worked regularly with machines such as power harrows and rollers. Sometimes this can create temporary draw biases, particularly when there has been a distinct change in the weather, such as heavy rain or a sharp frost.

What are the all-weather horse racing ground types of going?

All-weather tracks have different going descriptions to turf racecourses.

  • Fast is a quick and dry racing surface with minimal moisture. This can produce significantly faster times.
  • Standard is by far the most common description, with neither too much nor too little moisture in the ground.
  • Slow is similar to soft ground on turf, where the racing surface has plenty of moisture in it.

The Importance of Horse Racing Ground Types

Hopefully, this will help explain the various horse racing ground types and how the going is assessed.

This information is important for bookmakers and punters alike. Bookmakers will often form betting markets and punters will often form opinions on a horse’s chances based on how they will be suited by the state of the going.

It should also clarify the different horse racing ground types at Britain’s all-weather tracks.

Horse Racing Draw Explained

What is a horse racing draw?

The term ‘horse racing draw’ relates to which stall position a horse will start from in a Flat race. The term ‘draw bias’ is often allied to this.

It only applies to Flat racing, because there isn’t a draw for jump racing. Over jumps, horses can line up wherever their jockeys choose to put them.

How is the horse racing draw decided?

The horse racing draw is normally made by Weatherbys (the sport’s administrative arm) on the day the horses are declared to run – usually two days before the race. The draw is computerised, with numbers randomly allocated against a horse’s name. It’s pure ‘luck of the draw’.

Usually with a horse racing draw, stall 1 is on the left, while the highest number is furthest to the right. On left-handed courses the lowest draw is next to the inside rail, while the highest draw is next to the inside rail for a right-handed track.

Why is the horse racing draw important?

The horse racing draw can have a significant effect on the outcome of a race, particularly when there are a lot of runners. The more runners in a race, the more important the draw.

The draw is more relevant at some courses than others. Chester is a good example. It’s a fast, almost circular course and a horse drawn with a low number has a big advantage, particularly in sprints.

How can the horse racing draw affect the outcome of a race?

For example, in sprint races on a left-handed course, if a horse drawn low is slow leaving the starting stalls, those drawn on outside of it can get over towards the rail. That puts the horse drawn low at a disadvantage, as it then needs to move out wide to go around them.

As for longer races around bends, the horse drawn closest to the rail has less distance to cover is more likely to have an advantage.

What is a horse racing draw bias?

A horse racing draw bias refers to whether or not a horse has an advantage or disadvantage from the stall they have been drawn in.

Let’s take a 400m race in athletics as an example. If the lanes weren’t staggered, the person on the inside lane would have a decisive advantage over the other lanes, as he or she would have a shorter distance to run.

A tight, left-handed racecourse with a short home straight is the perfect formula to produce a draw bias. Being drawn low, especially in a sprint race, is an advantage as the horses near to the rail have less distance to cover.

Which racecourses have the biggest horse racing draw bias?

These are several courses with a strong horse racing draw bias. Here are a few examples.

Chester has the best-known horse racing draw bias of any course in the country. Horses drawn low in five-furlong sprint races have a massive advantage. Those drawn in stalls 1, 2 or 3 invariably start at shorter prices than their chance on form suggests.

The opposite is true in straight races at Lingfield. A high draw puts horses closer to the rail than those drawn lower. Races of between five and seven furlongs display the draw bias most often. Horses drawn in gates 5 to 8 win more often than those that start in gates 1 to 4.

At Beverley, the last furlong is uphill and slopes to the right. That gives a distinct advantage to horses drawn high who can maintain their position in the closing stages. Similar comments apply to Salisbury and Carlisle in five- and six-furlong races.

Epsom’s five-furlong course is practically all downhill and is the fastest in the country. High numbers have an advantage as they’re drawn against the rails. However, for six- and seven-furlong races, which start from spurs and run downhill to the home turn, low numbers are the ones to be on.

Catterick is a sharp, left-handed track. Runners drawn low in races between five and seven furlongs do better than those drawn in the higher numbered stalls.

Why should a horse racing draw matter with a race run in a straight line?

That’s a very good question. There’s no apparent advantage for a horse drawn on the inside because there are no bends, so all the horses have exactly the same distance to travel.

However, it’s not like a 100m sprint in athletics where all the runners have to stay within their lane. In horse racing, the runners tend to bunch together as the race progresses. That can lead to interference, particularly when there are lots of runners.

Furthermore, weather conditions can affect the state of the course. For instance, if it has rained heavily, the way the course drains could make one section of the course quicker than the rest, creating a bias. A course that has a camber and directs the water towards the inside or outside rail will mean that horses drawn on that side will find the turf heavier and slower than the part of the course from which it has drained.

Can the horse racing draw make a difference in long-distance races?

Yes. Usually, the longer the race, the less relevance can be attached to the horse racing draw. However, here are two examples of big races where the draw is a major factor.

First, the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot. This race used to be run over two miles (3200m) but its distance was reduced to one mile six furlongs (2800m) a few years ago. There’s a sharp right-hand bend after about one furlong (200m), meaning that horses drawn on the outside (the stands side) have to run wide, putting them at an early disadvantage.

Second, the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle, run over two miles (3200m). This is among the most competitive handicaps of the year and there is always a large field of about 20 runners. After about a furlong there’s a left-hand bend. Again, those drawn on the stands side are disadvantaged.

So, the draw really can make a difference?

It certainly can, and it’s something that should be borne in mind when planning your bets. So, alongside the type of horse racing track, the state of the ground, the form of the horse and other considerations don’t leave the horse racing draw out of your calculations.

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