The Lesser-Known Rules of Horse Racing


Horse racing has been an organised sport in the UK since the 16th Century and has long been considered a noble sport – or sport of the kings. From the introduction of laws on breeding by Henry VIII to the creation of the British Horseracing Board in 1993, horse racing has evolved into the highly regulated sport we know today.


Today’s rules and regulations are there to protect horses, jockeys, owners and punters and to make the sport as safe and as enjoyable as possible.  Here are the key rules on horseracing we all need to know about –  before, during and after the races are underway.

Horse racing in a nutshell

There are two main types of horse race – the flat race, where horses race a straight or oval track, with no hurdles or fences and the jump race (also known as the National Hunt), where horses also need to be able to clear a series of obstacles in the form of hurdles. The simple objective for horse and jockey is to be first past the winning post but to do so, they need to adhere to the main rules and regulations:

Before the race

  • All horses must be ridden to the start of the race.
  • A horse will be formally withdrawn from the race if they fail to get into the stall, have no rider, are unable to start or its behaviour prevents them from starting.
  • If a horse is formally withdrawn before the race starts, it is considered a non-runner and any stake money will be returned. However, if the horse is under the starter’s orders and then refuses to run, the stake will be lost.

The race

  • All flat races must be started from stalls or a starting gate. Steep chases, national hunt or hurdle races are only started from a gate, or with special permission, a flag.
  • If the starter considers that a horse in the starting line-up has broken away before the race has been formally started, then they will declare a false start. In most cases, the horses are reloaded or brought back into line for a new start.
  • During the race, all jockeys must ride their horse safely and to the ‘best of their ability’ with the stewards empowered to apply sanctions and even disqualify if they feel this has not been adhered to.
  • When it comes to the use of the whip during the race, jockeys are allowed to use them up to a maximum number of times so ensure no excessive use of force and will be penalised for overuse.
  • To complete the race and make it onto the racing results, the jockey must finish the course and cross the line on his horse.

After the race

  • To be declared the winner, both horse and jockey must cross the finish line together, ahead of any of the other participating riders.
  • Should two or more ridden horses cross the line together and cannot be separated by the naked eye, a photo finish will be declared. The stewards will study a photo of the finish line to decide who crossed first and will formally declare this horse and rider the winner.
  • If no clear winner can be decided, then the race will be settled according to the dead heat rules. In this situation, any stakes placed will be divided proportionally between the final number of winners.

So, there you have it, the basic rule essentials of horse racing which when followed to the letter, could result in a winning bet on your behalf and a glass raised to your successful horse and jockey!

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About the Author: Cory Weinberg

"Alcohol evangelist. Devoted twitter guru. Lifelong coffee expert. Music nerd."

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