Horse racing is one of the most popular spectator sports in the UK and a hugely popular sport to bet on.
In Flat racing, there are no bigger races than the five Classics, which are run between May and September, and consistently attract some of the highest betting turnovers each season.
Here we look at each Classic in detail and suggest a few ways of picking a winner from the different annual meetings.
In Flat racing, the Classics are the most historic and prestigious races of all. They are only open to three-year-old horses, also known as the “Classic Generation”, and go a long way to determining the stallions of the future.
The five Classics are 1000 Guineas, 2000 Guineas, Derby, Oaks, and St Leger.
The 2000 Guineas is the first Classic of the season and is run in early May each year. It is run over a mile of the Rowley Mile Course at Newmarket and is open to three-year-old colts. It is a very valuable prize with a purse of over £400,000.
The 2000 Guineas usually features horses that displayed the best form over seven furlongs or a mile as two-year-olds. Many of the field will already be Group race winners and several, usually, the favourites, will have won a Group 1.
The Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes, run at the same course, is usually considered the best form guide for two-year-olds heading to the 2000 Guineas.
There are several major trial races that can influence the 2000 Guineas market. If you are keen to place a bet on the Guineas, the Greenham Stakes, and the Craven Stakes, both run in mid-April are races to watch closely.
The 2000 Guineas has produced many great champions, names such as Nijinsky, Brigadier Gerard, Dancing Brave, Sea The Stars, and Camelot.
However, 30 April 2011 will always be remembered in the history of this great race, as the day Frankel destroyed his rivals in one of the most impressive performances of all time.
Passing halfway, Frankel was an astonishing 10-lengths clear of his high-class rivals who were made to look ordinary as Sir Henry Cecil’s champion, perhaps the greatest of all-time, came home to win by six lengths.
The 1000 Guineas is the second Classic of the season and is run the day after the 2000 Guineas. It is held over the same course and distance but is contested by three-year-old fillies rather than colts.
The Fillies’ Mile held at Newmarket in the autumn, at the end of the season, is the key two-year-old trial for this race. Other trials in the early spring to pay attention to are the Fred Darling Stakes run over seven furlongs at Newbury and the Nell Gwyn Stakes over seven furlongs at Newmarket.
Pretty Polly, Sun Chariot, Sweet Solera, Oh So Sharp, and Attraction are some of the great fillies to have won this contest over the years.
There have been few more impressive winners in recent times than Aidan O’Brien’s Minding. She was immediately recognisable as the filly with the big white blaze and that feature was always visible as she raced prominently and pulled further clear in stylish fashion coming up the Newmarket hill, to win in 2016.
Run over one mile four furlongs (1.5 miles) on the Epsom Downs, the Oaks takes place in early June each year and is traditionally run the day before the Derby.
It is contested by three-year-old fillies and while its purse of around £400,000 is considerably less than the value of the Derby, it is a great race in its own right.
Fillies that win the Oaks are seen as the best middle-distance fillies of their generation and often go on to breed the next crop of champions after they retire.
The 1000 Guineas is often the best Oaks trial, but others include the Pretty Polly Stakes, Cheshire Oaks, Lingfield Oaks Trial and the Musidora Stakes.
Dunfermline, ridden by jockey Willie Carson, won the Oaks for the Queen in her Silver Jubilee year of 1977. Oh So Sharp was victorious in 1985 on the way to completing the Fillies’ Triple Crown. World-famous jockey, Frankie Dettori, won his first Classic aboard Balanchine in 1994.
More recently there have been some brilliant Oaks winners, including Taghrooda in 2014, Minding in 2016, and Enable in 2017. That electric performance by Enable, where she powered up the Epsom hill through the driving rain, was the launchpad for a truly remarkable career.
The late Prince Khalid Abdullah’s filly went on to win 10 consecutive Group 1s, including two successive Prix l’Arc de Triomphe. In a career that spanned five seasons, she earned over £10 million in prize money and achieved worldwide fame.
The most famous Flat race in the world, the Derby has been held on the Epsom Downs since 1780.
It is run over one mile four furlongs (1.5 miles) and is open to three-year-old colts and fillies. With a purse of over £1.1 million, it is the most valuable race in the UK and is consistently the Flat race that attracts the highest betting turnover.
The unique nature of the Epsom Downs, where runners run steeply downhill around the famous Tattenham Corner, before beginning a stamina-sapping uphill climb to the line, is often described as the ultimate test of a racehorse.
Derby horses require a unique blend of speed and stamina and also have to be finely balanced to be able to run against the sloping camber in the home straight.
The 2000 Guineas is usually seen as the best trial for the Derby, as many Guineas winners are suited by stepping up to run over the longer distance of the Derby trip.
Other key trial races include the Chester Vase, Lingfield Derby Trial, Sandown Classic Trial, and the Dante Stakes.
Nijinsky was produced perfectly by jockey Lester Piggott in the Derby of 1970 where he cruised clear to win by 2½ lengths. He went on to win St Leger later that season, making him still the last horse to win the Triple Crown of 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger.
A year later it was the turn of Mill Reef, trained by Ian Balding and ridden by Geoff Lewis. He had been narrowly defeated in the 2000 Guineas earlier in the season but made amends at Epsom as he showed superb poise and a turn of foot to quicken to the lead approaching the final furlong before toughing it out to the line.
He went on to win the Eclipse Stakes and the Prix l’Arc de Triomphe that same season.
In 1981, Shergar blew his rivals away when winning from the front by an unprecedented 10 lengths, with jockey Walter Swinburn having the luxury of being able to ease down near the finish.
Shergar’s Derby fame was later eclipsed when he was mysteriously kidnapped from his stud in Ireland and was never seen again.
Galileo came into the 2001 Derby with a tall reputation, which he enhanced when running out an impressive 3½ length winner for Aidan O’Brien and Mick Kinane. However, Galileo’s greatest legacy has been in the breeding sheds where he became the global undisputed champion sire until his death this summer.
Galileo’s half-brother, Sea The Stars’ reputation as an iron horse was sealed with his 2009 Derby win where he produced a typically gritty performance to break the unbeaten record of rival and favourite for the race, Fame And Glory.
He then followed his brilliant dam (mother), Urban Sea, in winning Europe’s most valuable race, the Prix l’Arc de Triomphe.
The final Classic of the season takes place in September each year and is run over one mile six furlongs (1.75 miles) at Doncaster.
St Leger holds the accolade of being the oldest Classic, with the first running taking place in 1776.
It also forms the final leg of the Triple Crown, along with the 2000 Guineas and the Derby, or the Fillies’ Triple Crown, along with the 1000 Guineas and the Oaks. No horse has completed the Triple Crown since Nijinsky in 1970, but in 2012 Camelot came within ¾ of a length of achieving the feat. Oh So Sharp was the last winner of the Fillies’ Triple Crown in 1985.
Horses that win the Derby or Oaks and have plenty of stamina in their pedigree can head to St Leger. By far the most important trial race is the Great Voltigeur, run at York, usually three weeks before St Leger.
Nijinsky and Oh So Sharp’s wins in St Leger were historic for being the final leg of their Triple Crown bids, but there have been many other fantastic winners of this great staying race.
Many horses that have won at Doncaster have gone on to become fine jump racing stallions, including Shantou, Milan, Brian Boru, and Scorpion.
Talented grey Logician coasted to an easy success in the race in 2019, but his later career was sadly blighted by injury.
This season’s winner, Godolphin’s Hurricane Lane, ranks among the best St Leger winners of recent years and will likely become a popular stallion in years to come.
The Classics all hold Group 1 status, which means they are not handicaps and so all horses carry the same weight. Technically speaking, the horse with the most ability should win.
Here we look at a few betting pointers when tackling the Classics.
As all Classic contenders are three-year-old horses that usually haven’t raced many times, it is important to look back and consider what they have achieved in their two-year-old season. This will give you some guide to their ability.
This is especially true for the first two Classics, the 1000 and 2000 Guineas, as these might represent a horse’s first run of the season. Other horses in the race might have had a prep run, so that performance needs to be evaluated too.
As the season progresses it becomes easier to analyse a horse’s form and ability because they may have run several times and could also have run against each other.
Trends become more useful because the form is limited when assessing the Classic generation, and they are often reliable as trainers tend to follow a certain route when preparing their horses for the Classics.
An example could be: eight of the last 10 winners of the 2000 Guineas were making their seasonal reappearance. This is useful to know in giving you the edge over the bookies because it tells you that the trial races for the 2000 Guineas often don’t produce the winner.
When looking at the Derby or Oaks runners you have an advantage if you know which Derby or Oaks trial has produced the most winners of the race in recent times.
Look out for certain trainers. Irish trainer Aiden O’Brien is a master at targeting the Classics.
In the last 10 years he has won the 1000 Guineas, Derby, and Oaks six times, the 2000 Guineas five times and the St Leger three times.
Clearly, the horses he runs in the Classics are always worth following, and he tends to run several in each race. His most fancied runners are usually partnered by jockey Ryan Moore, but they don’t win every time.
In the last 10 years, he has won the 1000 Guineas with four horses who were not his supposed main chance in the race. In 2021, Mother Earth won at 10/1, Winter was 9/1 when beating stablemate and 5/4 favourite Rhododendron in 2017, while bigger priced winners Hermosa (14/1) and Homecoming Queen (25/1) also sprung a surprise.
Some value can be found by paying close attention to his horses in the Classics and by not dismissing what seem like his lesser fancied runners.
Other trainers to follow when betting on the Classics are John Gosden, Charlie Appleby, Richard Hannon, Andrew Balding, Roger Varian, and William Haggas.
For any horse race the type of bet you place is nearly as important a selection as the horse you place it on. This is because every race market is different, due to the number of horses running and the betting odds of those horses.
Knowing the best bet to place in different circumstances can improve your chance of winning.
Here are a few common horse racing bets.
A bet placed on a single outcome, for example, on one horse in a race. These can be divided into different types of bets: win, place, and each-way bet.
There are two types of forecast: a straight forecast and a reverse forecast. A straight forecast is a bet where you select two horses to finish first and second in a race.
They must finish in the correct order to win the bet. With a reverse forecast, the two horses can finish in any order.
Much like a forecast, there are also straight and reverse tricasts. A straight tricast challenges you to predict the first three horses in a race in the correct order.
A reverse tricast gives you a few more possible outcomes if you are not confident about the finishing order of your selections.