Ask any horse racing fan and they will tell you that there are a number of extremely important events on the horse racing calendar. Just like any other sport, including football (which is the only spectator sport that’s more popular than horse racing in the UK), horse racing fans must have events they look forward to, and that is indeed the case. Whether it’s an all-day racing event in the UK or a jaunt to the USA for a world-renowned derby, horse racing certainly has its flashpoints throughout the year. Here are the most important horse racing events on the calendar.
The Royal Ascot (summer, UK)
The exact timing of the Royal Ascot race event varies, but it usually happens during summer (or just before it) and takes place across five days. It’s a thrilling event; when speaking to sports betting platform Betway, trainer Andrew Balding described the emotion of racing in the Ascot as “very much one of huge excitement” at being on the board in such a prestigious event. Some of the world’s biggest horse racing names come together to compete against one another in the Royal Ascot, although visitors beware: there is a very strict dress code.
The Kentucky Derby (first Saturday in May, USA)
Once again, the Kentucky Derby doesn’t technically have a fixed date on which it takes place every year, although it happens on the first Saturday in May most of the time. It pits thoroughbreds of three years of age against one another in an event that concludes the Kentucky Derby Festival, and it’s usually an event of thrilling high-speed chases and breakneck pacing. The Kentucky Derby is also one of the prestigious Triple Crown races; we’ll get to the others shortly! This race was actually originated by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr, the grandson of renowned explorer William Clark.
The Preakness Stakes (third Saturday in May, USA)
Taking place in Baltimore at the Pimlico Race Course, the Preakness Stakes is another Grade I race that takes place across 9.5 furlongs. It’s the second race in the coveted Triple Crown run, and as such, it’s also the second best-attended horse racing event in the USA, with the Kentucky Derby naturally surpassing it. Contrary to what you might imagine, although the Preakness Stakes is the middle child of the Triple Crown, it’s a formidable race in its own right, with plenty of drama and excitement to keep horse racing fans busy and happy.
The Belmont Stakes (early June, USA)
Horse racing events love Saturdays; weekends are usually when people can come down to watch the action, after all. The Belmont Stakes is no different. It’s another three-year-old thoroughbred Grade I race that takes place on the first or second Saturday in the month of June, and it concludes the Triple Crown run. If a horse manages to win all three events, they obtain the highly-sought-after Triple Crown accolade, which makes them a horse for the ages. The first female jockey to do so was Julie Krone, who won the Triple Crown alongside her horse Colonial Affair in 1993.
Cheltenham Festival (March, UK)
Here’s a fun fact about the Cheltenham Festival: it usually takes place around the same time as St. Patrick’s Day, which makes it a particularly popular festival event for Irish horse racing fans. There are lots of Grade I races to watch here, so if you like to watch the cream of the horse racing crop, then the Cheltenham Festival is inarguably one of the most important events on the horse racing calendar. Unfortunately, it’s also a festival that’s come in for quite a lot of criticism over the years, largely revolving around horse welfare.
The Grand National (April, UK)
Are you starting to see a pattern emerging here? Horse racing events usually happen around spring and summer in the UK and the USA, probably because of the more temperate weather. Even if you’re not a horse racing aficionado, you’ve almost certainly heard of the Grand National. It’s one of the most famous horse racing events on the calendar, so much so that even those who don’t usually like to bet on horses will often attend. For those people, the Grand National is more of an event than a horse race, although watching the creatures pound the grass is also appealing, of course.
Dubai World Cup (last Saturday in March, United Arab Emirates)
We couldn’t make a list of the most important horse racing events without mentioning this Dubai extravaganza. As you might expect from an event held in one of the richest cities in the world, the Dubai World Cup has a huge prize purse; since 2019, the race has offered a prize pool of $12 million, thus regaining it the title of the richest horse race in the world (a title claimed by the Pegasus World Cup in the years of 2017 and 2018). Not only is the Dubai World Cup a gala event for horse racing fans, but it also often sees musical performances from the likes of Seal, Janet Jackson, and Sia.
Breeders’ Cup (November, USA)
Every single Breeders’ Cup event has been held in the USA, with the exception of a single event: 1996’s cup took place in Canada. This is one of the most prestigious events on the horse racing calendar, and contrary to most horse racing events, it’s held in the middle of autumn. Like many other horse racing events in the USA, it’s got an impressive prize pool, too; in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup, more than $30 million was awarded to various jockeys and teams cumulatively over the course of the cup. As you can tell, this one’s not to be sniffed at!